I’ve been drawing from a variety of discussions on LinkedIN to build this collection of team building activities. I’ll continue to add to it, as I read more! UPDATED on 11/20/17
Team Directions Challenge
Break the class up into teams of 3 each (4 max), making sure to mix up people from different divisions, if they don’t know each other at all, even better. Place a garbage can some where by the back of the room. Place a piece of tape or paper at the front of the room as a starting marker. Crumple up a piece of paper into a ball.
If you have natural obstacles in your training environment such as tables make sure to place the can and starting points at locations that will make it so there is not a direct straight line between the two. If not, try arranging chairs as obstacles.
The object is have the group write down directions to have a “human robot” walk from the starting point and drop the paper ball into the garbage call. It sounds simple but there are some rules, teams may only use the following directions:
Take 1 step forward
Take 2 steps forward
Turn right 45
Turn left 45
Teams are also not allowed to leave their area to try to pace or measure out distances, they must remain in their work area, they are however allowed to stand up to help them estimate.
Give the class about 5 minutes to complete their program, have each team pick a team name and write it their direction sheet then collect all the sheets. Ask for a volunteer one at a time from each team to participate as the human robot and start reading the direction off that team’s sheet, having the volunteer actually following the directions as you read them. See how close to dropping the paper ball into the trash can each team can get, possibly having a small reward for the team whose directions were closest.
I would normally hold this activity fairly early in the training as it helps to promote teamwork, collaboration and have people who may not normally work together or even know each other a chance to break the ice. Posted online by Noel Corriveau
The exercise presents itself as a team challenge, so participants go into it ready to prove that their team will be the best. They quickly see that the key to success is working cooperatively with other teams.
Discuss Team Dynamics
Using the Silver Series Team Dynamics Thumball is a playful and constructive way to have important conversations about how the team works together, supports each other, resolves conflicts, and more. It can be used to discuss current dynamics or identify ways to improve team performance.
Tower Building Exercise
This exercise examines a managerial style in action and the climate the ‘manager’ creates for the team. The exercise involves dividing participants into teams (1 manager, 3 team members) – they have to then build a tower using different sized wooden blocks. Sounds easy – until you tell them that team members are blindfolded and have to use their non-dominant hand! The exercise can be done with in 2 hours. The exercise is described in more detail on the HayGroup website. Posted online by Michelle Curran
Each table is given a puzzle and told that the team who puts it together the fastest will win a prize. What participants don’t know, but soon figure out, is that each puzzle contains one piece from another table’s puzzle. In order to win, they find they must collaborate with competing teams. It makes for a great debrief! Posted online by Lawrence Polsky
The Stuck Truck Exercise
This is a problem solving exercise based on experiential learning theory. Participants are given an exercise where a truck is stuck under a bridge – they need to figure out what to do. Based on each person’s learning style they approach the problem in very different ways. This can lead to some powerful discussions and ‘a-ha’ moments. The exercise is described in more detail on the HayGroup website. Posted online by Michelle Curran
For Orientation or On-boarding: Combine both on-line (Intranet) and on-foot scavenger hunts that require the newbies to mine a lot of the orientation information for themselves. Not only do they “get” information better than when they need to find it themselves, but they are also having fun, getting to know one another, and learning how to work collaboratively. A win-win. Posted online by Veronica Adams
Early Bird Discussion
Start the class off with the following quote. “The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse takes the cheese.” Have the group discuss the relevance of the quote as it pertains to sales, customer service, technology (insert other primary topic of interest here). While it may not be a physical activity, it can jump-start a relatively docile group into a decent discussion. Posted online by Cale Helmer
If you had a small group of 5 to 6 people develop a 2 minute commercial to promote a business or product, that would require some time. If you had more than one group make a commercial that they would act out, it would take a large block of time for each group to present their commercial and receive feedback. Posted online by Tom Lord
Create a frosty beginning
I decided at the start of the day not to introduce myself, and not let my delegates introduce each other either. About 2 hours in, I found the answers to my group questions were getting shorter and shorter. All going to plan! Why? I wanted a frosty group, non trusting and not willing to respond, because they knew nothing about me, or each other!
I then allowed them (16) to ask me a questions each about any aspect of my life. Believe me, it got personal, but the mood of the room instantly changed. Laughter, positivity, all round behaviors changed once we all had had a laugh and knew more about each others lives.
It was a painful couple of hours, but the message about needing to know and understand each others background, beliefs, thoughts and motivations was certainly driven home. Posted online by Adrian Lowe
6 Thinking Hats
This team activity focuses on problem solving. I divide the group into teams and provide each team with a dice that has a colored hat on each side (representing De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats). Team members roll the dice and have to approach the problem I give them from whatever color turns up on the dice. The next person then has to address the previous person’s comment as well as make their own comment based on the color that they roll. Info about 6 Thinking Hats can be found at Mind Tools.
Link & Lead
On 4 small sheets of paper, write each of the following tasks: 1) Lead others to the nearest window; 2) Lead the others to the nearest door; 3) Lead the others to sit down; 4) Lead the others of stand still. Roll each of these papers.
Group participants into four explaining this is a purely non-verbal exercise. Have each group select a leader/representative to come pick up their roll of paper. When everyone is back to their groups, explain that each group’s mission should be clear to everyone in that group but remind them, non-verbal exercise.
When the groups are ready, explain the “clincher” – the groups must link hands or arms with each other and then link up with the other groups to form a big circle. Tell them, they must not let go no matter what. On your signal, they are to “execute/implement their mission.” Remember, no verbal communication is allowed among players. Give them only 3 minutes. Ask if they want a second chance. 2 minutes.
