Your team might be amazing—some of the best people you’ve ever worked with—but that doesn’t mean they can’t stand to improve in the teamwork department. Individual employee productivity doesn’t necessarily mean your employees work well together, and even if they do, there are always opportunities for growth.
Many organizations use team building activities to foster better bonds between employees, encourage personal development, and ultimately make the organization more productive. But how can you design and host a team building event without it seeming stiff and overly corporate?
Don’t worry. We’ve got some ideas.
Why Are Team Building Activities Important for Employees?
First, let’s dig into why team building is such an important point of development for organizations. In this guide, we’ll explore a few different types of team building activities, including team building games designed to encourage friendly competition, team building outings that get people out of the office environment, and activities that don’t really fall into other categories. While each of these serve different purposes and have different strengths, our overall goals are:
- Breaking ice (and silos). Over time, for one reason or another “ice” can build up between people. There might be organizational silos, where the people of one department have a hard time communicating with another, or two people within a department might have built up mutual animosity toward each other. In any case, team building activities break you out of the normal workday, and give you a chance to smash this lingering ice.
- Improving communication. Team building activities, especially games, are designed to encourage and positively reinforce strong communication skills. These activities force employees to think carefully about the words they choose, or allow them to engage in constructive dialogue—which can help them be more successful communicators in a work environment.
- Developing familiarity and bonds. Whether chatting over dinner, competing against each other, or visiting someplace new together, team building activities allow your employees to develop familiarity with each other and bond. Tighter bonds mean closer, more effective collaboration.
- Relieving stress. Most of these team building activities are fun, plain and simple. Your employees get a chance to relax, or do something interesting, which has the power to relieve their stress (and stave off burnout).
All of these things stand to benefit your business. And while some of the high-end corporate outings may cost a pretty penny, most of these team building activities can be executed with just a few dollars—and a few hours of your time.
Let’s look at some team building activities for work that have the power to transform your workforce.
Team Building Games
Games are the ideal team building activity. They’re simple and inexpensive, but they check all the boxes we’re looking for—they’re fun, they’re competitive, they force communication (in most cases), and they often encourage bonds, one way or another.
These are some of our favorites:
1. Group counting.
This one sounds silly, but bear with me. Gather a small team of employees or break into groups, then give your employees the task of counting from one to (group size), iteratively, one number at a time. The catch is, each person can only say one number, and all numbers must be said in order. Employees also can’t communicate in any other way, so consider asking them to keep their eyes closed. If two people overlap, interrupt, or speak at the same time, reset at one. It’s an exercise that encourages patience, attention, and teamwork—the perfect warmup to a full team building session.
2. A scavenger hunt.
If you have prep time, consider preparing a scavenger hunt in and around the office, or even around town if you have the time and budget for it. You can make your clues blunt, such as “find a brick that’s out of place in the lobby,” or more cryptic, forcing your employees to solve riddles along the way. Depending on the structure, you could hide a reward at the “end” of the scavenger hunt, or establish a point system based on completed tasks and found items.
3. Brain teasers.
You have a fox, a chicken, and a bag of chicken feed, and a canoe that can take one item at a time across the river in front of you. If you leave the chicken alone with the fox, the fox will eat it, and if you leave the chicken feed alone with the chicken, the chicken will eat it. How do you get all three items across without losing any? Brain teasers like this are hard to solve all by yourself (if you haven’t heard them before), but they make perfect fodder for small teams. Challenge your employees to come up with the answer, or an answer, as quickly as possible. It can help them come up with creative solutions to problems in the future.
4. What’s my name?
What’s my name? is a well-known party game, but it makes for a good icebreaker. The basic idea is to write the names of celebrities, characters, and other personalities on sticky notes and post one each on the backs of your employees, so they can’t see which name applies to them. Each employee must then ask yes-or-no questions of other employees, who can see the exposed name, to gradually figure out who they are.
5. Workplace trivia.
If you’re looking for something a little more esoteric, consider hosting a trivia contest—except all the trivia questions are about your office. You could ask employees which work of art hangs in the entryway, or ask who brought cornbread to the last company potluck. It forces your employees to work together in teams, while stimulating conversation about the workplace and past experiences.
6. Sneak-a-Peek reconstruction.
This game requires access to some kind of building material, like LEGOs, clay, or cardboard. Create something complex, yet possible to recreate, and hide it under a cloth. Then, break employees into teams. Have each team select one leader to “sneak a peek” at the construction under the cloth, for 10 seconds, then cover it again. Send each team leader back to relay instructions to the rest of the team on how to construct a replica of the under-cloth model. Reward the team who gets closest to the objective, and repeat.
7. Basic board games.
There are dozens of well-known board games, and each of them has the potential to bring employees together for a bit of competitive fun. Jenga, Scrabble, and yes, even Monopoly, are household names you might consider. However, if you want to take the board game approach, there are several more advanced options—which I’ll outline individually below.
