11 RA Staff Development Activities (free resources)

September 28, 2012

The aspect of leadership I most enjoy is being able to create development opportunities for my staff. Staff in-service opprtunities can include anything from skills building activities, trips, discussions, and games. Here are 10 different staff development / in-service activities you can prepare for your staff:

1. Show-and-Tell – We all like talking about our personal stories and things that hold special meaning in our lives. Have each of your RA staffers bring something to your staff development meeting to share with the group. I’ve had RA’s bring special awards, mementos from family members, and other items that hold special sentimental value. The activity allows staffers to learn things about one another that they may not have known before. This is a no-cost activity that usually sparks great discussion.

2. Teamwork Field Trips –  Take your staff on a local field trip to meet with leaders who manage a team in a business or non-profit organization. I previously wrote a post on how I took my staff on a trip of the USAirways command center and aircraft maintenance facilities. I connected with a friend who manages mechanic safety, and he was able to get us a tour where he and his team spoke about the crucial importance of communication and teamwork. You could plan a similar trip by contacting leaders of organizations in your local area. Businesses typically like to show off their work and accomplishments so you should have luck setting something like this up. The worst they can say is “no.”

3. Article & Book Discussions – I am a big advocate of reading and recommending those resources to my staff and colleagues. If your budget allows, purchase a particular book for your staff. They can read the book prior to your having an in-service meeting to discuss the book and how you can apply its content to your own organization. You can even prepare “discussion prompt” worksheets so they can jot down ideas prior to the meeting. To simplify things, assign a particular chapter or even a small journal or magazine article for the discussion.

4. Games & Simulations – I enjoy creating and leading games and simulation activities for my staff. Games and simulations should be centered around learning specific aspects of their RA position, including teamwork, basic counseling skills, and communication.  Click HERE to find a handful of simulation activities related to diversity, delegation, and communication. I also highly recommend Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes by Thiagi.

5. Case Studies – You can create various case studies that your staff can work on to determine various solutions. Pair up newer RA’s with your veterans so they can work together. Case studies for RA’s can range from conduct and mental health issues to diversity and teamwork challenges.

6. Community Service Projects – Arrange for your staff to participate in a local community service project. Projects can range from helping at food banks, YMCA and other youth group organizations, churches, and local municipalities.

7. Photo Scavenger Hunt – While I understand that scavenger hunts can be discouraged at some schools due to hazing policies, photo scavenger hunts can be an easy way to build team collaboration and spirit. Larger staffs can be broken up into smaller teams and sent out to get photos of various objects and situations. The team that gets the most photos of the objects listed in the time alloted wins a prize (or simply kudos). Here is a photo scavenger hunt sheet you can print and use.

8. MOOC Courses – A “MOOC” is a massive online open course. MOOC’s are free (hence the “open”) and offered by various universities and organizations, such as Stanford, MIT, and Khan Academy. Some of the course materials would be appropriate to use for staff development activities, including business, management, and psychology lessons. RA’s could work on various lessons you assign on their own time or read the content prior to attending a staff meeting where it will be discussed.

9. Webinars – Similar to #8, webinars are online presentations that can be viewed as a group or individually. There are many webinars available online for a fee and for free. Topics range from business, marketing, and social media use, leadership, and student life-related areas. Pre-tests and post-tests tied to student life outcome efforts could be created and administered.

10. Arts & Crafts – Sometimes staff development activities can be simply for fun. The completed projects can be kept by the staff or donated to local care homes and hospitals. Craft supplies can be purchased at Walmart, Target, local craft stores, or even online at Oriental Trading.

11. Leadership Chats – Facilitating leadership-related discussions between RA’s and executive administrators at the university can prove to be very insightful and expose them to individuals they may not normally interact with. University staffers, such as the Vice President of Student Affairs, Vice President of Finance & Administration, and the Director of Housing & Residence Life can be invited to in-service meetings to discuss topics regarding career development and being a leader.


Group Interview Strategies & Activities

September 27, 2012

Every activity that you include in your group process should be there for a specific assessment purpose. Don’t have an activity just to have an activity. You should include activities that get to the heart of your department’s mission, vision, values, and culture. If your department is very program-based in which your student staffers are developing activities and programs, then your group interview activities should be geared to assess skills needed for this area. Assess for the personality and skills that are essential for succeeding.  

