“Teambuilding activities” might sound like a trip to the dentist, but a good team is worth the drill!
Dad jokes aside, why do so many people shiver at the mere thought of attending yet another teambuilding session? Because most of these sessions do no good. They are boring, ineffective, and sometimes downright cringe.
And yet transparent, supportive, and trusting teams are proven over and over to be insanely productive.
So are there any team-building activities that can actually work towards boosting these qualities, and not just appear to?
After working with hundreds of teams, we are sure there are team-building activities that work. We reached out to high-performing teams and asked them to share what team-building activities work for them.
But first, let’s cover what makes a good team-building activity at the core.
What Makes a Good Team Activity?
There are thousands of team-building activities described on the Internet and elsewhere. Some even claim to be “non-boring” and super engaging. But that’s not enough.
Although fun helps a lot, the goal of team building activity is to not just entertain your colleagues, but foster team spirit, camaraderie, and collaboration in the process.
A good team activity is both fun AND helps you towards building a more robust team environment.
Here are some easy factors to tell if the team-building exercise is worth your time.
- Not competitive. In competition, there are always winners and losers. And although competitive activities can certainly be fun, instead of helping your team members learn how to work together towards a shared goal, it clashes them against each other. If there’s a winner or loser in a game, it should be an entire team.
- Shared goal. Any production environment has a shared goal – building the best product or growing a company. But that goal is abstract. Team activities can be designed to have a clear shared goal that encourages team members to learn to work together and establish a sense of unity.
- Fun. Obviously, non-fun activities are less likely to stick and over time will be perceived by team members as a waste of time. Such a perception will lead to lower morale and disengagement, the total opposite of what we’re after. To keep your activities fun, mix them up, try new variations, and gather regular feedback from teammates.
- Not necessarily games. Team-building activities are not necessarily games. As you will see in this article, there are conversation-based activities that can be fun, uniting, and eye-opening.
Ok, What Makes a Bad Team Building Activity?
Here’s a checklist for you to quickly disband activities that will be detrimental to your team-building efforts.
- Activities and games where there’s only one clear winner
- Activities that divide people into smaller groups of two-three people
- Activities that don’t involve or engage everyone on your team
- Conversations where a person is encouraged to talk only about themselves
- Activities where people perform individual tasks in isolation
Fun Onsite ActivitiesBring your team together and try these. Shared office space or outdoors is a perfect setting.
Participants number: 5 and more
Time requirement: 2-5 minutes per round
We all know how pivotal is strong communication for team success, and this game will help your team members to boost cross-department communication, better express their ideas and have fun in the process. Observant managers can even spot where team communication may be lacking.
Ask your colleagues to form a line, half a-meter distance from each other, and instruct everyone to only look forward and don’t turn back unless they are prompted. Approach the last person in line and tell them “a message”, an event, or an object they must describe without using their words. Ideally, it’s something not too simple and not too complicated, like landing a parachute, running from bees, or catching a big fish. Alternatively, you can show it yourself.
The last person then asks the next person in line to turn back and shows the activity without any words. Team members will “pass the message” until the first person in line “receives the message” and has to guess what it was.
Here’s a video that illustrates the game process:
Variations and suggestions:
- Make the first person describe the latest task they worked on
- Make the game time-sensitive, .e.g team members only have 1 minute to get the message from the beginning to the end.
- Add audience. The game is insanely fun to observe, so if your team is big, you can play it several times with 6-10 random people from your team, while the rest are watching
The Caterpillar race, also sometimes known as “balloon train”, is a physical game that teaches your team time management, communication, and strategy skills.
A team of at least four people stands in line and places a round object such as a balloon or a ball between every two people standing next to each other. The goal is to move together forward without using hands to hold balloons in place.
The goal of the game is where it gets interesting. You can break into two teams and make them compete with each other on who gets faster to the finish line, but there’s also a way to make this game a more unifying experience. You can make your team members compete not with each, but with time, by simply posing a deadline, e.g. reaching from one end of the room to another in 30 seconds.
