There are two basic facts about team building exercises. The first is that they don’t have to suck. The second is that they usually do. Properly done, team building exercises can prove to your boss that you are working toward employee satisfaction within your team build employee morale. Handled wrong, they can send employee morale straight into the crapper. We actually know of a manager who hauled out that old “trust building” activity with a team of 8 people. You know, the one where you stand in with your back to your partner, fall backward and count on him or her to catch you? It didn’t go over well. Responses were, in no particular order, “No,” “Up yours,” “No,” “No,” “I quit,” “No,” “No,” and “No.”
So, if you want to improve employee morale by using team building activities, you’re going to have to come up with ones that don’t suck. This means, for starters, that you don’t ask your team members to do anything that could get them hurt or killed makes them feel unsafe. You also don’t want to ask them to do anything that violates their personal space or their dignity. You should also avoid activities that put people under a spotlight and hold them up to ridicule.
All that said, there really are team building activities that can be fun, and good for employee morale. There’s no reason why people can’t have fun in the workplace, take a bit of a break, get to know one another better and then get back to their mind-numbing, soul-destroying repetitive tasks work with smiles on their faces. Here are 8 great team building exercises that don’t bore the snot out of people and cause horrible resentment actually work.
1. The Shrinking Vessel
This team building exercise encourages creative problem solving, but if you have workers who will bite anyone who comes near them hate having anyone else in their personal space, you are simply going to have to try something else. There really are people who dislike having people close to them in a non-sexual context.
Here’s how it works. You get a nice long rope. No, you are not gearing up to kidnap and torture the boss or string him/her up from the light fixture to the delight of all in the workplace. But you can do that later, so don’t lose the rope! Right now, though, what you’re going to use the rope for is to mark off a space on the floor. Then, you’ll get your team to stand inside the rope. Bit by bit, you’ll take up some of the slack, and make the roped-in area smaller. The idea is that everyone has to work together to stay within the boundaries.
Of course at some point, they’re going to just start shoving their co-workers outside the roped-in area and laughing like hyenas, but that’s part of the fun.
2. Office Trivia
You don’t need any props for this team building exercise, just a list of questions that relate to your workplace. You can start off with simple questions that even the most unspeakable moron anyone on staff can answer, like “What color is Mr. Grump Ass’s chair?” The first person to answer gets a point. Then you might try “What color are the floor tiles in the break room?” and move on to “Who on our team last had a birthday?” or “How many computers do we have in our office?” Rack up the points and give something useless like a crappy pen with the company logo on it a great prize to the winner.
3. Community Service
This is one of the best fun ice breakers, and also works for team bonding. You’ll have to schedule a few hours away from the mind-numbing grind office, and it won’t work if you’re too cheap to pay your people to participate. Think of it this way, though – done right, it can get your business some free publicity. Call local newspapers, radio stations and TV stations and let them know that you and your motley crew employees are heading out to do something great for the community. Whether it’s picking up strangers in bars roadside garbage, canvassing for a worthy cause, or doing something else that reflects your company’s values, you’ll get noticed, and your people will love the time that they get paid to be out of the office!
4. The Marshmallow Spaghetti Building Project
This team building exercise helps to build collaboration and problem solving skills. Split your people into groups, and give each group a couple dozen pieces of uncooked spaghetti, a single marshmallow, and a roll of masking tape. If they take the spaghetti and the marshmallow, leave the tape and high-tail it out of there screaming “No, Precious is mine,” you might want to ask yourself if you’re paying them enough that they can even afford to eat.
If they stick around, the idea is that they use these materials, and only these materials, to build a tower. The marshmallow has to be at the top, and the structure has to be free-standing – they can’t use anything else to support it, not even their hands. The group that has the tallest tower, that stays up for at least five seconds, wins. Now give each one of them a crappy pen.
5. Work Mostly Sucks but Is Good Sometimes
You don’t need anything for this team building exercise other than your people, a hat, and a few scraps of paper. This is one of the most fun icebreakers ever, if your team isn’t in the habit of communicating with one another all that much. You simply count up your team members, and write the numbers 1 through whatever on bits of paper. Everyone draws a number out of the hat, and the person who draws number one has to tell everyone about their best ever, and worst ever, day at the office. You can bet that much abject depression hilarity will result as, one after another, they tell their stories.
6. Arctic Adventure
When it comes to team building activities, this one is a bit complex, but lots of fun, and it helps workers with collaboration and creative problem solving. You’ll need some construction materials, so just take what you think you might need out of your office or cubicle – paper, card stock, rubber bands, paper clips, post-it notes, etc. You’ll also need an electric fan.
Your people are going to be split up into equal teams and pretend that they are not horribly depressed, borderline suicidal drones office workers. Instead, they are fearless explorers navigating the Arctic wilderness. Have each team choose a leader. Now, the problem is that the leader has frostbite and is not able to use his or her hands, and the rest of the team is snow blind and cannot see. Give each group their construction materials, start a timer, and tell them to build a shelter. They have two choices – either work together or tell you to go screw yourself and go grumbling back to their cubicles freeze to death. Once all the shelters are built, turn the fan on. The team whose shelter stays standing the longest wins, and each and every member of that team gets a valuable prize shitty pen!
7. Scavenger Hunt
We just made this one up stole this from probably a million different websites, but dammit, it’s fun, and we’re going to include it. It’s a classic team building exercise that helps members of your team to bond and learn how to collaborate. Split your people into groups, and send them out of the office. Again, you’re going to have to pay them for their time, but they’ll come back rejuvenated and ready to work (if they don’t, just fire their asses). If they all have mobiles, just have them photograph everything they need to find, or you can go the traditional route and have them bring back actual items. The first team to complete the list wins – you guessed it, crappy pens!
8. My Dog’s Better Than Yours!
You can pretty much bet that several people on your team have dogs. So here’s what you do – have all the dog people bring in pictures of their dogs, and then do a little speech about what makes their dog special. Then, the dog owners step aside, and the remaining people vote on the best dog, and state their reasons why they chose that particular dog. The worker who is deemed to have the best dog gets a shitty pen and a package of Pupperoni!
The whole idea behind these team building exercises and fun ice breakers is to help your people learn to tolerate one another without going all “Lord of the Flies” get to know one another better, ease some of the stresses that go hand-in-hand with a 9-5 job and build employee morale. You have probably noticed that none of these team building activities are designed to cause anyone humiliation, or to raise any individual above anyone else. They’re just fun – oh, wait, shouldn’t have done that, because they are fun, pure and simple, so why not give them a try?