Quality teamwork is one of the most important components of any work environment. That said, it’s not always easy to facilitate. Think about it- you’re taking at least a dozen (usually more) personalities and asking them to adapt the same values system, follow the same rules, and communicate effectively. Yet if your work place is like almost every other environment, you’re working with people whose values, ideals, and perspectives can vary significantly. It can be a real challenge to avoid chaos and make your differences work in harmonious, complementary ways. So where do you start? We believe it’s with trust. Here are some quick and easy exercises you can use to build trust and improve teamwork in the work space.
1. Two Truths and a Lie
This may sound like child’s play, but Two Truths and a Lie is actually a great ice breaker for teams who are struggling to work together as a group. Here’s how it works: Each team member states three things about himself or herself, but there’s a catch 22. One of the statements is a lie, and your team members have to guess which one that was. We suggest doing this activity in a relaxed, social setting (i.e., not the stuffy, white-walled break room during lunch hour). Actually, this could even work well over cocktails at a bar or restaurant! Making it into a party not only loosens workers up but makes them feel valued and special enough to be treated to some fun. This is one of the easiest, most time efficient team building activities you can find.
The objective is that co-workers get to know and understand one another on a slightly deeper level than they did before. It breaks down some of the walls so that co-workers can discover things they didn’t know they had in common. An added bonus: You’ll get a clearer picture of your individual team members’ nonverbal cues. How does their body language change when they’re trying not to reveal something? How do they look when they’re feeling open and relaxed? If you’re like most people, you may not pay much attention to the fact that human beings engage in more nonverbal communication than verbal throughout the day. But it’s true: Our body language, facial expressions, clothing choices, and even tone of voice are constantly sending messages that may or may not be interpreted correctly. That’s the Two Truths and A Lie is a better team building activity.
2. Get Up Close and Personal
We started with a light game to break the first layer of ice. If you think your team is ready, now it’s time to take the plunge. Ask your team members to congregate together in a comfortable space. Whether you want this to be a social setting at someone’s home or something to do in the workspace is up to you. What you’re going to do is ask each team member to close their eyes and remember the best times of their lives. These events don’t have to be exciting or groundbreaking; they can range from their wedding day to a peaceful day spent on the beach alone. It can be a professional accomplishment or an outdoorsy adventure- whatever floats their boat. After two minutes have passed, everyone can open their eyes. That’s when you drop the next bomb (just kidding, sort of). Ask them which life experience they would relive if they had the chance if today was their last day on earth. After everyone has done this, initiate a conversation. Encourage team members to talk about why they chose the experience they did, which gives participants a chance to get to know each other on a much more intimate level than before. You’ll find out much more about their life experiences, perspectives, and passions. We promise the reward is worth overcoming the awkwardness- afterward, communication has the potential to improve substantially. Getting to know each other on a deeper level can help build trust, empathy, and relationships. It tells you what is important to your team members and helps them learn the same about you. Besides, the good thing about spilling your guts is that it really does break the ice. After hearing about the most memorable joys and heartbreaks of your co-workers’ lives, it will hardly feel awkward to ask for a shift switch.
3. One Little Question Goes a Long Way
This is one of our favorite team building activities. It helps team members get to know each other better on a personal and professional level. It goes like this: An appointed team leader breaks groups up into pairs. Then he or she comes up with a scenario and asks everyone a question regarding it. For example, the leader might ask something like, “If you could ask just one question to determine whether someone was right for your job title, what would it be?” The questions don’t have to be about work. They can also pertain to compatibility outside the workplace (i.e., what’s the most important question you can ask a person before deciding to go on a date?)
If this game sounds a little intense, you’re not wrong. But it’s a powerful way to get to know what your co-workers value most on a personal and professional level. It reveals the ways in which they communicate and would want others to communicate with them. In our book, learning more about what drives team members (as well as what repels them) is never a bad idea.
4. The “No Problem” Problem
This is probably the only time you’ll ever hear someone suggest creating a problem where there is none, but for one of our favorite team building activities, that’s what you’re going to do. This game is a fairly straightforward one: All the employer has to do is break team members up into pairs or groups of three, and give them about an hour to come up with a problem that needs to be solved. Of course, this is a fake scenario, but it should be realistic in nature. This problem must be something that could reasonably happen in real life. When they’re done, ask them to write it on a piece of paper and drop it into a box. Pair by pair, have team members close their eyes and reach into the box. (Each team should designate one person to do the picking). It’s their job to solve whichever problem is written on the piece of paper they pull out- together.
