An important aspect of good teamwork is to be comfortable with your teammates, colleagues or whoever you are working with. In this post I will give a few suggestions for small games and activities that can help strengthen the team spirit in the group.
Some of these will require some preparation or some items, while others require nothing but a handful of people.
It is important to note that the best result will come from letting people decide which games they want to participate in. You should try to convince people to participate, as some will immediately try to worm their way out of this kind of activities; however, forcing someone to participate in games they are not comfortable with, is not the answer.
Introductions – Breaking the Ice
These first five exercises are great for breaking the ice and getting people to warm up to the idea of team building, without requiring too much of anyone. They are easy to get started with and require no preparation. They are also great for newly assembled teams, to give people a chance to get to know each other.
2 Truths and a Lie
To start off, we have a great little game, where people will have to try and read one and other, to get a sense of who everyone is.
The rules are fairly simple: Everyone takes turns telling three things about them selves, where only two are true and the last is a lie. These can be anything, from the color of your bedroom walls, to the name of you pet, to the number of kids you have. You will have to think of things that the rest of the group doesn’t know, already, as it is their task to try and figure out which statements are true, and which is the lie.
It works best if the group is asked to agree before giving their final answer, to force some teamwork, and cooperation.
The game might have a slow start, but the more people get comfortable with the situation, the more they will open up and give their input.
When everyone has had a go at it, everyone should feel that they know each other just a little better.
This second game is a quick little gimmick to challenge the communication in the group while getting to know each other better. The idea is that the group has to form a line, where everyone is sorted by various parameters, such as height, age, shoe size and so on. The catch is no one can speak.
Start out with easy things, to let the group get comfortable with the rules. A good starter would be height, as it is easy to line people up, based on that, without having to communicate to much. Follow up with things like age and shoe size, as these are also somewhat easy to communicate and sort by.
Then when they start to get confident in their skills, challenge them by telling them to sort by harder things, such as date of birth. Communicating a birthday can be challenging, when you can’t speak. To bring people close, ask them to sort by eye color. I am not sure exactly how that would work, but that’s the beauty of being the game-master: It’s not your problem to solve the task.
If you feel like making things more interesting, start asking the group to line up based on increasingly odd and vague features like their degree of ticklishness or how much they like a specific food.
The One Question Icebreaker
This next game requires a little more thinking and reasoning, and it gives people a chance to learn how the others think. It also requires a little preparation from the ‘game-master’. We will get to that in a moment.
First the group is divided in smaller teams of three or four people each. The teams are then given a scenario that they are supposed to make a decision on. These are the scenarios that the game-master needs to prepare beforehand. The teams can all get different scenarios, or they can get the same one, depending on what works for your organization.
The rules for the teams are that they will come up with one question to ask, that will help them make a decision on their scenario. The catch is that they only get one question. This forces the teams to come up with a single question that can give them all the information they need to decide.
The scenarios can be anything, but the more serious the scenario, the more the teams will have to be precise on their questions.
The teams will be told that they have no previous knowledge on the situation, meaning their question should give them exactly what they need, to decide.
A scenario could be deciding weather they would hire a stranger as a babysitter for their infant. Another could be weather they would hire a person as the CEO of their company or elect them to some political top-post.
Give the teams a few minutes to talk about their scenario and come up with a question. Then the teams will present their question to the entire group, and the group can discuss the questions. This can quickly spark some interesting discussions about the scenarios and possible answers for the questions.
Count to 30
This is a seemingly easy game, that quickly turns out to be very hard. The goal is for the group to count to 30. That seems doable, but no one person can say to numbers in a row, and if two people speak at once, or the group miscounts, they loose and must start over.
Obviously, two people in the group can just alternate, and easily count to thirty, but since it is a group game, that will be counted as cheating, and the count will start over.
Remind the group that it is rude to point, to keep one person from dictation who says the next number.
Tell the group to put their hands in their pockets or behind their backs to eliminate other hand-signs.
Keep adding rules as the group forms strategies, to make the game harder, and force them to rethink their strategy again and again.
The last of the icebreakers is about telling stories and passing on information. The game-master, tells one person a short story. The rest of the group are sent away, so they can’t hear. After that, one person is called over, and the first person retells the story to them. This continues, so that the last person who heard the story tells it to the next person in the group, until everyone has heard the story.
