Five Ideas

(First published, September 2001)

Teambuilding activities create high-performance teams whose members are extremely loyal to each other and to their team. Sometimes, however, the emphasis in teamwork results in reduced collaboration across teams. Similar problems occur when employees become so focused on their departmental goals that they ignore or downplay the strategic goals for the total organization.

Five Ideas is an activity that encourages participants to go beyond what is good for their team or their department and work on cooperatively achieving common goals.

Key Concept

During the first round of this activity, participants from each division of an organization identify what they need from the other divisions. During the second round, participants are organized into heterogeneous groups with one member from each division. These groups come up with collaborative ideas for reaching a common goal.


To come up with ideas for inter-team and inter-departmental collaboration for achieving common goals in an organization.


Two to 10 members representing each different department.

Our sample activity used for illustrative purposes below involves five members representing these three departments: service, parts, and sales.


45 minutes to 3 hours (depending on the number of participants, number of divisions they represent, and amount of detail required)

Equipment and Supplies

  • Flip charts
  • Felt-tipped pens
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Specify a common goal. At the beginning of the activity, announce a goal that requires collaboration among the different divisions. Briefly discuss how the achievement of this goal can be measured.

Paul, who is facilitating participants from three different departments, has a choice of several common goals: making a record profit for the next quarter, reducing employee turnover, and developing new service lines. He eventually decides to stick with the mundane (but important) goal of providing excellent customer service. During the discussion of this goal, participants suggest that a reduction in the waiting time and an increase in positive customer feedback could be used as measures for checking the achievement of this goal.

Organize participants into homogeneous groups. Assign everyone from the same department to the same group. (However, if there are more than seven people from each department, divide them into more than one group.)

Paul has a simple task. He organizes three groups of service, parts, and sales, and assigns the five members from each department to the appropriate group. (If there were 11 people from each department, Paul would have created one group of six and another group of seven.)

Assign tasks to the homogeneous groups. Ask members of each group to brainstorms a list of ideas in response to the question, “How can employees from the other departments help us better achieve the common goal?” Encourage groups to come up with a long list and shrink it down to the top five ideas. Announce a suitable time limit.

Pam is a member of the service department. She suggests that the sales group should provide them with a clearer picture of what each customer wants. Someone else in the group suggests that the sales group should stop making rash promises to the customer. The group also decides that they want better coordination with the parts group to avoid service delays. The other two groups work out similar lists of what they want from the remaining groups. Each group records its ideas on a flip chart.

Get ready to conclude the first round of the activity. Five minutes before the end of the allotted time, blow a whistle to get participants' attention. Ask each group to identify its top five ideas for achieving the common goal. Ask individual participants to take notes about the final list. Explain that every participant would need this information during the next phase of the activity.

Reorganize participants into heterogeneous groups. Blow the whistle at the end of the allotted time. Now, reorganize the participants into several groups that contain one member from each of the previous (homogeneous) groups.

Paul divides participants into five groups of three members each. Pam ends up in a group with Alan from sales and Kathy from parts.

Assign tasks to the heterogeneous groups. Ask members of the group to brainstorm a list of ideas in response to the question, “How can employees from different departments work with each other to achieve our common goal?” Encourage participants to use their ideas from the previous round in a flexible fashion. As before, encourage each group to begin with a long list and whittle it down to the top five ideas.

Pam is somewhat irritated by the unreasonable expectations of the other two members of her new group. After some debate, all three group members focus on the common goal, compromise their initial demands, and come up with creative strategies.

Get ready to conclude the activity. Five minutes before the end of the assigned time, blow the whistle and ask the groups to identify the top five ideas. Also ask each group to list the final set of ideas on the flip chart and get ready to make a presentation.

Share the ideas. Select a group at random and ask its spokesperson to present the final set of five ideas. Encourage members of the other groups to listen carefully. Repeat the procedure until all groups have made their presentation.

Conduct individual action planning activity. Give an index card or a piece of paper to each participant. Ask participants to write down five ideas in response to the question, “How can I individually contribute to the achievement of the common goal?” Tell participants that they could record earlier ideas from their groups, or ideas from other groups, or new ideas. Announce a suitable time limit.

Pam's action plan contains four items from the list created by her group. In addition, she comes up with a bright idea of her own: “Frequently remind other members of my group about the importance of helping the sales groups to come up with realistic time estimates.”


Want an alternative ending? Instead of concluding with the individual action-planning round, reassemble participants into their original homogeneous groups. Now ask them to brainstorm ideas in response to the question, “How can we support the other departments in their attempts to reach the common goal?”

Not enough time? You can speed up the activity by asking the groups to come up with just two ideas during each rounds.

Not enough participants? This should not be a problem, since you can conduct the activity with as few as four participants (two participants each from two different departments).

Too many participants? It could be a problem if you have hundreds of participants. To handle this situation, simply divide the larger group into medium-sized groups (of about 20) with equal representation from different departments. Then conduct parallel versions of the activity with each subgroup.

Unbalanced number of participants? What if you have 20 sales people, 15 support staff, and 4 trainers? The way we handle this situation is to redistribute participants from the larger groups to the other groups and ask them to role-play membership of the other groups. In our example, several of the sales people and a few of the support staff will pretend to be trainers so each group will have 13 members.

Too few departments? Recently we conducted FIVE IDEAS with employees from two merging organizations. Each organization sent 10 representatives. We set up two homogeneous groups of five from each organization for the first round. For the second round, we redistributed the participants into five heterogeneous groups of four. Each of these groups had two representatives from two different homogeneous groups.