We don’t need to emphasize how important it is for team members to understand they way each individual in the group solves problems. With this game, different perspectives and problem solving styles will emerge, and team members can learn from each other’s experiences. If a little healthy conflict arises from this team building activity, it’s not only okay- it means you’re doing it right. Playing out potential conflicts in a safe, friendly space is an excellent way to practice conflict resolution for when it really occurs on the job. It also helps different personalities understand each other better and relate to each other more genuinely and respectfully.
5. Play Board Games, Not Bored Games
If you’re looking for natural team building activities that don’t feel staged or pressure anyone, host a Board Game night. But make sure to play games that prompt questions and communication, and give co-workers insight into each other. The Game of Life may not be happening in real life, but it’s a fun simulation of reality that prompts players to make decisions about money, career, marriage, and family. Paying close attention to the way team members are handling their finances in play mode can actually give you some insight into how they handle money in real life! Sure, it’s just a game, but people at play react tend to spontaneously to circumstances. The way people play often mirrors aspects of how they work and live.
Some other games that lend insight into the way people think and relate to each other are Magic, Monopoly, or even a good old-fashioned Checkers match. Want bonus points from your team? After you’re done playing for the sake of learning, treat them to a daring game of Cards Against Humanity. You can let your hair down, explore your more perverse sides, and revel in the absurdity of it all. See? Everyone’s happy.
Just keep in mind that you might learn more about your team members than you bargained for!
6. Play “Never Have I Ever”
There’s just something about this one. No matter how old grown-ups get, something about revealing secrets while drunk is universally appealing. But getting back to team building activities, you’re going to want to play this one in one of two ways: Either you go all in and do it at a bar or house party with drinks, or do it sans alcohol with rewards for the winner and top two finalists. For those of you who’ve been living in a cardboard box and haven’t heard of this game, congratulations- you’re a real, legitimate adult. Still, we like it because it’s a powerful ice breaker that allows questions no one would dare ask outside the work place. For the sake of team building activities, set the rules up so that the first five or ten questions are PG-rated. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn about your co-workers’ thoughts, relationships, desires, sense of humor, and much more. You’ll learn about your team members’ likes and dislikes; you’ll discover their good, bad, and awful habits. After these first questions, feel free to get as down and dirty as you dare. It’s full disclosure. The last one with liquid left in their cup is the winner.
7. Get Puzzled
This team building activity strengthens team work on multiple levels. Groups are assigned different jigsaw puzzles, but there’s a catch: Every puzzle has pieces of the other puzzles mixed in randomly. Team members are expected to strategize and negotiate with the other teams to get the pieces they need. It’s essentially a bartering game. The motivation factor? The first group to complete the puzzle wins. The prize is up to the leader!
8. Arts and Crafts, Only Make It Corporate Teamwork
Okay, we’ll give you that it doesn’t exactly sound like the time of one’s life. And it doesn’t have to be played in a corporate setting; any work place will do. But hear us out. In this team building activity, you’re going to split up into groups of two. Each pair should be sitting with their backs to each other, and one holds a drawing. (This design could be anything, really. It could be something you drew, a piece of artwork, or even a household or desk object that you can describe vividly). The person holding the drawing asks the other team member to guess what she’s got in her hand. But first she has to describe the scene abstractly by using random adjectives. For example, if the drawing is of a house with a rose garden, you can say, “Brick, old-fashioned, red, blooming.” The goal is to paint a picture of the scene without giving away what it actually is. It’s an exercise in creativity, and it challenges you to communicate clearly about abstract subject matters. This team building activity also puts emphasis on how hard it can be to describe concepts or ideas. In this way it builds empathy and compassion among team members. It also puts communication skills and comprehension to the test, and highlights areas for improvement.
Need we say more? We thought this one deserved an explanation point at the end. Charades is another game that stimulates creativity and comprehension in a group setting. For those who don’t know the game well, here’s how it works: First, the group decides on a specific category. It can be anything from animals to famous people, Disney movies to Tarantino films- whatever suits your fancy. Once a category is selected, one person has to act it out using only movement, and not a single sound. The group is challenged to guess what this person is trying to be. Sure, Charades is a favorite childhood game for many. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have possibilities as a team building activity.
We like to put a professional spin on this old classic. Have you and your team been learning new concepts or job skills in the work place? If so, have someone act out a specific concept the same way they did animals or movies as children. The rest of the group is challenged to recognize the concept or job skill being acted out. Leaders, this is a great way to hold your team’s attention after a long lecture or training session. A brief game of charades as a review brings concepts to life in a way lectures probably don’t. Acting out job-related skills and concepts- and guessing at them- somewhat puts them into a real life context for team members. You can also play Charades with job roles. (Can you say, “Who’s the Boss?”) Just remember to be sensitive and respectful, and remember that you’re acting out job roles, not pretending to be your team members. This game gets bonus points in our book. Being silly is a fun way to break the ice and build camaraderie between team members.