At the end of it, the last person to hear the story retells it to the game-master, and everyone can have a good laugh, as the story has surely changed quite a bit. The more people the story passes through, the more it changes.
The is a great exercise to practice communication, but it can also be used to demonstrate how quickly information can be misunderstood, misheard and in other ways manipulated. This demonstration can be used to make people think about what they hear and what they retell, to minimize the impact of gossip in the organization.
Team Building Tasks
Now that the ice is broken, we will get into a list of exercises that will require a little more teamwork, communication and cooperation.
Some of these can be frustrating, if the team doesn’t manage to communicate properly, so keep in mind that any exercise can be paused and altered to your needs. The goal of these exercises is to build the team spirit and learn to cooperate. Remember it is more important to have a good time, than to complete the tasks to perfection.
Put it down
The first exercise is hard start, as this task is near impossible. All you need is a broom stick (or hula-hoop or something like that). The group then lift the stick on the tip of their fingers. The goal then is for the group to put down the stick. The rules are simple: Everyone must always touch the stick, and is someone let go, they start over.
As the group tries to put the stick down, they will most likely find, that it rises, rather than falls. This is due to everyone feeling that they are about to lose touch with the stick, so they lift their finger slightly, pressing the stick higher.
This one can frustrate most people at first, but after a few tries, the group should be able to complete the task.
Build a Lego structure
Building with Lego is something we have all done at one point or another. This exercise, however, will require a lot more communication from the group.
For this you will of course need some Lego. You will also need to have build something that the group will have to replicate. The structure that you made will be in a different room from the group or hidden behind something where they can’t see it. Everyone in the group then takes turns going to the structure and coming back with instructions for the group to follow. After a while the group should have a perfect replica of the original structure.
If the group are too good at this there are a few twists that can be added in. First of all, you can give the group more Lego bricks than they need, to throw them off. Second you can add a second link in the communication, by having the group at one place, a person halfway between the group and the Lego structure. Then a person goes to the structure, relays the instructions to the person halfway (And takes their place) and the halfway person then brings the information to the group. Lastly, if you want to force the group to fail (To see if the group can fail gracefully, and not start tearing each other apart) you can give them the wrong Lego bricks, so that they cannot build the structure completely, or you can change the structure along the way to force some arguing.
Be prepared for the group to turn on you, if (Or when) they realize you set them up.
The Perfect Square
Next, we will do a more quiet exercise. For this one you will need a rope, with the ends tied together, to form a loop, and blindfolds for the entire group.
One person is appointed the leader, and they are now the only person who can speak, and also the only person who can see. Everyone else are blindfolded. The rest of the group take hold of the rope.
It is now the goal for the leader to guide the group to form different shapes with the rope. Start with a perfect square, a circle or triangle. Later make it harder by asking the group to form a pentagon or a star.
For a bigger challenge, you can say the leader has to stay a few meters away from the rest of the group, so they can not physically move the group members around.
Flip the carpet
Now it is time to get real close to each other. Get a large carpet, blanket or tarp and have the entire group stand on it. The goal is to flip the carpet, while playing “The Ground is Lava”. This means that if someone touch the ground, the exercise starts over.
After a few tries the group will start to get the concept and find a way that works for them. Now you ask them to complete the task without speaking. When that seems to work for them as well, you ask them to fold the carpet in half, instead of flipping it. They repeat this until they fail. See how many times they can fold the carp, and in turn how little space the group can squeeze into.
Turn the kayak
For this one you will need a cup of water for each participant, and a bunch of short ropes or strings. Make sure there are only four or five people in each team, as larger teams will make it too hard.
You now line the team up, shoulder to shoulder and tie their legs together. Now you give them each a cup of water, and tell them to turn around, while not spilling the water and keeping the line intact and straight.
Use paper or plastic cups, as there is a risk someone will fall, and we don’t want broken glass all over.
Up the challenge, by having every other person facing the opposite way from the rest.
This task will require a lot of planning and coordination from the team.
Ball and Bucket
This one requires a bit of preparation. You will need a small ball, two buckets, two or more ropes and something to mark a perimeter, for each team. The teams should be four to six people for this.
An area where the teams are not allowed inside is marked. It should be 1,5 – 2 meters wide. Now the two buckets are placed side by side inside the area. The ball is placed inside one of the buckets. The team is divided, so half the team is on each side of the area with the buckets. Now give the team the ropes.