Here are a few specific group interview activities based upon a few of the functional job areas typically encountered in Student Life:


  • Brainstorming – You can do this individually or as a group. Give the candidates sheets of paper and markers to come up with programming ideas based upon criteria that you give them (e.g., more than $25.00 per program; must be original / nothing you’ve already attended or exist on campus)
  • Planning – Provide the candidates with a basic idea for a program and have them list the specific steps they would take to implement that program.
  • Marketing – Similar to the planning activity, have the candidates develop a marketing plan for a program idea that you give to them. Provide paper and markers for them to draw actual flyers and / or posters. 

Student Conduct

  • Creative Sanctioning – Give each candidate a a sheet with various student conduct scenarios on them. They are to come up with suggestions for what they think are the appropriate sanctions for each violation and present them to their group.

“Soft Skills”

  • Following Instructions – This is a simple assessment that can be easily overlooked. All candidates should be evaluated on very basic habits needed to perform well in the workplace. This is an easy way to eliminate candidates from consideration. Do they show up on time for the group and individual interviews? Did they bring the required materials you asked them to bring? Did they complete any assignments and / or paperwork you asked them to?  Candidates who fail to follow instructions (or simply disregard them) during the interview process will most likely exhibit the same behaviors if offered the job.
  • Listening – Break candidates up into various groups and assign a current staffer to each group. Have the staffer pretend to be a concerned parent or student and read a one-page scripted dialogue that you create. After the staffer is finished reading, they then quiz the candidates on what they just heard. You can rotate staffers through each group with a different script and different set of quiz questions.  Each candidate should be given a sheet in which to write down the answers for each dialogue quiz.


  • Group Evaluations – In one of my doctoral courses, we were assigned a group project that has various components that were to be completed over the length of the semester. At the end of the semester, we had to provide a written evaluation of each of our teammates on their performance. You can do something similar in which you have groups who work together throughout the course of your group process. At the end of the group process, they can provide a written account of how they thought their team members performed. Not only will this offer some more insight that may corroborate what you already feel about particular candidates, but you can judge the content of the actual comments. Was a candidate particularly harsh in their criticism or did they provide constructive feedback? Was any feedback inappropriate? (i.e., discrimatory, foul language, overly negative).     

For more information, please see our previous post titled Creating Effective Group Interview Activities.

Ways to Handle Staff Power Struggles

September 17, 2012

Most of us have the joy of supervising people who are mild-mannered, team-players, and get along with their co-workers. But occasionally we have those vocal staff members who feel the need to be in charge. Unfortunately, they are typically untactful in their approach and this creates discord among the staff. This can eventually lead to conflicts and, ultimately, a lack of production. The situation can be worse if you have multiple staffers who enagage in the same behavior.

As the leader of the group, you need to be able to quickly and efficiently handle power struggles that will occur on your team before they get out of control.

Here are some tactics you can use to alleviate team power struggles:


Hire for Attitude – Take the time to thoroughly assess candidates for postivie attitude, getting along with others, and the ability to work effectively on a team. Purposely ask questions that assess for potential staffers’ need to control and be in charge. Examples include: Tell us about a time you felt that you had to take charge of a situation? Give us an example of when you had a conflict with a co-worker over an assigned task? While we certainly want staffers to take control of situations, we don’t want them power hungry and starting staff civil wars. Mark A. Murphy better illustrates this in his book Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude.

Employ the “No Asshole Rule” – Robert I. Sutton recommends that supervisors utilize the “No Asshole Rule,” which essentially means not tolerating those who act like bullies with whom they work or are supposed to serve, particularly subordinates. Setting this expectation during staff recruitment sessions, training, and supervisory one-on-one’s are important tactics in helping to maintain a drama-free staff. I highly recommend Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t. He includes a short survey to see whether or not you yourself display these types of behaviors in the workplace.

Be the Role Model / Set the Standard – Staff will typically emulate your example in how they conduct themselves and interact with their co-workers. If you exhibit pushy, demeaning, and demanding behaviors, your staffers will see this and potentially use the same approach with their colleagues. Take stock in how you rare representing yourself to your employees. Humility goes a long way in setting a positive example. Dan Rockwell (@leadershipfreak) explains more in Secrets to Leading without Position or Authority.