10. Make Innovation Fun
If you want to boost your team’s ability to work innovatively together and communicate effectively, all you need is a group of random objects and a willing team. Yes, you heard us right. Grab a bunch of random objects and set them before your team members. Then break your team up into pairs or groups, depending on how many people there are. Give each group one of the objects, and ask them to work together to find an alternative use for their object. They’ll be challenged to communicate creatively and be innovative to find alternate uses for them.
11. Channel Your Inner Journalist
You really don’t need any special journalistic skills to make this team building activity work. What you do need is a few sheets of paper, markers, and pens. Separate your team into groups and ask them to create different headlines and articles about what your company is doing in the future. Each group member should come up with one headline each, and the rest of the team writes the brief article based on that headline. This is a great exercise in entrepreneurship, and is perfect for innovative businesses that are developing. It’s just as helpful a creative exercise for established businesses looking to evolve with tech and other trends in the corporate world. These days, staying current is a matter of life and death for businesses. There has never been a better time to employ new team building activities, and this one helps creative minds work together. What’s really savvy about this game is that it takes the pressure off, and people are much more likely to have innovative ideas in a relaxed setting. This game has value for leaders because it gives them a glimpse into how employees view the business- and how they envision its future. Every truly qualified leader should be interested in learning from their team members and take their perspectives into consideration.
12. Host a Murder Mystery Dinner
This is not a new idea, but it’s a timeless one for a reason. It helps teams think critically together and communicate effectively to solve a problem. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. If you’re not familiar with Murder Mystery Dinners, here’s how it goes: This game can be done at home or at a real Murder Mystery Dinner with actors playing out the roles. In this case, you and your team members would watch and try to solve the mystery unfolding on stage whilst enjoying a fine meal. In the more interactive version, you and your team members either rent a space or play the game at home. One or more team members creates a fictitious murder scene and leaves clues around the area, setting the stage for the story. Once the premise has been made clear to everyone, team members scavenge the area for clues that will lead them to the culprit. During this time, they’re talking amongst themselves, putting the clues together to solve the crime. The murderer, of course, is one of you, and will be notified of said status at the start of the game. We love it because it’s an interactive way to improve problem solving skills and work together in a creative context.
13. Play Trivial Pursuit
For this team building activity, you’ll be challenged to answer trivia questions about just about every topic under the sun. The idea is that you get a chance to think out of the box together, and challenge areas of the brain that don’t usually get enough exercise. It’s a stimulating activity that can really revitalize your team’s motivation and camaraderie if you’ve all been stuck in a rut. It’s easy to let a sense of routine take over at a long-term job, especially in a corporate setting. But when creativity and teamwork goes out the window, so does innovation. Without those invaluable assets, it’s easy to fall behind and get stuck in a rut while your industry moves forward with the trends. Thinking outside the box to answer trivia questions can help renew your team’s morale and sense of curiosity.
14. Put On a Show with Improv
Improv is a fun, creative way to build trust, focus, and interpersonal relationships among team members. It’s also an easy, no-frills alternative to the more dramatic Murder Mystery game. You can use props for improv, but you don’t necessarily need to. For actors, improv skits use body language and spontaneous interaction to help actors practice playing roles convincingly. Need an example? Let’s suppose that the team leader decides on a scenario: A woman is having an affair, and discovers she’s pregnant at a doctor appointment. She comes home to tell her husband the good news, but she’s the one who’s in for a surprise: Her husband can’t have children, so the pregnancy is actually the result of her affair. The person playing the woman would know only that she’s pregnant and coming home to tell her husband. The person playing the husband, on the other hand, must find the right time to reveal his surprise- he can’t have children at all. It’s not as easy as it sounds to play this in a way that entertains an audience! But for actors, it helps build confidence and the ability to react spontaneously to each other on stage or behind a camera.
For team building activities in a corporate or other professional setting, it breaks the ice, shattering interpersonal tensions that may have held team members back from communicating. Improv also helps build communication skills and encourages trust among team members.
15. Host a Professional Development Workshop
Is your business or company undergoing changes, and you want your employees to be able to keep up? Have you been lecturing about new concepts that require team members to develop new skills, but no one seems to be truly engaged? If this is the case, you might consider hosting an interactive professional development workshop. Design a shared learning experience at your office or a rented space. The learning experience could represent the job skills you are trying to teach. Presenting it in a creative, interactive setting will make learning fun and hopefully renew the spirit of teamwork. At the very least, it will be a hands-on experience- especially for team members who learn best through doing something rather than hearing or reading about it. Professional development workshops also encourages people with different learning styles to work and communicate together.
We hope our 15 team building activities gave you some inspiration when it comes to rebooting your team- and having fun while doing so.