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Team Building Activities: The Ultimate Guide

team building activities
Gallop poll found that “Of the 70% of American workers who are not reaching their full potential, 52% are not engaged, and another 18% are actively disengaged.” That means only 30% of employees are engaged, and that’s bad news for your business! When employees are disengaged it costs your company money in lost productivity and creates an environment that can be negative for the workplace mental health of everyone involved.
But don’t worry, team building activities are an effective and fun way of boosting employee engagement when done right. They help by improving communication, building relationships, and helping employees start to think differently about situations. They also help to break up those office cliques and break down the department silos. However, the key is making sure that you choose the right activity or game.


When team building goes wrong

Coming up with ideas for team building games isn’t hard. In fact, the internet is full of ideas. However, finding activities that actually work is where it gets a little tricky. When you choose the wrong activity you actually accomplish the exact opposite of what you set out to do. Members of your team end up feeling left out and alienated. And I can assure you that you don’t want to do anything that makes someone who’s part of your organization feel that way. Here are some common mistakes that organizations make:

Forcing people to get personal

Of course, teams grow closer when they’re able to trust each other and share personal information. That makes perfect sense. But this is something you can’t force. It has to happen naturally. As soon as you try to push people into sharing more than they are comfortable with, they are going to put up walls and the whole team building activity will collapse.

Pushing people outside their comfort limits

Activities like paintball and escape rooms have been advertised as being great for teambuilding. I can see where this idea comes from, but there’s something people forget—not everyone is comfortable with activities like this.

I would also link adventure-type activities in this category. This includes things like doing a trust fall. This is when someone stands on top of a tall platform and stands on the edge while facing backward. They then have to lean back, essentially falling off the platform, and trust that their coworkers are going to catch them. Even if you get your employees to do this activity, many of them are going to withdraw inwardly afterward because it made them uncomfortable. Not to mention the accidental touching that could lead to a nightmare for your HR department. When you force your employees into an uncomfortable situation, you aren’t creating a team environment.

Sporting events

There are two types of sporting event team building activities that organizations like to do. The first is attending a sports event together. This usually involves something along the lines of tailgating or being in a catered suite and then watching the game. If you have a small, close-knit team this can be a great way to foster their relationships. But if you are trying to choose a team building activity, this isn’t going to accomplish what you want it to. It allows people to stick with their clique. Those who are already friends will congregate together while those who are on the outside will remain on the outside.

The other sporting event team building activity companies like to use is participating in a sport. This could be a team baseball game, volleyball game, or something similar. The problem with this is that not everyone is athletic. Those who aren’t will end up feeling embarrassed. They may even relive unpleasant childhood memories like being chosen last when teams were picked in gym class. This is going to negate the effort you’re trying to make.

corporate team building activities

Activities that happen after work hours

I know you have good intentions about the activity that you planned for the evening or on the weekend, but there’s a good chance that your employees don’t feel the same way. Most of the time employees are made to feel like these events are mandatory but they aren’t compensated for them. This doesn’t leave a good taste in their mouth. The last thing you want when trying to hold a team building activity is for your employees to come into it already feeling bitter and distant. The one thing this could accomplish is connecting your team together by giving them a common enemy. But I’m guessing you don’t want to be that common enemy. Remember, when the workday is done, your employees want to go home and spend time with their family and friends.

It’s not as easy as you thought

When you look through lists of team building activities it doesn’t take long to realize how truly difficult this task really is. How do you find an activity that everyone can participate in regardless of age, skill, or physical ability? How do you find an activity that actually accomplishes the benefits that you are trying to achieve?

What team building activities work?

Effective team building activities include everyone. Each person has a role to play and they can participate in the activities together. Here are some things that you want to keep in mind when planning your event.

Small groups are put together with a  purpose

If you have a lot of employees that you need to include, it can be hard to find things that everyone can do together. Drum circles are great for this, but if you’re going to do an activity that breaks people down into groups you need to think strategically. If you allow employees to form into their own groups they’ll naturally gravitate toward those they are most comfortable with. This will just create competition between the office cliques and won’t help to unite the team.

So if you’re going to break into smaller groups, plan them out before the activity starts. If you have multiple departments make sure you have each department represented in each group if possible. This will help to break down those office silos and get your entire company working together.