Another way is to make them gradually build a caterpillar that includes your entire team. Start your caterpillar with three team members and make them get from one end of the room to another and come back. If they didn’t drop the ball across all the way, they can add another person to their caterpillar. With each team member added, your caterpillar will get bigger, becoming harder to move and turn. That’s where your teammates should start strategizing and communicating on how to add new teammates, how to sync turns, and how to complete their goals.
Variations and suggestions:
- Use large balloons that easily pop and start over whenever one of the balloons bursts
- Add waypoints and obstructions that force team members to turn and walk over roadblocks
- Add a “no words” rule, requiring team members to communicate only visually
You know how to organize projects. Have you tried to organize a company party as a project?
Most holidays can become a great opportunity to create a themed party for your team filled with quizzes, mini-games, and light-hearted discussions. These are a great alternative to poorly planned corporate hangouts.
The question is, who can organize it all? Well, let your team members do that. Better yet, make it a project. You can even use Trello or Asana to better organize the process.
Break down a party into components. Assign creative team leaders. You know the drill. For starters, every party consists of several key components:
- Location and props
Someone on your team who is outspoken can become a great host, and if you want, you can even make a team poll that will identify the most fitting candidates for that role.
Next, games. Quizzes and mini-games can be designed by creative members of your team or collected by researchers. Again, the best ideas can be polled on. Simply put together people from several departments, assign a creative leader, and you got a roaster of mini-games.
Locations and props will depend on whether you want to hold a party in the office or remotely.
Make sure everyone is involved. Alternatively, form a smaller team that will organize a party for the entire company.
Variations and suggestions:
- Acknowledge every participant and their role in creating an outstanding team experience
- Make sure that every aspect of your party is related to the main theme
- You don’t need a holiday, make up your own! Better yet, make up something unique to your company and establish it as a tradition.
Group Juggle is an immensely fun team experience for both new and established teams to get closer and bond.
Gather everyone in a large circle and ask everyone to raise their hand. Drop a ball to the first random person while calling out their name. That person passes the ball further in the same manner and lowers their hand. Let the ball pass through everyone.
Now here is where the fun starts.
Now, ask your team to pass the ball in the same order without raising their hands. Now add another ball a few seconds after the first one that goes in the same order. Add the third ball that the team should pass in reverse order. Now pass all three balls at once. Add a token and ask your team to pass it from left person to right. Now ask people to do things as fast as they can. Now faster. And so on. Add as many variations as you can think of.
Here’s a cool video from Youth Ministry Great Games that shows the game in real time:
This game consists of two parts. First, instruct your team members to go around the office and bring back any random object, except for paper and the personal belongings of other team members.
Now, your team members will be building a tower using all the objects they gathered. The rule here is simple: every next object must be placed on top of another one. Every team member can only place their object and can’t touch or adjust others. Team members can, however, ask other team members to adjust their objects in a tower.
If the tower collapses, even partially, your team must perform a total do-over. On every attempt, objects can be placed in any order.
Your team members must be working together to decide the right order of the objects, help each other to better place the objects, and so on. This activity builds collaboration and teaches team members to face uncertainty and deal with failures.
Variations and suggestions:
- Use a box of marshmallows instead of random objects
- Implement time restrictions
- Use only gestures instead of words
The goal of his team-building activity is simple: create something memorable, usually a physical item, as an entire team with input from every team member.
For example, ask every team member to craft a random origami figure and put all the figures together into one composition or story, naming it a “Team Zoo” or something.
Draw a team graffiti. Create a lego village. Build a collection of old mouse pads and stick them on a wall. Anything will work as long as the result is visible to everyone and created by everyone.
ConversationsThe following conversation-based team activities will help you bring everyone closer while better understanding your team dynamics.
ESVP (Explorer, Shoppers, Vacationers, Prisoners) is a popular game that was originally created to run more productive and engaging team retrospectives in Scrum teams.
However, the game is so revealing and well-structured that it can be adapted by any team as a team-building activity that boosts team transparency, openness, and trust. ESVP is especially valuable for teams that tried several team-building activities and yet never stick with any.
For starters, explain to everyone what it means to be an Explorer, Shopper, Vacationer, or Prisoner.
