If we deep dive into the internet, then we find many coaching and training techniques so most of the time you don’t have to find a custom solution. Of course, there are adventurers as me who like to make something out of the blue. If you are one too, then I give you 10 tips about how to design a training exercise.

1. The plan – searching for the issue

First, find the main problem that you’d like to solve. Be sure that you don’t try to find something that doesn’t exist and don’t try to solve things that are over your competency. So if you’ve got a problem that is too much for you to handle then ask for help. A coach or somebody with more experience can lend you a hand. You can learn from that common experience and next time you’ll be ready to roll alone.

If you need some help finding the core of a non-functioning team this article can help you.

2. Setting goals

You’ve found the problem.

Let’s think through what you’d like to achieve at the end of the session. Take baby steps because change is challenging for everybody so you can’t hurry them. It has to sink in.

At first glance, you easily get the sit together and sing next to a campfire mood from the team but most of the time they are planning to throw each other into the campfire in the shadows. First, shovel out the problem and always be aware that the team has to work together after every session.

3. Research

Do your research.

Ask your colleagues, your community, and the internet, maybe the perfect exercise is already ready. If not fully ready then maybe one or two changes can solve that. Search for an exercise that makes people think and thrive but that doesn’t mean you always have to build it from scratch.

4. Tools

Online, offline, or hybrid?

Is there a tool that’s not compatible with your audience? Think about accessibility issues, the Covid situation, people that hate when somebody touches them. Ask before or be prepared for surprises. If it’s pressure and not free will, then you can be sure that you lost them for the whole day.

5. Fit to the team

Be aware of your team’s personality.

A playful or out-of-space game can be difficult to digest if they are on the analytical side of life. And the same is true for creative people, they need that extra spicing to step out of their daily bubble.

Think about their common interests. A game based on sport can be boring for people that don’t really into it because they can’t relate. If you don’t know your audience, choose something general so they can be involved.

6. Rules

Stay simple.

If you have to talk about the rules for more than 5 minutes then it won’t be a success. Work with a maximum of 5 rules and if you have the opportunity write it on a board so everybody can see it, check back at it during the session.

Always watch the time. Adding 15 minutes to the occasion can be awkward but 1,5 hours is just suicide.

7. Processing questions

Our goal is to plant a thought seed. The game is just a tool to do that. The interesting part comes when they process what they experienced during the exercise. It means that the game should be maximum the half but in an optimal scenario quarter of the full time.

Sometimes the team finds other paths that you’ve never thought about. Let them. You can try to change the topic once or twice but the team will bring in what they need. Sometimes they need ventilation, sometimes the topic isn’t the one that you are assigned for. Everything has its time, if you force your way, you will be alone on that road I guarantee it.

General questions can be:

  • How did you feel during the exercise?
  • Whose insights were the most helpful to solve the problem?
  • What do you need the most during the exercise?
  • From 1-5, how satisfied are you with the solution?
  • Would you like to change something?
  • What do you think, is there a part that you could use in your work too?
  • Did you pay attention to those who didn’t speak up during the exercise?

8. Trial

Before launch make an alfa test.

Bring together your family, friends, or colleagues so you can see the pain points and faults. Maybe you can get some hints on how it can turn out.

9. Future

After the big day look back at the main goal.

What did you achieve? Is the team on a track that they can work on in the future? What directions should you choose for the next get-together?

10. Damage control

I know that the best is when you have a joyful event with butterflies and giggling teddy bears. But. It’s the darkest before dawn so if you want to solve something you have to go into the deepest, darkest places.

It’s really important that don’t leave the group in that dark place. Even if your time is up, they have to work together after the session too. So be sure that the team gets to a point where they can fully function on the next workday.

The above thoughts aren’t something that popped out of my mind. There are plenty of sites and people that are masters of designing exercises and I’ve learned it from somebody too.

But the exercise here is something that I came up with and it made quite a storm:

The tragedy of the commons

This is an economic thesis that I turned into an exercise. The workload in a team is never equally divided. Somebody works a little more, somebody a little less. It’s changing from time to time and different people have different needs depending on work-life balance. With this exercise, you can check out personal and team priorities.

The team has to decide who will produce more and get more. Equality or delivery will be more important.

Time: 20 min + processing 40 min

It fits 2-6 person teams


The exercise

There is x farmer, depending on how many people are in the team. Every farmer has 1 cow and 1 cow gives 10-liter milk. They eat at the same pasture, so every time somebody gets another cow everybody gets minus 1-liter milk.

So if there is 6 farmer, then they get together 60-liter milk, everybody equally gets 10-liter. If one of them buys one more cow then everybody gets 9-liter milk, the one who has now 2 cows 18-liter and together, everybody else 9-liter, they get 63-liter milk together.

The task is to produce as much milk as they can as a team so they can give it to the local school but they get their money depending on how much milk they sent in. They have to find the best solution that in the end, everybody is comfortable.

The only way to perform well as a team is when somebody gets more milk than the others. The distribution of workload is never even but if it’d be then the team performance would decrease.

  • What is the priority of the team and what are the personal priorities?
  • Is there somebody who wants more than the others?
  • Team performance or personal performance is the most important?
  • How can we balance this so everybody can be satisfied?
  • What will we let go of?

Processing questions:

  • How did you feel during the exercise?
  • What was nice and what went wrong?
  • What was your basic concept when you decided on the result?
  • How did you prioritize as a team, as a person?
  • What’s the difference between max performance and distributing evenly?
  • Everybody is satisfied with the result or is there somebody with doubts?
  • Is there something you’d like to change?
  • What do you think, can this exercise be aligned with your everyday activities?

Example for 6 people:

  • 6 farmers 6 cows 10-liter milk = 60
  • 6 farmers 7 cows 9-liter milk = 63
  • 6 farmers 8 cows 8-liter milk = 64
  • 6 farmers 9 cows 7-liter milk = 63
  • 6 farmers 10 cows 6-liter milk = 60
  • 6 farmers 11 cows 5-liter milk = 55
  • 6 farmers 12 cows 4-liter milk = 48