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How to Select a Team Building Game

With all the team building games out there–in books, on blogs, facilitated by consultants, shared in social media–how is one to know what experience is right for their group?

The truth is, too many variables exist for there to be any “right answers.” But, hopefully, we can help you ask the right questions so you’re better able to hone in on a handful of good candidates that will meet your needs.

GOALS

The first question to ask yourself is “what is my goal?”  Any game or activity you undertake should have a clear purpose, which should be communicated to participants. Your ability to be completely transparent about the goal will help you get buy-in and participation, and will  help make the effort a success. To articulate your goal, think about your group in terms of both who they are and how they currently work together–are they just getting to know each other? do they know each other well already? is there a particular challenge they’re facing?

Try breaking down the goals into these three broad strokes:

  • Raise awareness — of issues, personality styles, and roles
  • Bring team together to build relationships — build trust, address problems, improve performance
  • Build specific collaborative skills — such as communication, listening, process improvement

No matter what the goal, be aware that with most team games, the most important part of the experience is the reflection, learning, discussion and forward thinking that happens at the end.

TIME

Once you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, the next questions relate to time and budget. With respect to time, understand that a more involved, lengthier experience will give more substance on which participants can reflect. In addition, longer debriefs and discussions will allow current work issues to surface and give the group time to work through ways to apply the learning to their day-to-day challenges. While shorter experiences can help to build relationships, awareness, and understanding, they may not get to deeper, underlying issues.

You may wonder if the ultimate goal is to uncover real work issues, then why start with a simulated activity? The reason is that it’s easier for people to make observations and raise concerns in fictional situations than in real ones. But once the topic is broached, people can more comfortably address the ways in which the simulation mirrors the real world challenges — and discuss new techniques or processes that will yield to better results.

BUDGET

Finally, we get to the question of money.  We’ve found many team building experiences both online and in books that won’t cost a penny, but may require you to gather props from around the house. If you’re on a low budget or need to travel light, Jim Cain has a series of books that will come in handy (Rope Games, Find Something to Do – no prop activities, and the Big Book of Low-cost Training Games), as does Tom Heck (Duct Tape Teambuilding Games). Sometimes, however, managers and team leaders opt for an experience that signals greater professionalism, planning, and investment. Beyond these perceptions, many pricier games are built on the intellectual property of team-building experts and come with robust facilitation notes.

GAME SELECTIONS

Following are brief descriptions of game choices categorized by goal. The infographic pictured above includes indication of time and expense, and can be used in conjunction with the descriptions below.

RAISE AWARENESS of ISSUES, STYLES & ROLES

Helium StickTeams try to lower a really lightweight pole without anyone’s finger leaving the pole. Seems easy, but the pole tends to go up, not down. How do teams get in sync?
Team Dynamics ThumballDiscuss the dynamics and interactions of your team. Whoever catches the ball responds to the prompt under their thumb: how do you support each other? show appreciation? gain commitment? build trust? treat mistakes? manage disagreements?
Marshmallow ChallengePopularized by Tom Wujec, who presented a TED Talk on the subject, the challenge is to build the tallest possible free-standing structure, which will support one marshmallow on the top, using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape and one yard of string.
Style Play Cards 12 quick, energizing games that build awareness of 4 distinct personality styles and let players practice interacting with people of other styles.
Leadership Game – Uncover key aspects of leadership. The 115-card deck includes 75 leadership qualities covering values, goals and results, managing yourself and others, and decision-making, plus 40 inspiring images.
Challenging Assumptionsraise awareness of preconceptions as small groups work to assemble a seemingly simple puzzle. They start by turning all the pieces face up and there the learning begins.

BRING TEAMS TOGETHER

TALK ABOUT OUR DYNAMICS

Get to Know Each Other —Thumballs are a great way to discover things about other people. A variety of these balls are suitable for work environments. They’re fun, active, and not intimidating at all!
Team Dynamics ThumballDiscuss the dynamics and interactions of your team. Whoever catches the ball responds to the prompt under their thumb: how do you support each other? show appreciation? gain commitment? build trust? treat mistakes? manage disagreements?
Quotations GameUse quotations to inspire, promote conversation and begin discussions. On the face side of each card is a quote; on the back, a question which is linked to it. 144 cards cover leadership, communication, giving meaning, change, personal development and relationships.
Values GameDiscuss personal values and group norms with this 140-card game. Helps teams become more aware of what they aspire to, appreciate others’ perspectives, and reach consensus.
Images of OrganizationsThe 16 images in this unique pack present a variety of work environments (both positive and frustrating) and will help your group talk openly about difficult topics.

PROBLEM SOLVE TOGETHER

Murder Mystery Each card in this deck contains one clue. Without writing anything down or sharing their clues, teams need to sort out the logic puzzle and find the victim, murder weapon, time place and motive.
Marshmallow ChallengePopularized by Tom Wujec, who presented a TED Talk on the subject, the challenge is to build the tallest possible free-standing structure, which will support one marshmallow on the top, using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape and one yard of string.
Seeing the Point: This puzzle challenges teams to do more with less. Each is given a set of 7 pieces and asked to create 5 uniform shapes. Creating four of these shapes is easy, but making the fifth takes creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and alignment of resources.
River Crossing:  In this one, the experience of trying to get your group across the river mirrors the challenge of a group working toward a shared goal. As participants move into the river, their perspective changes, they can’t see obstacles, but need to figure out how to move forward.
Perfect Square: For practicing leadership and consensus building, this challenge requires teams to form their 60-foot rope into a perfect square—blindfolded. Generates great discussions about interdependence, communication, leadership and more.
Search and Rescue—Let teams experience the power of teamwork and benefits of interdependence as they work together to guide the rescue plane from landing pad to landing pad using three guiding ropes.

