15 unique team building activities your co-workers won't hate
Updated: Jan 13
For many of us, work is our home away from home. In fact, a third of our lives will be spent at work. That being said, a huge part of coming into the office isn’t always the tasks themselves, but our beloved colleagues. Seeing familiar faces in the weekly staff meeting, sharing your weekend stories, and discussing the latest Netflix tv shows can all feature prominently in the workplace.
That’s right - office life doesn’t have to be all about the tedious duties and separated cubicles. Over the years, many businesses are slowly moving away from competitive work environments (Think: the traders and brokers in the 2003 film The Wolf of Wall Street) to those which foster collaboration. Writer Annie Dillard notably said:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
That being said, according to this organizational culture case study, one of the most important factors linked to employee satisfaction is through team activities. No, we’re not referring to holding an egg on a spoon with a blindfold on. Many employees will roll their eyes or try to find a way out of it. However, there are team activities your colleagues will count down the days to. That’s why we rounded up 15 unique team activities that will make boost collaboration, engagement and trust without the eye-rolling.
What is team building and why is it important?
Before we dive into our top picks, it’s important to understand the term ‘team building.’ The main goals of rounding up your crew are to improve productivity, communication and motivation. These fun, yet rewarding exercises encourage creativity, critical thinking and trust. Think of it as a band that plays together to produce a flowing melody.
The first step is to figure out what goals you are trying to achieve with the team building activity. Doug Staneart, president and CEO of The Leaders Institute notes the common misinterpretation of these exercises:
“Most of the time, people asking for these activities aren’t interested in real teamwork building. What they really want is entertainment—something they can use either to break the monotony of more serious meetings or to reward employees.”
When done right though, team building activities can stop being about pure entertainment value and start being the engine behind increased employee productivity and commitment. How so? Well, studies show that trust between your peers is directly related to team effectiveness. The more they feel confident in your business, the more dedicated they will be to their work - and the lower the turnover rate will be.
Read on to begin creating a feeling of togetherness and strong employee culture. A majority of these team building activities can be done on the first day of joining a team, and can be done in a meeting room, open space or a designated place.
How to build and empower your customer service team.
1. Scavenger Hunt
As kids, finding the ‘X’ on a treasure map was pure excitement. For adults, it can be the same, except with a slightly different objective.
Benefits. Scavenger hunts engage employees, build team spirit, create healthy competition, understand goal-setting and solve problems to overcome challenges - basically everything you do in your day-to-day work life.
You can keep it simple by setting up items you have around the office to more in-depth out-of-the-box ideas.
Offer motivational prizes ($10 gift card or a framed picture of your team in the office).
Create smaller groups (e.g. 4-6 people per group).
Mix it up! Bring together team members from different departments.
2. Campfire Stories
The name of the activity says it all. If you ever went on an overnight outdoorsy trip with friends, family or your fellow scouts, you’d probably talk, sing along to songs and tell stories. For a team building activity you do the same, except you can share workplace experiences and learn new things about your colleagues. This is a true team bonding exercise.
Benefits. A majority of your lengthy training means retaining an extensive amount of information. While some learners prefer this method, one of the best ways to gain something new is through storytelling. Expressing your campfire stories is an informal bonding activity to reveal common interests while touching on employee experiences. It encourages the team to be open and trust others with their stories.
Create a jar of situations such as: ‘worst commuting experience,’ ‘first day at work,’ ‘unique projects,’ and so forth.
Give your team members 5-10 minutes to look at the word and come up with a story.
After a story is told, ask other members if they experienced something similar.
3. Magazine Cover Story
Landing on the cover of a well-known magazine is a big deal. Think: TIME, Entrepreneur, Forbes. All eyes are on you, whether at the kiosk stand near the subway station or at your local bookstore. It could mean an opportunity of a lifetime. But, let’s start small and think big.
Benefits. This team building activity is all about creativity, imagination and your vision for the future. Not only will each member share their piece, but it will also motivate your team to think bigger on a day-to-day basis.
Set basic guidelines in stages. For example, begin with creating the content (e.g. headline, quotes) and then move on to the visual aspect of the magazine cover.
Encourage team members to think outside the box when it comes to the content.
Depending on the size of your team or department, create groups of 3-5 members and allow up to two hours to complete this task.
Create a predefined template to get them started.
Each team member should present their efforts in creating the magazine cover story.
Ask the crowd for their feedback!