Charades is a team building game that doesn’t require a board, and it’s something most of your employees know already. Some of them might roll their eyes when they hear what you’re playing, but trust me, charades is a show-stopper if people take it seriously. Divide into teams and come up with some obscure people, places, and things to act out; in case you aren’t familiar, charades is a game that forces you to depict a subject without words or drawings, miming and relying on body language. In addition to being fun, it challenges you to communicate in new ways and think abstractly about your subjects.
Pictionary serves a similar purpose, except instead of communicating via body language, you’ll be relying entirely on drawings. Employees are forced to figure out when their group is on the wrong track, and adjust their approach accordingly—a skill that can get them out of many awkward situations.
Codenames is a popular modern board game in which two competing team leaders play the role of spymasters who know the secret identities of 25 agents, hidden by vague codenames like “Jupiter” or “spaghetti.” Spymasters must use single-word clues to guide their team to select the correct codenames (and avoid the incorrect ones), like “world” or “pasta.” It requires abstract thinking, concise communication, and like most of the options on this list, teamwork.
Mafia- and Werewolf-style team building games come in many varieties, but typically grant each player a secret identity. There’s a majority, “good guy” team and a minority, “bad guy” team. Depending on the variant, the bad guys may know who’s on their team, and other secret roles may have special abilities, like learning the secret role of another player. Through dialogue, players must try to figure who the “werewolves” or “bad guys” of the group are. It encourages persuasion, deception, and deductive reasoning, all powered by speech; and the “one night” version can be completed in 5-minute rounds.
Monikers is a game that combines some elements of the above games. Players create a deck of cards, with each card identifying a subject (like a person, place, or thing) and providing a point value. Across three rounds, teams try to guess the subject of these cards in modes of increasing complexity. In round one, players can describe the subject however they want without using its name. In round two, they can only use one word. In round three, they must act out the subject charades-style. It encourages memorization, communication, and even empathy as you watch your coworkers embarrass themselves.
13. Egg relay race.
You’ve likely played this at least once in your life, but have you tried it as an adult with your coworkers? The basic idea is to race with a held-out spoon that cradles a raw egg; you have to go fast enough to be competitive, but slow enough to avoid dropping the egg. Transfer the egg to subsequent team members to make things riskier—just make sure you do it on a hard floor, or better yet, outside.
14. Egg dropping.
You can use the extra eggs for a secondary game. Here, the idea is to provide teams of employees with an assortment of different basic materials, including cardboard, cloth, and adhesive. From these, employees must design and create a landing mechanism designed to keep the egg safe from a high-story drop. Set a timer, and when it’s up, test each landing mechanism to see whose eggs break.
Telestrations is a pen-and-paper game involving a circle of people, not unlike the game of “Telephone.” Here, person one draws a picture and passes it to their left. Person two describes the picture with a sentence, covering up the picture and passing it. Person three draws a picture based on the description, covering up the sentence and passing it. This continues across many iterations. When done, you’ll see the original concept gradually distorted across each version—and you’ll learn who excels (or fails) at written or drawn communication.
16. The game of Things.
The game of Things is a party game where each participant writes a response to a given prompt, like “things you shouldn’t keep in the refrigerator.” Responses are mixed up and read aloud, then each participant guesses who wrote what. Correct guesses earn a point, and anyone who avoids detection earns several points. The format of the game invites hilarity, but more importantly, it forces your coworkers to get to know each other better; they have to think, “who would write something like that?”
17. Two truths and a lie.
Two truths and a lie is a bit more traditional. In this game, each employee will provide two exceptional truths about themselves, and one lie hidden among them (e.g.: “I can play the banjo,” “I have a world record,” “I’ve never been further than 50 miles from my hometown.”) Players must ferret out the lie for each person. It’s a way to get people to open up about themselves, while also developing each person’s deductive skills. This game can also be played as three truths and a lie.
18. Jigsaw puzzle racing.
This can be as simple or complex as you want it. Divide employees into multiple teams, and give each team a jigsaw puzzle to complete. Time them, and reward whichever team completes their puzzle the fastest. If you want to add excitement and complexity, mix up some of the pieces, so teams must negotiate for each other’s missing pieces.
19. On the back of a napkin.
It’s commonly said that many great ideas originated on the back of a napkin, so why not put the concept to the test? Divide employees into teams and give them all a complex, open-ended problem to solve. Ask them to draw a diagram, write a flow chart, or describe what they would do using only the space available on a napkin. Award points to whoever did it best.
20. Shark Tank simulator.
Similarly, you could host a small team building game in the vein of the TV series Shark Tank. Give employees a complex, open-ended problem to solve and ask them to come up with a business model that addresses it—including a business name, a marketing plan, and all the bells and whistles. Have a team of leaders hear and judge each pitch.
21. Bridge/tower building.
You can launch a similar team building game by encouraging employees to build a structure within a specified time limit, and with limited resources—either the tallest possible tower or the sturdiest possible bridge (accommodating more and more weight until you find its limit). Dry spaghetti and marshmallows make for fantastic, inexpensive building materials here.