Toobeez – a giant construction kit with oodles of exercises that will let you focus on creative problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills. Build your own exercise or use one of the Toobeez Activity Guide (sold separately).

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Huddle Deck – Use these 60 discussion prompts spark conversation and build mutual understanding, start meetings, alleviate stress, or identify perceptions and misperceptions.
LIVE a Life Less Ordinary — A board game that helps you learn what makes your colleagues tick. After the game you’ll know and appreciate them at a deeper level.
Ups & Downs Card Deck — This card deck feature a little pink fellow who lives the whole gamut of experiences and emotions out on the water, in an absurdly inadequate vessel, a bathtub. The range of scenarios presented on the cards reflects common workplace experiences and dynamics.
Strengths to Max Card Deck – Build understanding of one another’s strengths. This deck illustrates many character traits typically perceived as strengths, and others often seen as deficits. Have a rich conversation about the balance of strengths needed for a well-rounded team.
Stones have Feelings Too Card Deck – A great tool to explore and discuss Emotional Intelligence, and build emotional literacy. Each card in this set features an expressive image of a stone on one side, and three words on the reverse, which describe the emotion.
View Changer Cards — Ideal for coaching and conversation, this deck inspires reflection,, discussion, and relaxation. Each of the 53 stunning photos is matched with a thought-provoking question on the back.

BUILD SKILLS

LISTENING

Murder Mystery Each card in this deck contains one clue. Without writing anything down or sharing their clues, teams need to sort out the logic puzzle and find the victim, murder weapon, time place and motive.
WorkstationsLike Murder Mystery, each card contains one piece of information. Without trading cards or writing anything down, team members must share information verbally in order to solve a logic puzzle.

PROCESS IMPROVEMENT

Pass the Chicken teams pass around a bunch of squawking animals quickly and efficiently in 4 rounds, during which teams try to improve their process and efficiency despite increasing complexity.
What Goes Around Comes Around –  explore the challenges of shared responsibility and the critical importance of making incremental improvements in process.  Participants must pass a huge ball from person to person in record time, even when additional challenges are thrown their way.

“CO-OPETITION” & NEGOTIATION

T-trade™ involves three groups, each trying to achieve the best business outcome for themselves but needing to ‘make deals’ with other groups in order to be successful. How do they go about making mutually acceptable agreements and yet maintain their focus on achieving the best individual team results they can?
Win-Win-Win — In this game participants will discover that competitive spirit works only up to a point but it is collaboration that actually builds success. Played in 5 rounds, this activity revolves around a profit maximization objective. The game offers lesson in collaboration both within teams as well as across teams.
Common Currency — Teams representing fictional countries must cooperate in trading coins and information while competing for the most valuable combination of coins. Interactions involve both task (outcome) and relationship (process) skills. Good for teamwork and strategic planning, leadership, communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, and decision making.

COMMUNICATION WITHIN GROUPS

River Crossing — In this one, the experience of trying to get your group across the river mirrors the challenge of a group working toward a shared goal. As participants move into the river, their perspective changes, they can’t see obstacles, but need to figure out how to move forward.
Toxic WasteTeamwork, communication and problem solving skills are required to move the “toxic waste” into neutralizing containers.
Toobeez – a giant construction kit with oodles of exercises that will let you focus on creative problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills. Build your own exercise or use one of the Toobeez Activity Guide (sold separately).
What’s My Communication Style? Uncover preferred styles of verbal and non-verbal communication with a quick personality assessment tool. Discover preferences for one of 4 communication styles and ways to use the styles to enhance communication.
Simbols is a game using colorful cards to assemble into specific patterns very quickly. Participants efficiently describe the cards they’ve been dealt, then “launch” their solution before the deadline.
Tall Ships teams must work together under pressure to build the tallest ship mast possible at the lowest cost. To win a building contract, teams must demonstrate the “Seven C’s”: Clarity, Capability, Collaboration, Commitment, Communication, Continuous Improvement, Creativity.
Colourblindblindfolded participants hold a collection of colored plastic shapes. Teams must work together to identify the pieces missing from the set. Success demands effective group management, questioning and listening.
Electric Mazeworking under time pressure, teams must move across a 6 foot by 9 foot electronically-programmed grid without triggering an alarm. Teams, broken into top and middle managers and group members, must respond only to verbal directions.

COMMUNICATION BETWEEN GROUPS

Seeing the Point This puzzle challenges teams to do more with less. Each is given a set of 7 pieces and asked to create 5 uniform shapes. Creating four of these shapes is easy, but making the fifth takes creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and alignment of resources.
Communication Derailedtackle three common communication challenges (communication within a team, between teams, and during organizational stress). Includes 3 comprehensive modules, each 2-3 hours long.
Minefieldif you don’t want hard-won organizational knowledge to go down the drain this game’s for you. Inter-team communication and cooperation are a must as teams gather costly information to solve this complex logic problem.
Chainlink — An exercise in managing the demands of being in an internal supply chain, and how to cope with meeting customer needs while managing suppliers.
Chinese CheckersTeams must moves their players across a human-sized Chinese Checkers board. Teams quickly see they will achieve their goal more easily without “silos.” Success requires that they stop focusing on their own goals, interests and capabilities.


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