4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Want to see if your team communication skills are up to par? Then this activity is for you. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a video game where one player is trapped in a virtual room with a bomb, which they can only see. To defuse the bomb, team members are given a set of easy to complex instructions by clearly deciphering the information, and fast! One of the game developers Brian Fetter notes in an interview:
“That is the game we want to make. We want to make a game that’s about exploiting people’s bad communication.”
Benefits. It comes down to three things: excellent communication skills, cooperation and trust. If you fail to do any of these three, the bomb explodes.
Want a challenge? Create a physical barrier (e.g. a room divider) between the person in the virtual room with the bomb and the team members so they can only hear their instructions.
Set aside 1-2 hours to play.
Play the team building activity with other colleagues in the company.
Have members located around the globe? You can easily play this game with your remote team!
5. The Great Egg Drop
We all know how easy it is for an egg to break just from slipping from your hand to the kitchen counter. Now, try eight feet (243cm). This hands-on and somewhat messy team building activity requires teams to build supportive packaging that can sustain a big drop. Additionally, each team will present their creation, highlighting why they used certain material and how it will prevent a crack.
Benefits. Not only does this activity require creative thinking and problem solving, but it also shows how well your team can work under pressure. Think about it: You need to create something that supports the egg and keep it intact when it's dropped. But, you also need to complete it in less than an hour.
Set aside 1 hour for this team building activity.
Up for a challenge? Have team members only use materials they can find in the office.
Not a fan of eggs? Try a water balloon and an extra 5 feet (152cm).
6. Fun Run
Running a few laps around the park can give you life, reduce stress and improve mental health. But what’s better than that? Running with your teammates while supporting a cause. Don’t let the name of this activity fool you - you don’t have to run like the wind, you can even walk alongside a team member and enjoy some small talk.
Benefits. Besides the obvious benefits of walking and running, you’ll get to experience your team in a completely different environment and, if planned accordingly, outside together (Note: Most of us at work sit in front of a computer for about 7-10 hours per day). Exercise is known to bring people together, whether it’s for the love of running or the challenge. When the common goal of this type of activity is money for a good cause, you can expect to count on your team.
Create a theme for the fun run where your team members come dressed head to toe in a specific outfit. Examples include: pajamas, clowns or rainbows.
For every lap, set up a small table with a computer or clipboard with the team member’s name, number of laps and donation amount. When a runner reaches this station, they can decide to donate money to the charity.
7. Movie Trailer
“I hate movies,” said no one ever. What better way to encourage creativity than to get your team to produce their own movie trailer. The catch? Create a jar of ideas based on your products or services. For example, a startup who has no call center software and is taking calls from the office phone. Or, a customer support team dealing with upset clients.
Benefits. If your end result is to create a movie trailer, then get ready to workout your teamwork skills such as collaboration and creativity.
Creating a movie trailer is no easy task. Set aside 3-4 hours or make it a full-day event.
Depending on your team size, create 2-3 groups. The larger the groups, the better!
Assign a role to each member such as a director, camera operator, actors and scriptwriter.
Host a viewing party at your weekly happy hour with the entire department.
8. Culinary Course
After all, who doesn’t love food? This culinary team building activity will heighten your senses. This effective team bonding experience will bring together your squad to achieve the same goal while cooking. There are a ton of culinary workshops you can find with a simple Google search. From making something as simple and tasty as ice cream to taking a cocktail mixology course, the options are endless when it comes to working in a kitchen.
Benefits. When you take employees out of their regular work environment and put them into a new one, it can expose varies skills, challenges and achievements. This activity requires serious teamwork (FYI: It’s really hard to make pasta by yourself the first time).
Before planning your next culinary adventure, send a survey to find out if there’s something specific your team wants to create.
Take pictures of the process and post them on your business’s social media pages.
Supporting a worthy cause can be an eye-opening experience for your team. Volunteering ideas include working at a local soup kitchen to helping build shelters for people and animals. Consider helping your customers as well with your expertise. Anything from helping a client create a website to tips on providing customer service on Twitter.
Benefits. Volunteering takes your teamwork to new heights. You’ll gain a sense of achievement as a group, improve team bonding and fulfill your company’s policy for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Write a summary as a team of your volunteering experience and share it with the entire company.
If your business does not have a CSR, consider creating one. It will change the way people perceive your company and increase motivation.
