Team building exercises: a guide for businesses

“There’s no I in team”. While the phrase’s exact origins are up for debate, its truth can’t be questioned.

Teamwork requires compromise, humility, selflessness, and many other qualities not necessarily present in every human being. Luckily, teamwork can (and should) be taught. And unless your employees are all on the King Joffrey – Sheldon Cooper axis, some team building exercises for work will do wonders.

But here’s the tricky part: team building is not optional.

Team building: an essential part of work

You can’t simply hire nice people and assume they’ll work well together. Even if your employees are the most cooperative people on the planet, they’ll need constant guidance about how to work together. Why?

Tasks and needs evolve over time. Even routine work situations may require slightly different approaches, which necessitate a constant shift in roles within the team. And, needless to say, big events like a new team member or a restructuring at work requires some adjusting.

The best way to prepare your team to tackle any challenge is to do regular team building exercises.

Don’t consider them as an extra burden that gets in the way of work, to be ticked off a never-ending list of tasks. Instead, regard team building exercises for work as an essential part of your business’ daily life.

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Team building: large and small

Believe it or not, team building doesn’t have to mean wild laser tag parties or weekend events at costly locations. The best team building ideas are usually small, often very short and – best of all – almost completely free.

How come? Well, while a weekend getaway at some luxury resort sounds like the ultimate fun, it’s also the most time-consuming and costly. Not to mention the fact that there is such a thing as too much information. For example, when team members share a hotel room, Jessie may find out that Taylor snores, while Taylor could be irritated by Jessie’s nighttime skin care routine, creating needless friction between team members.

Needless to say, if you have the funds and the time, you may invest in a longer team building exercise that requires your team to spend a day or two together in a non-work setting. If done sporadically, longer getaways can help team members get to know each other better and help them unwind from the stresses of work.

However, if you’re currently short on time and money (and who isn’t?), take a look at some easily accomplishable team building ideas.

Team building ideas for every budget

Don’t skip out on workplace team building activities just because you seem to lack the funding or the time. Regular team building exercises are just as important for your employees as personal feedback sessions and other steps you take to nurture their growth within your business.

Here are a few stellar team building ideas, organized according to their length and budgetary needs. And no, none of them are the “trust fall”.

Short and sweet

These activities can be done in a coffee break, for virtually no cost at all.

Chameleon

This exercise is a great icebreaker. It helps improve reaction time and cooperation (not to mention the hilarity it causes).

Divide your team into small groups. Each group picks a leader. With their eyes closed, everybody starts doing some sort of movement. When you say “go”, everybody opens their eyes and starts mimicking the leader. The fastest group to get in line with their leader wins. You can repeat the exercise several times.

Accessories

This team building activity improves short term memory and concentration.

Divide the team into two groups and have them stand facing each other in two lines. Everybody examines the others’ clothing and accessories for a short period of time. Then, turning their backs to the others, groupmates quickly exchange what they can, like jewellery, scarves, sweaters, shoes. Facing each other once again, the opposing groups have to figure out who swapped what with who.

Walking dead

This team building exercise is a great icebreaker at the workplace, helps participants sharpen their focus while having fun.

Write “healthy” or “zombie virus” on slips of paper. Depending on the size of your team, you’ll need one or more “zombie virus” slips. The rest should be “healthy”. Distribute the slips among team members and have them walk around in a large room. Everybody walks normally, but the holder of the “zombie virus” slip has an ulterior motive: to infect others.

They can achieve this with a previously agreed and subtly shown sign (like, winking or showing a thumbs-up). Any healthy person receiving the sign becomes a zombie and starts walking like one. Zombies don’t infect others, only the zombie virus does. The virus can be stopped if a third, healthy person witnesses the virus infecting somebody. The game is over either when everybody becomes a zombie, or when the zombie virus is stopped.

Medium effort

For these team building ideas, you’ll need a bit more time and preparation but they still can be done at the office.

Make a match

This team building activity is a great icebreaker while it also encourages cooperation and helps hone problem-solving skills.

Think of items that go in pairs, like pancakes and syrup, Batman and Robin, salt and pepper, or sunscreen and sunglasses. Write each item on a piece of paper and attach it to a person’s back. Through asking “yes” or “no” questions from their teammates, everybody figures out who or what they are. When that’s done, everybody needs to find their match.

Idea Lego

This team building exercise for work enhances creativity, cooperation, and ingenuity.

Divide your team into little groups. Give each of them a fictional problem to solve. Each group writes down how they’d start solving the problem, then they give the paper to another group. Now all groups must continue solving the problem they just received, building on the first step already in place. The groups continue to exchange the papers, building on each other’s suggestions until all problems are solved.

Three truths and a lie

This team building idea encourages team members to get to know each other better.

Each team member writes down three truths and a lie about themselves. Going around the room, everybody reads out their truths and lie in no particular order. Then the team should discuss the findings and determine what’s true and what’s not.

The long haul

For these exercises, you’ll need to set aside a longer period of time, and/or invest in guest speakers/material.

Charade machine

This team building activity helps foster creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Divide your team into groups. Give each group the name of a machine, like dishwasher, lawn mower, shredder, or food processor. Each group presents their machine by showing it in action, including moving parts. Feel free to use sounds the machine makes but no words. The other groups have to guess the machine portrayed. The best team can win a prize.

Totem poles

This exercise encourages creativity, knowledge of the self and others, and ingenuity.

You need to have cardboard boxes, markers, tape, colored paper, scissors or x-acto blades, and any other art supplies you can think of.

Divide the team into smaller groups. Give each group member a cardboard box and access to all the other supplies. Each person creates a totem of their own, decorating the box in whatever way they feel describes them best. The groups then assemble the totem poles by stacking members’ boxes. The other groups have to figure out which totem belongs to which team member.

Personality tests

If you prefer more serious team building ideas, this one is perfect for you. It encourages better knowledge of the self and others.

Invite a guest speaker who’s an expert on personality tests. Have your team complete a chosen test (for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and do the related exercises with the help of the expert.

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Conclusion

While the time and budget you have for team building ideas matters, don’t forget to take into account your actual team and their limits. Some people are more comfortable with more hands-on exercises like the charade machine, while others may be more reserved.

Taking a little step outside one’s comfort zone is fine, but don’t make your employees do team building activities they’re fundamentally opposed to. Remember: whatever you’re doing, the goal is to create a more cohesive, better functioning, higher performing, happier team.

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