As a person of Scottish heritage, I grew up in a household that emphasized our rich family history. Our family's coat of arms served as the centerpiece of most discussions on the subject. Garnished in star and sun symbols colored in red, yellow and blue, I learned that our coat of arms represented different parts of our family's heritage and that its symbols and colors held important and specific meanings.

For example, the red on our shield designates military fortitude and magnanimity; the yellow signifies generosity; the blue stands for truth and loyalty, while the suns symbolize glory and splendor and the stars denote divine qualities from above.

Each coat of arms is topped off with a Latin motto, as well. Ours is Sero Sed Serio, which translates into: "Late, But in Earnest." Apparently, the clan was waylaid by a rival family while en route to fight a battle over a border dispute in the early 13th Century.

But, those specifics aren't the point. What matters is that our family has an emblem, in its coat of arms, which distinguishes it from others. And it has been used, as such, for centuries.

Do you think that your team members would benefit by distinguishing themselves from other teams in the business? If so, perhaps you should consider doing the coat of arms design exercise, outlined below, with them. It's a great way to bring your team together!

Here's how it works:

1. Once your team is assembled, provide a brief overview of what a coat of arms is and its place in medieval history.

2. Present a coat of arms sample and discuss the importance of its color and symbols (There are plenty to discover. To begin your exploration, just do a web search on "coat of arms" and determine the one you would like to use as an example).

3. Describe the importance of the family motto and share an example.

4. Once your team is brought up to speed on the subject, charge them to work with you to create a coat of arms (shield with motto) that they feel best represents the team.

5. As you begin the facilitation, draw a shield on a flip chart or whiteboard and organize it into four quadrants. Have the team brainstorm and choose:

  • a symbol that describes the team's strengths and place it one quadrant
  • another symbol that designates the team's personality and place that in another quadrant
  • four words to put in the third quadrant that reflects the team's shared values
  • four words that reflect your team's core mission and list them in the last quadrant

6. Once the coat of arms is designed, begin the discussion on what the team motto should be. Shoot for something short and pithy. Once determined, write the slogan above the shield. Voila!

If needed, the exercise (and each of its steps) can be time-boxed to ensure completion. Be sure to encourage creativity and the free flow of ideas. As you facilitate the work, remember to make each discussion that transpires ones of sharing and discovery.

To close, this exercise can be great fun and it can do wonders to get your people talking about what it means to be part of the team. It has proven to be an imaginative way for me to help my clients to create a platform for further conversation and camaraderie when they're forging new, or reestablishing esprit de corps among existing, teams.

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