10. Escape Room
This is a classic team building activity that never gets old. Many cities offer different themed escape rooms. Or, create your own in a conference room or open space. After all, the overall concept is the same: There’s a time limit to find clues and solve puzzles to achieve one common goal - escape! In fact, research shows that those who play games are better learners.
Benefits. This activity is a non-competitive way to build relationships among your peers, show off leadership and communication skills, problem-solving and collaboration.
If you plan on creating your own escape room, ensure there is: a common goal, varied puzzles and clues, an interesting storyline (e.g. zombie apocalypse, murder mystery, or defuse a bomb).
11. Team Offsite
Rule one of an offsite: Reserve a space outside of your usual work environment. This can range from co-working spaces to a park to a house in the middle of the woods. Think of it as an extreme change of work scenery, in the most informal way possible. While product teams have a certain offsite agenda (e.g. strategy, progress and future plans), your team offsite will probably look slightly different. Create a thorough agenda of group activities, presentations and of course, breaks.
Benefits. Taking those eight hours outside of work can have a transformational effect on your team. It’s one of those unique opportunities where you still ‘work,’ but in a completely different way. It’s particularly useful for building trust, collaboration, learning and experimenting with ideas amongst your team members.
Plan ahead! There’s nothing worse than showing up to your offsite to find out there’s no place for your team.
Schedule your offsite during working hours. This will ensure you have full attendance. Most likely, your team members have lives outside of work.
12. The Barter Puzzle
Want to test your teams negotiating skills when the clock is ticking? Mix three to five jigsaw puzzle sets, preferably under 150 pieces, with equal complexity. Create even piles and place them back into the box. Each team will receive a box filled with scrambled puzzle pieces from the other ones. Each team will need to use their negotiating skills to find ways to retrieve their missing pieces (e.g. bartering, negotiating, trading or exchanging). The first team to complete their puzzle wins!
Benefits. While this activity may be time-consuming (1.5-2 hours), your team members will demonstrate their negotiation, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Up for a real challenge? Split the teams into separate rooms so they have zero distractions.
Offer prizes such as a free team lunch, gift cards or an all-expenses paid night out for the team.
13. Shark Tank
Have a groundbreaking idea you’ve been dying to share in front of a jury? This is your chance to showcase your creative thinking. This business-focused team building activity is a spin-off of the popular TV show Shark Tank, a reality show which brings real ideas from motivated individuals to life. In teams of two, your goal is to devise an original business idea and pitch it to a panel of ‘sharks.’ These can be your managers or other top executives in your company, and decide whether they will invest in your concept. The goal is to create a clear product pitch, along with a few concept drawings and models, if possible.
Benefits. The beauty of this activity is that it encourages confidence among your team members, demonstrates the various personalities of the group, presentation skills and creative thinking.
Is your team having trouble coming up with original ideas? Start by preparing your team members by asking them what challenges they encounter daily. This will enable them to think about things that will solve their everyday pain points.
14. Trivia Game Show
Learning interesting new facts about your office life, product or service in creative and fun ways can’t hurt one bit. Begin by coming up with five questions for each of the six categories. These include general topics such as ‘work-life’, ‘name that dog’, ‘products brought back to life’, ‘hackathon projects’, and so forth. Questions can include: “How many dogs with the name Sparky roam our offices?” to “How many meeting rooms does our company have?” Break your team into groups and have your manager read out the questions.
Benefits. Not only does answering trivia questions greatly help with team bonding, but it will also test your team’s observation skills and knowledge about your business.
Include easy, intermediate and difficult questions to give a nice spread and encourage critical thinking.
Find the right format to deliver these questions. Start with a whiteboard and create color-coded cards based on each category with a specific value (e.g. $100 to $500).
15. Team Emblem
Last but not least, this team building activity is the cherry on top of this blog post. Team members must work together to create an emblem, team flag or shield that clearly represents them as a whole.
Benefits. The main focus of this team building activity is collaboration and creative thinking. The goal is to create an emblem that represents the team’s shared identity.
For inspiration, research sports team and business logos.
Each team should present its emblem to the rest of the department and explain the meaning and choices.
Print out your emblem and past in on your team room’s door.
So how do all of these translate to your day-to-day work life? For many tech companies, cross-company communication is an important skill to possess. Every day, you work with team members from different departments and companies, be it product teams to your B2B clients.
An important fact that is often forgotten in team building activities is asking for feedback. Make it a habit to ask participants what worked and what didn’t, along with any additional pointers they may have for future outings.
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