The importance of team building is often discussed in the professional world, to the point where to some it can sound like a cliched or even cheesy concept. To many, the idea of “team building activities” inspires eye rolls and a simmering sense of dread that they’ll be lassoed into a work event that they’d rather not attend. In fact, CEO Andre Lavoie goes so far as to say that employees hate team building games and activities.
According to Toolbox, a meager 11% of professionals surveyed think that team building activities are effective in increasing their on-the-job confidence and morale. Even sadder, only 14% thought that team building exercises helped them to bond with their colleagues and managers.
However, this cynicism surrounding team building activities doesn’t have to be the norm, nor does it mean that team building games and activities should be abandoned entirely. Employees who dislike team building tend to argue that when socializing or bonding feels forced, it’s hard to find the enthusiasm necessary to approach the activities earnestly.
When you’re designing a team building plan for your employees, it’s important to focus on the people for whom you’re planning these activities, games, and exercises. Managers tend to fail in team building events when they merely pick the first exercise they find in a Google search without giving thought to how their team members would actually respond and what sort of events they’d actually prefer. Plus, the Harvard Business Review insists that investing a lot of money into team building is wasteful and that it’s preferable to create and execute your own team building activities in-house.
Before delving deeper into different team building exercises and why they work, let’s take a look at just what makes a good team player and how team building exercises for work can help to improve people’s teamwork skills.
What Makes a Good Team Player?
There’s no one definition of a good team player; rather, a good team player is someone who works effectively within their team. In some industries, this means someone who’s especially good at active listening and communication. In other industries, a valuable asset to a team is someone who’s especially adept at presenting new ideas and taking the reigns on new projects.
Typically, a good team player is someone who’s able to find the balance between being a self-starter and being receptive to the ideas and opinions of others. Finding this balance can be a struggle, especially in professional situations where the stakes are high or stress is common. According to Forbes, however, failure isn’t something that teams should fear, but rather something that they plan to learn from should it occur.
While there’s no concrete definition of someone who’s a good team player, there are five traits we witness routinely incompetent team members.
When a person is working in a team, it’s important that they’re flexible in their ideas and their work practices. An effective team player cannot be rigid in their ways; instead, it’s important that they’re open to change and willing to see the value of other people’s ideas as much as they do their own. According to Entrepreneur, it’s important that the workplace is flexible as well and that the organization doesn’t expect its employees to stick to rigid roles.
2. Active Listening
Active listening refers to a person really hearing the ideas and opinions of others. Many times when we’re listening to another person speak, we’re not really internalizing their words as much as we’re just thinking about what we’re going to say next. Active listening involves quieting your ego and really focusing on what another human being is attempting to communicate to you. In fact, the Harvard Business Review calls the ability to listen to one of the most “overlooked leadership tools.”
3. A Willingness To Thoughtfully Problem-Solve
Problems are going to arise in just about any professional situation. Things don’t always go to plan. An effective team member understands this and doesn’t panic or lose their cool in the event that something goes wrong.
Instead, they’re willing to thoughtfully problem solve as a team. This involves patience and the recognition that you don’t have all the answers on your own, but rather are just one part of the larger equation. According to Inc, it’s actually a good thing when different team members have a wide array of opinions and outlooks, as cognitive diversity is essential for problem-solving as a team.
4. Effective Communication
While it’s very important that team members are active listeners who remain genuinely receptive to the ideas of others, it’s also important that they themselves are effective communicators. This means that they communicate their ideas clearly and in a manner that allows for constructive criticism and critique. Inc calls good communication “essential to business success.” An effective communicator is someone who expresses themselves honestly and knows when to speak and when to let others say their peace.
5. A Lack of Ego
Egomaniacs don’t make the best team players. Teamwork and professional collaboration are successful when team members understand that while they’re all bringing their own talents and skills to the table, they’re ultimately just one part of a larger group. In this short video, entrepreneur Jay Shetty explains why ego can so often hold people back professionally.
While management should encourage all employees to make the most of their talents and to aim for their personal bests, it’s important that individuals within a team have a lack of an ego and a sincere appreciation for the talents and abilities of their colleagues.
How To Use Team Building Activities To Encourage These Attributes
As previously stated, good team players aren’t born that way. Instead, these positive traits and attributes are the result of years of team work in a professional setting. While there’s no replicating experience, managers can help to move the process along with these team building activities, games, and exercises.
Remember, take your team and the individuals within it into consideration when choosing a team building activity. A team made up of bonafide city folk who’ve never once expressed any interest in the great outdoors aren’t likely to appreciate a weekend at a national park. If you know your team members are largely introverted, don’t try to force them to be boisterous extroverts.