Illustrate the Chain-of-Command & Discuss Expectations – Fully explain who reports to whom and who is in charge of what. Additionally, illustrate what tasks and responsibilities staffers are NOT in charge of or are NOT supposed to be involved with. This helps to clarify expectations so there is no confusion among staffers. These expectations should be directly tied to specific job descriptions and supporting literature in employee handbooks.


Channel & Direct Their Energy – Give those who need to be in charge something to do. And I don’t mean busy work for work’s sake. Create projects or new responsibilities purposely for them to allow them to stretch their wings while also being challenged. Keep a close eye on them and have them report their progress during your regularly scheduled supervisory discussions. However, be careful not to “feed the beast” by enabling their ability to boss around their staffers with the new project(s). This can be accomplished by having it as a solo project or by having them work exclusively with you.

Supervisory Discussions – Use one-on-one supervisory meetings to quickly address staffers that are extending their reach. Seek to understand why they are getting overly zealous. They may actually perceive that they are being helpful when, in fact, they are creating more problems than solutions. If necessary (and use this very sparingly), tactfully remind them that you are ultimately the supervisor of the team. See my previous post, 10 Tips for Mentoring & Supervising a Know-It-All, for more advice.

Limit Work Scope – Supervisors who have a laissez-faire attitude about what can and should be done among staffers can create an environment that breeds uncertainty. While some staffers may become aloof, others will see this as an opportunity and will go overboard trying to solve or fix things that may not be broken (including their colleagues). As stated previously, clarify roles and position expectations. Staffers with unlimited reach can create complications.

What are some insights and stories that you can share related to staff power struggles? Share your comments below you will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton.

Combating Staff Fatigue

September 3, 2012

Work can be satisfying, gratifying, and challenging, but it can also be demanding and tiring. Have ever felt exhausted, had your creativity stifled, or found yourself irritable with your coworkers?  If so, you are not alone as this is a common theme among overworked employees called “staff fatigue.” If you are unsure whether you or your team is suffering from staff fatigue, there are a few behavioral warning signs and questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed a significant change in attitude?  (Those who were once easy going are now on edge.)
  • Do you or your staff members perceive most things in a negative way?
  • Is there are breakdown in communication? Are staff members having trouble communicating with one another?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in performance or production?
  • Are you staff members complaining more than usual?

If you find that you are answering yes to the majority of these questions, then you or your staff could be suffering from staff fatigue. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of the type of work they are performing. Staff fatigue can be caused by overwork, dissatisfaction, poor balance between work and personal life, and lack of control over the work environment. It typically occurs during the busiest work times because staff members are working extra hours and spending more time together than usual. We can notice it in our student staff member because it can be particularly difficult for them to separate their work from their personal lives due to them living around one another and having constant interaction.

So if you feel that there is an issue amoung your staffers, how do you go about devising a solution and returning your team to its fully functioning and creative zenith? As a supervisor or team member you should:

  • Relax and take a deep breath before acting.
  • Extend your hand in appreciation.
  • Toss in some time off to give everyone some breathing room.
  • Understand the issues from each staff members’ perspective.
  • Recognize the work and effort of your staff.
  • Create open dialogue and the need to maintain open communication.

When team members spend more than eight hours a day with one another sometimes personal quirks can work their way under each others’ skin; after multiple days of the same routine it can become too much. As a supervisor, you must remain aware of your staff members’ feelings towards the work they are doing and realize when they are at their breaking point. As a team member, you need to be open with how you feel and communicate your feelings with those who are directly involved. Whether you are a supervisor or a team member, communicating with one another is one of the most basic and essential functions, and also it is what is needed to help return the team to a positive, productive, and creative dynamo.

For additional information, click HERE for a 30 second video (“30 Second MBA”) from Fast Company titled How do you re-inspire exhausted team members? by Dr. Joseph Folkman, Ph.D.

Have you ever encountered a situation where you or your staff has been overwhelmed by fatigue? If so, how did you work through it? What techniques did you use? We welcome your stories, thoughts, and ideas on this topic.

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