The goal for the team is to move the ball from one bucket to the other. If they overstep the perimeter of the area or they drop the ball, the exercise resets. They are only allowed to use the ropes for moving the bucket.
The task is easiest completed with two ropes, but giving the team more ropes, can work as a red herring.
To make it even harder. Widen the area that the team cannot enter. Alternatively, have everyone on the team put one hand in their pockets, so everyone works one-handed.
The Spider Web is an old classic. Again, some preparation is required. You need two trees or something similar. You also need a lot of rope. Now you tie the rope between the trees to for the spiderweb.
The team now have to get through the web, without touching the ropes. Each hole in the web can only be used for one person, so planning is important.
You can define the difficulty with the way you set up the spider web, and with how tough you will be with the rules. Will gracing the rope mean a complete reset, or will you let it slide?
A variation of this includes a stack of random objects that the group have to get through the web, along with them selves. This could be anything from gardening tools, to a bowling ball or even a couch. Your imagination is the limit.
The roundabout hula-hoop
Here is one that can be both a challenge and a fun game. You may have guessed; you need a hula-hoop or similar object for this game. The group stands in a circle, where everyone is holding hands with their neighbor. One of the participants has put their arm through the hoop, so it is hanging on them.
The task is for the entire group to go through the hoop, without letting go of each others hands. At first everyone might be laughing at the one person fighting their way through the hoop, but after a while the group will realize that it is very much a team effort, to get everyone through.
Up the excitement by challenging the group to do it as fast as possible. Try with different size groups to see how that affects the dynamic of the game.
To up the difficulty, try a smaller hula-hoop, or switch the hoop with a rope, with the ends tied together to form a ring. The rope will also be easy to adjust to be smaller or larger, depending on the skill of the group.
Here is one that can be really fun, or really chaotic, depending on the participants. The group is divided into teams of four to six people. Each team is now a Battleship. The ships are formed by standing in a line with their hands o the shoulders of the person in front. The person at the back is the captain for the ship. Everyone but the captain is blindfolded.
The ship “sails” by walking around, and the captain can turn the ship by tapping the shoulder of the person in front of him, who then does the same, until the person in the very front gets tapped, and turns. Tapping on the left shoulder turn left, tapping the right turns right. To fire the guns, you tap both shoulders at once. When the front person gets tapped on both shoulders, he breaks free and runs (or walks fast) straight ahead, like a torpedo. The torpedo only stops when they hit something, or is stopped by the game-master, so they don’t end up in a ditch. If the torpedo hits another ship, that ship lose a person. The torpedo can then go back to their own ship.
The ships (teams) start in each corner of a large area, and the goal is to destroy all the other ships. You destroy the other ships by shooting them to pieces, with torpedoes. A ship is out, when only the captain is left, or the captain is hit by a torpedo.
Pass the ball
This last one is really a collection of challenges, with similar goals, but increasing difficulty.
The group is divided in smaller teams of six to ten people. Each team get a ball and are told that the goal is to pass the ball until everyone has touched it at least once. The challenge is to get the ball to every team member, faster than the other teams. Let the team try several times and watch strategies form. This is the warm-up part of the challenge.
When the teams have good strategies and seem confident in their game, it is time to bring out the next stage. Everyone gets a match, and the team get a curtain ring, or other small ring. The team members now hold the match in their mouth, and hang the ring on the matches, passing it from person to person. The rules are the same as before: Everyone must have the ring at least once and the goal is to be faster than the other teams.
The next level is with a playing card. Note that this is where people will start backing out, which is fine. Don’t force anyone to participate!
The technique is to put the card on your lips and suck, so that is stays there. The next person places their lips on the other side of the card and suck, so they can “grab” the card that way. Once again, everyone participating will have to hold the card once.
The boss level is only for the hardcore. You now bring out ice cubes. One person puts an ice cube in their mouth and pass it to the next person. Not many will be willing to participate in this one and you (the game-master) should be prepared to have everyone back out. Use that to have a small talk about how far people are willing to go.
You can of course pick and choose from these ideas to make a program that fits your team building event. Some of the exercises might not fit you team, or maybe different versions are a better match. Depending on the size of the group and how well they know each other beforehand, you can change the exercises to fit you needs.
Always make sure the group has fun with it, and that they get successes in the different challenges, even when you make hard for them.
After the entire session, spend a few minutes evaluating with the group. Ask what they thought of the challenges, and if they would participate again another time.
Good luck with it all.