Instead, know your team’s strengths and weaknesses and then choose accordingly. To help you get started, here are some of the top picks for team building activities, games, and exercises.
Two Truths and a Lie
What It Is: This is one of the more popular team building games. It’s convenient because it can be done very quickly and with no equipment or expenses whatsoever.
Working in small groups, have each team member share three “facts” about themselves. The twist is that one of those facts isn’t a fact at all, but rather an intentional lie, while the other two tidbits are indeed true facts about the employee in question. The game involves the other team members trying to guess which one of the three so-called facts is in fact a lie.
Why It Works: As previously mentioned, this one is quick, simple and cheap. This is why it’s a popular choice as an ice-breaker at the beginning of meetings.
However, it’s not just useful for breaking the ice. It’s also a great way for colleagues to get to know one another and to learn new facts about the people they work with on a daily basis. When colleagues have a better sense of who their coworkers actually are when they’re off the clock, they’re more likely to feel a sense of camaraderie with their colleagues. As Chron explains, employees often spend more time with one another than they do their families, so solid relationships between them are essential.
Reinvent The Wheel
What It Is: A simple item is presented to a group of colleagues. It can be anything from a hula hoop to an empty coffee can. Each employee has to take the item and think up a brand new use for it. Then, without using words, they will attempt to pantomime their new use for the item, while their colleagues are encouraged to guess just what it is they’re trying to do with the object.
Why It Works: This works as a great team building activity on two levels. Not only does it encourage employees to improve their communication skills with one another, but it encourages them to think outside the box and to rely on their creative skills.
A lot of creativity and innovation is often stifled when employees feel as if they can’t really express themselves in front of their colleagues. A huge part of embracing creativity is not being afraid to look silly or even dumb in front of one’s team members. This game encourages team members to break out of their respective shells and to no longer feel looking a bit goofy to the people with whom they work and share ideas.
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The Worst Product Pitch
What It Is: This is another team building game that encourages employees to get a little silly. Working in small teams, employees are enthusiastically invited to come up with the worst product or marketing campaign they can think of for the company.
The sky is the limit when it comes to this activity, which can last an hour or a whole day. Encourage your employees to use PowerPoint or art supplies to create visual components for their product or campaign pitches. When all the smaller groups reconvene as one, have each team earnestly share their pitch, as if it were an actual product that they were pitching to management.
Why It Works: Building team cohesiveness can be a challenge, especially in fields where creativity is important. As previously stated, people can be downright terrified of pitching a bad idea at a meeting. For this reason, sometimes team members will keep an idea to themselves instead of risking embarrassment. This isn’t surprising when you consider that, according to Forbes, most professionals have a deeply rooted fear of failure.
This game seeks to eradicate that among your team members once and for all. The intention of this game is to create the worst product or marketing campaign imaginably. Therefore, team members won’t be embarrassed to risk pitching a “bad idea” during the brainstorming session, since that’s literally the goal of the activity.
This humorous activity can help to dramatically change how the team interacts during future brainstorming sessions, as in the real ones that actually matter. Once a team member has pitched a bad idea without any fear of embarrassment or shame, it’ll be a bit easier to feel less fear and intimidation down the road when they really need to make their ideas heard.
The Egg Drop
What It Is: This team building game takes a few hours and a lot of supplies, but it’s a popular choice for managers who want to teach their employees how to work better as a team without boring them.
Essentially, the goal is to create a container that will protect an egg from a two- or three-story fall. Working in small groups, teams plan and design containers that will hopefully achieve their goal and protect their egg. Popular supplies include cardboard, tape, packing peanuts and bubble wrap. This is a popular activity during company retreats, as employees can raid stores near their hotel or their own suitcases for extra materials to use.
This activity simply must culminate in the containers being put to the test. A manager should take all the teams’ containers to a balcony and then drop them to the pavement below. This is always a tense yet lighthearted moment as all the teams wait with bated breath to see if their containers were a success.
Why It Works: A great team building exercise should be, unsurprisingly, focused on team members working together to create something. This game introduces a problem to be solved and calls on the team to come together and find a solution.
However, this is also a downright fun team building activity. One of the biggest complaints from employees who attend team building events or retreats is that the activities can be dull or tedious. There are rarely any complaints about this game, which encourages teams to work together on an activity that’s interesting and can lead to many humorous moments. As Forbes puts it, great team building activities shouldn’t feel like another boring day at the office.
The Great Reframe
What It Is: Working as a group, each team member shares a story about a negative experience they’ve had in their lives, either personal or professional. After each team member opens up about this bad memory, the team works together to try to reframe the incident as something positive.