“Are you excited to be here and learn new things about team building? That’s an Explorer. Just here for the ride and avoid the daily grind? You’re a Vacationer. Forced to participate in team-building activities? You’re a Prisoner. Looking for at least one useful idea? You’re a Shopper.”
Next, have everyone briefly discuss their attitude towards team building and assign their feedback to one of the roles. Analyze the collected feedback to see how many Explorers, Shoppers, Vacationers, and Prisoners there are in your group. If you have too many prisoners, it’s time to switch gears and discuss what new team-building activities your team members are ready to try. Many explorers? Time to think up a new game together!
Variations and suggestions:
- Make the feedback anonymous to boost transparency
- Use tools that let you automate ESVP sessions and retrospectives and run them on a regular basis
- Try running weekly or monthly retrospectives if you haven’t yet!
You’ve seen these “About us” and “Our company values” pages one too many times.
Now your team will be writing one from a scratch. There’s a twist, though. You have no idea how it will end up, and there are two different ways to do that.
The first option is, to let your team members write your company story or even an “About us” page, adding sentences one by one. Each sentence should be ending with “where we…” or “who we…”, “when we…: and “that’s why we” to make it easier for the next person to follow up.
You can even hide the entire paragraph of text and only give people the previous sentence without full context. Encourage team members to be funny, respectful, and creative.
Another option is to take your existing company statement, break it into separate sentences, and delete 50% of words randomly. Assign each team member an equal number of sentences and ask them to fill in the gaps. Share a laugh after.
Variation and suggestions:
- Up the stakes! Tell team members that this will be posted on your company’s About page for the next month
- Add stop words or ban generic descriptions. Use the existing company page to form a list of the generic words that you can’t use.
A Day On My Job
A “day on my job” starts with a random person on the team describing how their typical work day goes from the earliest hour. Then they pass the conversation on to another colleague who continues to describe their working day.
An important aspect here is to move gradually, hour by hour. For example, Sarah from the customer success team might start describing her day starting at 8 a.m. with how she arrives at work, opens up her laptop, and checks if the latest feature that corporate clients had issues with was updated. She then remembers the most common tasks she gets done in that first hour and passes the torch to Jim from marketing.
Encourage co-workers to add as many details to their stories. Make sure they don’t resort to generic descriptions by prompting them with questions or letting other co-workers tune in. Additionally, make sure every person talks for at least 2 minutes before moving on.
While simple on the surface, a “Day on My Job” allows colleagues to better understand what their colleagues are going through and bond over similar experiences, adding to the realization that everyone is in this together.
A couple of ways to make the game more interesting:
- Describe someone else’s day
- Colleagues can chime in to ask for additional details
- Describe their yesterday or any specific day, like a pre-launch day or their most productive day
Retrospectives, a powerful tool in every agile team arsenal, is a wonderful team-building and team-bonding exercise in disguise. It teaches teams to learn through their mistakes, improve on a constant basis, and raise constructive feedback.
A typical retrospective lasts for about an hour, although you can make it longer or shorter depending on the size of your team. It’s generally suggested to conduct retrospectives only in teams with less than 10-12 members to keep everyone engaged.
Focus on a specific project that everyone is a part of, or a specific time frame, like the last week. At the start of a retrospective, ask everyone three questions:
- What went wrong with our latest project?
- What did we do good during our last project?
- What we can improve in our next project?
After that, summarize feedback from everyone and compile a list of action items that can be implemented next week.
Variations and suggestions:
- Run retrospectives weekly or bi-weekly to improve your processes regularly
- Mix in retrospective games to keep retrospectives engaging and fresh
- Use tools that automate retrospectives and save you time on organizing them
Fun For Remote TeamsBeing a remote team doesn’t mean you can’t have team builing activites. You just need to pick the good ones.
Most of us played mafia with our friends or family and it can be a great team-building activity that easily transfers to a remote environment.
At the start of the game, the majority of the players should be randomly assigned a “Citizen” role and a few “Mafia” roles will be assigned for every 3-5 citizens, e.g. if you have 9 citizens, you will have 2 mafia players. No one should know what role other players have.