Limitations are accounted for

Team building activities are only effective when everyone can participate in them. If you plan a team volleyball match or something similar and have people with disabilities who are unable to participate, it’s going to turn a situation that should have been good into something bad. Make sure you think through the activity or game that you’re planning to ensure it’s something everyone can participate in.

Keep it during office hours

I addressed this in the previous section, but I want to touch on it just a little more. If you want your team building activity to be highly successful, you’re going to want to plan it during the hours your employees already have committed to their jobs. When you start stealing from their personal time, you are going to either get pushback and have no-shows or have at least a few grumpy employees.

Teambuilding through a drum circle

In my experience, drumming activities hit the nail on the head. And it’s not just because I’m a drum circle facilitator. I do these events for organizations and schools because I see that they work.

1. Lead with Your Feet

This team building game was invented by my friend, Brendan Finnegan. In this activity, each person follows the leader in matching the beat they create with their feet. But the real beauty of the game is that every person has the chance to lead the circle as well. The entire group forms a circle and the leader stands in the middle. The group plays a beat each time the leader’s feet hit the ground. The leader can create any rhythm they choose. Then the leader chooses a new leader and the process is repeated.

2. The Money Game

This activity gets your group interacting with the people around them in a comfortable way. It also adds a little bit of competition for your employees who long for it. The group stands in a circle. Each person puts their right hand up at their side, palm up. Their left hand is held over the hand of the person on their left, palm down (as if you were going to slap their hand). No one’s hands should be touching anyone else’s hand. Then you pretend that you have a dollar in your right hand. When the leader says the word “catch”, you have to protect your dollar from your neighbor stealing it and you have to try to steal your neighbor’s dollar at the same time.

3. Mike’s Planet

This activity gets people thinking outside of the box by forcing them to communicate without words. The story goes that in order for the team to live on Mike’s planet, they have to form a circle that has four people in it at all times. However, each person can only stay in the circle for ten seconds before they have to go back to the outside of the circle or everyone loses oxygen and the game is over. And they have to devise their strategy and work through the activity without speaking.

4. The Number Game

The number game is a great icebreaker activity to the rest of the activities included on this list. It allows everyone to become comfortable with playing their instrument and hearing the beat. It also gets them to work together to create music. Even though everyone is choosing a different number to play on it’s all coming together to accomplish one purpose. Each person chooses a number between one and four. When their number is said they hit their drum. The leader then starts a four count. Eventually, the group is able to hold the rhythm without the leader counting. Then you can move up to an eight count with everyone choosing two numbers to play on.

Other corporate team building ideas

Scavenger hunt

This can be something done throughout your office building or throughout the city. The difficult part is if you have a large company, employees aren’t going to be working together. They’ll need to split into smaller teams. But it can be a fun way for people to get to interact with each other outside of regular job tasks. If you have a large enough company to divide employees up into teams, make sure that you split the groups up through something random like drawing names or pre-assigning the teams. The goal is to break up the regular office cliques.

The barter puzzle

Break your employees up into even groups and give each group a puzzle. The goal is to be the first team to put the puzzle together. However, some of the puzzle pieces are mixed up between boxes. Each group has to find a way to negotiate with the other groups to get the puzzle pieces that they need in order to complete their puzzle. This activity helps to encourage teamwork and creative thinking.

Show and tell

That’s right, “show and tell” isn’t just for preschoolers! This is a fun way to give everyone in your organization a chance to share something that’s personal without forcing them to go too personal. If you have a large team, you could split this up into multiple meetings or with a small group you can have them do it all on the same day. Each person will bring something from their personal life that they can tell a story about and then share it with the group. This encourages people to become comfortable talking with others in the organization without it being in a threatening environment.

Classify this

This activity involves breaking your team up into smaller groups. Then you will place at least twenty objects on a table in the center of the groups. Try to find objects that aren’t related in any way. For example, you might have a fork, a basketball, and a dog’s leash among the items. Then every group is required to classify the objects into four groups. Each group will have to devise their own categories and strategy for classifying them. This activity is great for growing collaboration and getting people to learn that sometimes there is more than one way to do things.

A final option

I’ve worked with a lot of meeting planners and understand that planning corporate activities, even those with employees, can be a lot of work. Each of the activities mentioned in this article are games that you can do on your own. However, you can make your job a lot easier by teaming up with a team building event facilitator. This is what I do as a corporate drum circle facilitator. If you’re interested in more information you can find it HERE.

Whichever way you decide to go, just remember—the investment you make with time and money into bringing your team together will always be worth it!


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