Why It Works: Not every team building activity has to manifest in the form of a fun game or exercise. This activity involves colleagues really opening up to one another and sharing experiences that might be somewhat difficult to discuss. By hearing their colleagues reframe their experience as something good, they’re able to find meaning in their bad memory and to better understand how they can take a negative and turn it into a positive.
Furthermore, by opening up with one another, this exercise teaches team members to really listen to their colleagues and to build trust. “Trust is hard to define, but we know [when it’s] lost,” writes Dennis Jaffe for Forbes. “When we [lose trust], we withdraw our energy and level of engagement.”
This activity helps colleagues to not only build trust with one another by opening up, but it’s a great lesson on how perspective is everything. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to be able to see something differently, which is one of the biggest reasons why teams are so important in the first place.
The Scavenger Hunt
What It Is: At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all participated in a scavenger hunt. It involves small teams searching for items or completing activities on a list. It’s a popular choice for bachelorette parties and youth events, but it can also be a great way for a professional team to grow together while having fun doing so.
A scavenger hunt can be done around the office or can also be a great choice for retreats and team building weekends. Colleagues should break off into small groups of two to four people. The goal is to complete all of the items on the list before the other teams do. Consider a small prize for the members of the winning team.
Why It Works: There’s a reason that scavenger hunts remain a popular activity for both professional and non-professional groups. First and foremost, they’re extremely fun and allow participants to really enjoy themselves. But beyond the fact that they’re fun to participate in, they also force team members to put their heads together and work cohesively in order to win.
A scavenger hunt might take a bit more planning than other activities on this list. Those organizing the event have to really put some thought into creating a list of objectives that will challenge participants without frustrating them. Creating a scavenger hunt takes a bit of time, but it’s a memorable team building activity that participants will genuinely grow from and appreciate.
Truth or Dare
What It Is: Yes, we’re talking about that old staple of slumber parties everywhere. Before you panic about what your HR department would say about this one, know that it can easily be tailored for a professional setting. Create a pre-written list of truths and dares for individuals to pick to assign to others.
Questions in the “truth” pile should be intriguing yet professional. A good example would be, “what meeting or work event caused you to feel the most nervous?” As for your dares, choose silly little challenges that would never cause anyone any real embarrassment or upset, such as doing jumping jacks or donning a crown fashioned out of office supplies.
Why It Works: Everyone is familiar with the rules of this time-tested game. Beyond that, it emphasizes laughing with others and having fun. For teams that are often stressed or overworked, a game like this can be a good choice as it allows colleagues to just relax and have fun. According to Monster, the idea of having fun at work is important and doesn’t necessarily undermine productivity.
For many teams, a night of relaxation is needed, rather than a scavenger hunt or something that requires thought and effort. A game of pre-planned truth or dare can be a great way to get people talking and laughing during a company happy hour or cocktail party. This can also be a fantastic way to get people in a cheery spirit at a company holiday party.
What It Is: This is another example of a classic party game that doubles beautifully as a team building activity. On small pieces of paper, write down different company-related objects and people. Divide your team into two groups who will compete against each other.
Taking turns, one person from each group grabs a piece of paper and then has to act out the object or person, using only pantomime and non-verbal cues. Members from their team attempt to guess who or what their team member is attempting to depict. The team that successfully guesses the most is ultimately the winner of the game.
Why It Works: This is a really fun activity for a team that needs to blow off some steam and just laugh together. However, it also helps team members improve their active listening skills, even if they’re not technically “listening” so much as their watching and observing. According to Chron, charades is a great team building game because it teaches problem-solving in a situation where members are working together, but still individually in different roles.
During a game of charades, the people doing the guessing have no choice but to really focus on what someone is trying to convey to them. This means that they have to be completely focused on the person in front of them and cannot let their minds wander elsewhere. This teaches team members to better focus on a person when they’re attempting to communicate something to them, thereby improving their active listening skills and team communication.
Use Team Building Activities To Improve Team Cohesion
As you can see, team building activities, exercises, and games come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are quick activities that don’t involve a lot of planning and preparation while others are day-long ordeals with a lot of set-ups. Different activities are appropriate for different teams and their varying needs.
Remember, you can’t force people to be effective team players. The ability to work well in a team setting is a skill that’s built over years of experience, not in one evening of team building exercises. As Glenn Llopis writes for Forbes, “teams grow when they evolve together.” Think of building team cohesion as something you do gradually over time, not all at once.
You don’t have to utilize every activity listed here. In fact, you might even choose to come up with your own team building activity based on your employees’ needs and preferences. What matters the most is that you’re thoughtful in your planning process and don’t try to force perfect team cohesion. Instead, create a welcoming atmosphere where employees are given room to gradually improve their teamwork skills and to grow as team players organically.
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