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Team Builders That Won't Make Your Team Cringe

Your team's communication is lacking. Your team treats one another like polite strangers, rather than skilled colleagues. At times, you wonder whether your job title is team manager or cat herder.

If this sounds familiar, you may have already thought about introducing your staff to team-building activities. Maybe you've even suggested it - to a lukewarm reception.

Tired of eye rolls and heavy sighs when you mention "team builders"? Maybe you just need some better ideas. These activities promote collaboration, idea sharing, group problem solving and better team performance - without making employees cringe:

Team Spirit

Break your group into smaller teams of four to six people. Each smaller team then determines what everyone in the group has in common and creates a team name, logo and tagline based on these common features. Have groups share their "branding" and allow their peers to vote on the best results.

This team-building exercise not only gets your staff communicating with one another, it also encourages them to find an identity that is group-based and mutually inspiring to them. This activity is particularly useful when you have several new members on your overall team, or when you want certain team members to get to know one another and find common ground together.

Photo Scavenger Hunt

Give small groups a list of five to ten items they must find and photograph. They may not touch or disturb the subject of each photo in any way; their photo is the only evidence they have that they found the item on the list. Ask teams to text each photo to the facilitator as they take it, or to upload it to a shared drive or document. The first team to complete all its photos wins the hunt.

Photo scavenger hunts can be used to further build bonds within small groups. They're also great for orienting new staff members to their surroundings on a large business campus or within your business's surrounding neighborhood. For extra team bonding and amusement, give additional points for factors like fitting every team member into the photo or making silly faces.

Escape Rooms

Escape rooms are a popular form of entertainment for friend groups, and they also offer a great team-building activity. Escape rooms are a game in which teams are locked in a space at the escape room venue. They must use clues and objects they find in the room to figure out how to unlock the door and escape before time is up.

Escape rooms give your team a single common goal and a clear deadline. They're great for building strategic and logical thinking skills, as well as communication skills. Many escape room venues offer discount admission packages for large groups and for business teams, making an escape room an affordable outing as well as a fun team builder.

Volunteer Together

Ask staff to recommend three to five volunteer activities, based on what they know about their team members and the company's mission and values. Sort through these to find the recommendations that best fit your team and your company's culture, then ask staff to choose among the three to five most promising options.

Volunteering together is a great way to build bonds on a team. It eliminates the awkwardness often associated with icebreakers or team building by focusing the team's purpose and efforts on helping others, rather than on getting to know one another in an artificial environment. It allows each team member to bring their strengths to the project and share them freely. And asking your team for suggestions demonstrates that their knowledge of their co-workers and their company, as well as their knowledge of community needs, is relevant and meaningful.

Board Game Lunch

Once a month, host a board game lunch. Invite staff members to bring in their own board games, or provide a selection of classics, and to get together to play a game or two while they eat. To further encourage participation and create a sense of support and camaraderie, have lunch catered in on board game day.

Board games are a tried-and-true method of encouraging people to talk, laugh and have fun together. The rules are often simple or already known to the participants, and the act of playing the games can trigger a sense of nostalgia that leads to greater comfort and enjoyment of one's surroundings. Since board games take up little space and can be played indoors, they're also a great choice for the dreary winter months.

DIY Team Building

If none of these team-building ideas inspire you, consider creating your own team-building activity. Start by answering these questions:

  • How many people will be involved in the activity?
  • What do I want staff members to gain from the activity?
  • Can the activity be connected to "big picture" ideas like our company's mission, values or goals in any way?
  • What would make my staff feel like they'd achieved something meaningful and useful with their time, other than getting to know one another or the company?

The best team-building ideas incorporate the answers to all these questions, providing a custom-built sense of meaning and purpose in addition to helping your team get to know one another.