Link & Lead Debrief
They will find that it hurts when other groups are stopping them from accomplishing mission. Ask why? Identify types of participants (gung-ho group members; planners who sit down first; status quo players who just stand still; option hunters). Discuss . . . If your group did the tasks one by one, group one first then 2 and 3 and 4, would it have been possible to satisfy all missions/tasks? What’s the role of communications? Whose responsibility is it to make the whole org/group understand the mission and why the order of priority? Posted online by Joel Wayne Ganibe, MBA
Raising, or lowering, the bar
Give a thin bars or poles (like a dowel or telescoping wand/pointer) about 3 feet long to each team of 4-6 people. Have teams stand in a circle and explain the “rule.”
- Team members can ONLY use their index finger (like pointing)
- Their finger must stay in constant contact with the UNDERSIDE of the bar
- They can’t use any other implement or body part. Only their index finger under the bar
- Start with everyone’s finger under the bar keeping it about chest high
- The goal is to lower the bar to floor without anyone losing contact with it until it is at the floor.
- If the bar drops or falls, they have to start over
The team will not be able to lower it until they discover the “secret.” Posted online by Peter Demarest
This exercise requires a set of building blocks (e.g. Lego) or construction rods, for each of 2 to 6 teams of 3 to 6 people on each team. Begin by building yourself a model that needs to be replicated by each team (do this prior to starting the activity of course). Then, provide each team with all the necessary materials to replicate the model, exactly as you have constructed it. To facilitate the game:
- Place your model in a corner of the room so that can’t be viewed by the groups (i.e. erect a shield of some sort).
- Explain that upon your start signal, each team can only send one ‘runner’ at a time to view and memorize some of the construction features to relay back to their team, who start putting the pieces into place.
- A different ‘runner’ is sent each time, allowing for different roles.
- Watch the competitive juices start flowing, as each team gets closer to completion of the model.
Feel free to play around with the parameters of this activity. Posted online by Greig Ward
Blindfolded Egg in Spoon Obstacle Carry
This out-of-the-box and fun activity is a throw back to when we were kids. Because most people can recognize the game it, puts them at ease relatively quickly, especially if folks don’t know each other well.
It does require a little room but can be adjusted to suit the facilities. I would normally set up 3 – 4 lanes side by side over a reasonable expanse, insert obstacles and challenges in each course (these could be chairs, whiteboards, poles, trip hazards etc.; the number and types of obstacles depend on the site). Then we break into groups of 2. One person is blindfolded and holds an egg on a spoon and the other guides them down the course from a distance. Added complexities included getting the blind folded person to wear thick gloves. We then swap the participant roles and during this process change the course.
I generally run this with ‘operational’ groups and have received great feedback. We use this exercise to highlight the importance of communication with so many distractions in workplaces. We also use it to highlight the importance of ensuring each others safety – risk awareness and injury prevention. Every time we have run this exercise, it’s a hoot and the feedback is overwhelming good. Posted online by Ann Russell
In addition, to the team building games and activities shared in this post, I recently came across a wonderful article by the folks at fitsmallbusiness.com. In their article, 26 Team Building Activities & Ideas From The Pros, they profile business leaders who share their favorite ways to improve workplace dynamics and boost employee morale. For instance:
- Volunteer together (Holly Harper)
- Learn something new together (Lisa Donoughe)
- Attend an escape room (Eric Boudreau)
- Arrange team yoga classes (Claudia Matles)
- Friday night drinks (Harley Hammond)
- Strengthsfinder workshop (Vikki Nicometo)
- Attend an improv class (Danica Kombol)Read more here.
The Marshmallow Challenge is a great activity that uses nothing more than spaghetti and marshmallows. It was the subject of a recent TED talk. Read more here.
On LinkedIN, Mindy Franz offered a variation on this activity. She said, “Break the group into small teams of 4-5 people. Deliver a sealed packet to each group. Envelope contents are: 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of twine, a yard of masking tape and one marshmallow. The objective is to build a free-standing structure as high as possible. This is a timed event – give your group 18 minutes and post the instructions on the overhead. The only instruction is: ‘The marshmallow had to be on the top of the structure at the end.’ When the time is up, send out the judges to determine which was the tallest structure.
Moon Landing Team Building Game – this simulation puts teams in the situation of an emergency moon landing. Everything is damaged expect for the 15 specific items. The group’s task is to rank the items in terms of their importance in allowing them to reach the rendezvous point. To determine their success, ‘expert’ answers were compiled by a team of scientists and engineers at NASA. Notes can be found here.
A number of great team-building games are available from purchase. Prices vary considerably from tens to hundreds of dollars, as activity producers try to put a price tag on their creativity, intellectual property, and make back their costs. Many focus on a group challenge — building something together; getting out of a fix together (think Survivor simulations); finding the answer to a mystery; etc. You can find a range of such products on the Trainers Warehouse website here.
You’ll find activities such as:
- Pass the Chicken by A.C.T. $
- Community Puzzle $
- Teamwork Cards by Tom Heck $
- Lost at Sea and other “Survivor”-type Simulations $$
- Toobeez $$
- Building the Tower Silently (uses Legos) $$
- Colorblind $$$
- Grand Canyon Adventure Simulation $$$
- Jungle Escape $$$
- Tall Ships Simulation $$$
- Search for the Lost Dutchman $$$$
- Electric Maze $$$$
The book, Zoom, is also quite a popular activity . Users cut out the pages of this visual progression book, shuffle them up and distribute them. They challenge players to put themselves back in order.
Big Book of Team Building Games, by John W. Newstrom, Edward E. Scannell
Big Book of Team Motivating Games, by Mary Scannell and Edward Scannell
Raptor and other Team Building Games, by Sam Sikes
Duct Tape Team Building Games, by Tom Heck
SEE ALSO COMMUNICATION EXERCISES