Totem for Team Building

Team Building to Strengthen Collaboration and Reduce Conflict Working Remotely

Jul 08, 2020Editorial Team

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What is a Team Building Session?

According to Wikipedia, “Team Building is a method which aims to boost team spirit among a group of employees and create a favourable working environment. Getting to know one another and learning about each other’s needs can boost solidarity amongst employees through Team Building.”

In my session on the emotional debt of a team, I explain that I use Team Building sessions to reawaken collective intelligence, to allow team members to understand each other’s differences and see them as an advantage for the team.

Francis Galton

I think a team that works is made up of a combination of different personalities and skills, works together well and speaks honestly and with respect. The Team Building sessions I lead don’t look anything like an episode of the Care Bears.

Care Bears

I host 2 types of Team Building sessions, which I call preventative and curative, to keep my teams from feeling like they’re on an episode of Survivor...


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1 Preventative Team Building Face to Face

To improve communication within the team and anticipate any potential conflict, I host workshops on what I call Preventative Team Building. I was aiming for double the results. I wanted to create a sense of belonging in this team, and establish a good collaborative relationship between the team and I.

I introduced myself. I learned about their roles in the team. I asked them some questions to get to know them a little. Then I suggested we all go out to lunch together…

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I moved on to asking them to create their avatar:


No need to be good at drawing. We used applications (2):

avatar application

And then, the team started their first physical board. Here’s the first very basic version of this board. I think it’s great because everything was decided on as a team, from the layout, to the logo, to the number of columns. Some real teamwork. 


Communication quickly improved within the team, making the workshops more efficient. The good atmosphere was undeniable. When any tension started to arise, I resolved things quickly with a team discussion.

And then, mid March 2020, lockdown was declared… 

thank you message

2 Curative Team Building Remotely

Since lockdown, I’ve heard about people becoming irritated with one another more quickly, following misunderstandings. And it’s only natural, given the context. I’m even more wary of tension breaking out and I try to resolve things as soon as possible. Working remotely, conflicts  escalate and are more difficult to resolve.


Recently, following a planning issue, the mood changed rapidly between two people on my team. 

I resolved this conflict in 3 steps.


React and Remain Outside of the Conflict

As soon as I heard there was a problem, I set about resolving things quickly, while remaining neutral. You’ll sometimes hear, “no, it’s nothing.” Personally, I insist on getting to the root of the issue as I prefer prevention to healing.

Speak 1-1 with both sides

I spoke with both parties privately, on the phone, with some back and forth. My intention wasn’t to find out who was right or wrong, nor to find a solution. My intention was to listen, so they could let it all out, as the problem was deeper than a simple planning issue.

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Then, I played the mediator to make them realize that there wasn’t a single person who was in the right and another who was wrong. There were 2 individuals who weren’t understanding each other, with different personalities and different priorities. 

girl talking


Curative Team Building

I then convinced the entire team to stay on for a workshop, as I didn’t want to let the situation drag on.  I chose to play Totem remotely. This great online game is free and well designed. I only needed 20 minutes to get things under control. 

remote totem

For the Host: 

1 - Create an account. Once you’ve created an account by entering your email address (even a false one), you are logged in. Most importantly, don’t log out. 

2 - Create a group Totem. All you need to do is enter your team name.

3 - Create an individual Totem for each member of your team. You just need to enter each person’s name, assign them an avatar and link them with your team.

4 - Return to the page with your group Totem and share the link with your team.

For the Participants:

5 - Create an account. Don’t log out. 

6 - Paste the URL provided by your host in to your browser.

7 - Select the Totem of a member of your team and click on “Take part in the Totem”.

8 - Choose the animal card and then the quality card that suits your team member best. You’ve just suggested a Totem Animal to them.

9 - Suggest a Totem Animal for the other team members.

For the Host: 

10 - The game will identify a Totem Animal for each team member, by taking in to account the suggestions from the other team members.

11 - The game will then identify a Totem Animal for the team as a whole, by taking in account all the strengths (animal cards) and qualities (quality cards). 

12 - Over to you for the debrief.

Once my team had finished making their Totem Animal suggestions for everyone, we debriefed.

I ran through each Totem Animal individually, asking everyone to comment. Everyone appreciated hearing the others talk about their strengths and qualities, especially the 2 people in the disagreement.

And then, I revealed the Totem Animal for the whole team, which was a wonderful surprise. This allowed me to carry out the debriefing and strengthen unity within the team.

lady talking

3 Preventative Team Building Remotely 

So what to do when you join a new team - where everyone works remotely, and no one knows each other?

I recommend you ask to be introduced. Suggest getting to know each other by sharing a little about yourself. Seeing as no one knows each other, now is the perfect opportunity for getting to know one another.

Next, I recommend playing Totem, using the rules I created. I’ve tested these rules out with people who haven’t met face to face and it worked well. The rules are compatible with the online version.

Taking turns, each team member has 3 minutes to describe themselves. They have free rein of their description, and choose what they wish to share.

The others listen, using their individual Totem to choose a strength and quality which suits, according to them, the description they’ve just heard. They then explain their choices. Finally, the team member describing themselves chooses their own Totem Animal from the suggestions.

lady speaking

The others base their “judgement” on the information the team member wanted to share. It’s an opportunity to discuss the perceptions we have of each other.

The goal is not to find the “right” Totem Animal, but to allow each person to choose how they wish to be perceived in this new group. And that’s the starting point for a group made up of different individuals.



About the author: Marilyn KOL is an agile coach and a professional coach. She helps people, teams and companies to achieve professional goals. She shares her experiences on her blog To find out more, go to her website || To read this post in French, click here.

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