During the night, mafia players must secretly and unanimously decide what citizens they want to eliminate next. During the day, everyone votes on who to cast out as mafia. The goal of the citizens is to reveal all mafia players before the mafia eliminates all citizens.
When playing Mafia remotely, the key is creating immersion. When in Zoom, you can share a screen with illustrations for a “day”, like an image of skyscrapers or a village in the morning, and during the night share the illustration of some menacing location. Mafia players can converse via private Slack/Zoom messages and everyone can vote via Slack polling tools.
Variations and suggestions:
- Add more roles to the game: doctors who can save someone during the night, a maniac who eliminates everyone including the mafia, and a detective or police inspector who can learn a person’s role each night.
- Play sound effects for pivotal game moments: night sounds, city waking up in the morning, etc., get creative!
This game is suitable for teams that use Slack or MS Teams for remote communications.
Install a Giphy or similar integration that allows players to quickly add GIFs to their messages. Start a sentence and let everyone finish it with a GIF of their choice. You can even use bots such as Geekbot that will aggregate all GIFs into the same channel where team members can vote for the funniest or the most suitable GIF.
To make the game even funnier, start messages that are connected to your work, such as “Our latest product hunt launch looked like…” or “I want our next corporate meeting to be…”
“Whose Video Is That?”
Every member of your team probably has a wild Youtube history. But we all know that with the recommendation system, your YouTube main page looks more and more repetitive each time.
This activity is an excellent way to broaden your perspectives and let team members learn new and interesting stuff about and with their teammates.
To kick start this activity, each team member must submit a short (less than three minutes) video that is directly tied to their interests, and that they think will be interesting to the rest of the team. Your goal will be to compile a playlist that includes all the videos from your team members.
However, all submissions should be anonymous as the team then will try to determine who sent each video.
The goal of this activity is to let team members learn about the less obvious interests of their colleagues. You can even discuss each video after that, asking team members why they sent it, what interests them, and answering any follow-up questions.
Make sure to ban all political and controversial videos, just in case.
Suggestions and variations:
- Playlist of documentaries
- Funniest videos playlist
- Pick a video for someone else on your team
- Team radio
There are many online games developed for groups, and Jackbox is a great example of one of them.
Jackbox is a collection of fun games that you can play with remote team members. Each game features up to 8 players and the remaining members of your team can still participate as an audience.
Jackbox games feature puzzles, jokes, quizzes, charades, and many more.
Fun and popular Jackbox alternatives are:
- Use Your Words
- What the Dub!
- Fall Guys
Afterword: How Safe It Is To Make Mistakes In Your Team?
There’s an experiment that might change your perspective on team building.
Over the last decade, Google has spent millions of dollars on measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives – from which traits the best managers share to how often particular people eat together. The tech giant was determined to find out how to compile ‘the perfect team’.
At the heart of Sakaguchi’s strategy, and Google’s findings is the concept of “psychological safety” – a shared belief that a successful team should be safe for interpersonal risk-taking.
Many games and activities on the list will put your team bonds to the test: how well your team members support each other when people fail, how reliable your teammates are, and how much they trust each other.
The activities in this article are meant to bring joy and, most importantly, a positive shift to you and your team. We hope you’ll like them just like we do!
Frequently asked questions
What Are Team Building Activities?
Team building activities are events or exercises aimed at improving team dynamics and enhancing relationships among team members. They can range from simple icebreakers to complex problem-solving exercises and are typically used to build teamwork, communication, and trust. These activities can be organized in the workplace or outside the office, and are aimed at improving team performance and cohesiveness.
How Often Should You Run Team Building Activities?
The frequency of team building activities depends on various factors such as the size of the team, the stage of team development, and company culture. Some companies hold regular team-building activities, while others only do them periodically or as needed. It is recommended to have at least a few team-building activities per year to maintain and strengthen team relationships and skills.
How to Measure The Efficiency Of Team Building Activities?
The efficiency of team building activities can be measured through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. Surveys and assessments can be used to gather feedback from team members on their experience and the impact of the activity on their relationships and teamwork. Observing changes in team behavior, communication, and performance over time can also provide insight into the efficiency of the activities.