The untangle game, sometimes called the human knot, involves many people in a circle each clasping the hands of two people not next to them. From there, employees must work together to, without unclasping hands, disentangle themselves. Employees are required to communicate and collaborate to solve this puzzle, and they’ll be right next to each other when they do it.
23. Paper plane competition.
You could also divide into teams or allow employees to work individually on designing, creating, and ultimately flying paper planes. Give each person or team the same materials, such as two pieces of paper and three paper clips, then take turns flying them along a runway that measures their performance. The winner is the person whose plane flies furthest.
24. Beach ball suspension.
Inflate a beach ball and gather employees in a circle. Then launch the beach ball and require them to keep it suspended, without touching the ground, for a specific amount of time. You can also make the challenge more difficult by adding requirements, like preventing the same employee from touching the beach ball twice in a row.
25. Blindfolded instructions.
There are many team building games you can play by blindfolding some participants and having remaining participants guide the blindfolded through a task. In some variants, you’ll have them navigate a (safety conscious) obstacle course. In others, you’ll have them assemble a puzzle. Feel free to get creative here, as the point is still the same; when someone is blindfolded, they require much more precise, specific instructions, which forces employees to become better communicators naturally. The blindfolded person (or people) must also remain tightly focused at all times.
Team Building Outings
If you’re looking for something outside the office and you have a bigger budget, you can consider some of these team building outing ideas:
26. Escape room.
Escape rooms are increasingly common team building outings that lock your employees into a room filled with puzzles, clues, and interactive objects that eventually lead them to a solution that triggers their release from the room. Different themes exist, including “zombie” themed escape rooms, but they all serve a similar function. Oftentimes, these rooms force people to work together, usually more effectively under a single person’s direction and/or leadership.
27. Go karts.
You won’t get much of a chance to communicate while go karting, but you will have a lot of fun. It’s something most adults don’t get a chance to do, so it could relieve lots of stress and form lasting memories at the same time.
28. Skill development.
You could also take your employees to a class that hones a specific skill as a team building outing. The skill itself doesn’t matter; it could be something relevant to their job, like a class on emotional intelligence, but it could also be something like a painting or photography class. The more creative and/or collaborative it is, the better.
29. Laser tag.
Like go karts, your employees won’t have many opportunities to play laser tag on their own. Here, they will have a chance to communicate and collaborate. Split employees into teams, nominate captains, and keep score if you really want to make things interesting.
It’s not as exciting as some of the other team building outings on this list, but volunteering with your employees will give you a chance to bond and collaborate while doing something good for the community. Use a service like VolunteerMatch to find opportunities in your area.
31. Murder mystery dinner.
Consider taking your employees out to dinner—but not just any dinner (although they would appreciate a normal dinner, too). Take them to a murder mystery dinner, where they’re presented with a brief play, skit, or collection of information that forces them to use deductive reasoning to identify a killer.
Physical activities are always good team building activities, since they give employees a burst of endorphins while working together, relieving stress and improving their fitness at the same time. One such option is kayaking or canoeing, which connects them with the great outdoors. And if you put two people per craft, you’ll also force employees to work together if they want to succeed.
33. A trampoline park.
Trampoline parks are emerging in most major cities, and they’re another opportunity to encourage physical activity while invoking some childlike fun. Play trampoline dodgeball, start a slam dunk contest, or just jump around—your employees will appreciate it.
How well do you and your employees know your city, really? You live here, but are you familiar with its history? Consider arranging a tour, or doing something profoundly touristy in your city. You’ll be surprised how much you’ve never seen, and how much you’ve never had the opportunity to learn.
35. Sporting matches.
If you have a local sports team, consider attending a match with your employees in tow. You can all root for your team together, and enjoy a relaxing day away from the office. Baseball is always a good option, thanks to its laid-back nature and many day game options, but you might also consider something off the beaten path, like a hockey game.
Other Team Building Activities
These miscellaneous team building activities aren’t quite games, but they also don’t require you to leave the office (if you don’t want to):
36. Team building brainstorming.
At the start of your team building day, ask employees what would make this team building session both enjoyable and productive. Collect responses on a whiteboard, and ask them to narrow down the list; some employees will object to what’s considered “enjoyable” or “productive.” It’s a good warmup exercise to encourage participation, and expose how subjective differences in perception can warp otherwise good communication.
37. Desert island survival (or something similar).
Ask your employees to imagine themselves stranded on a desert island (or crashed on an iceberg, or some other survival scenario), then present them with a series of items they can choose to improve their survival, like a lighter, a blanket, and a knife. Allow them a finite number of items, and invite them to discuss which items are “best.” You’ll encourage them to come up with creative uses for those items, and use negotiation and persuasion to fight for their favorites.
38. Cooking competition.
You could also host a Chopped-style cooking competition, pitting your employees against one another in lighthearted competition. As an added bonus, you’ll all get to share in the food that’s ultimately produced.
39. Employee spectrum.
You can also work as a team to categorize individual employees within a defined spectrum; for example, you may borrow from the alignment system and separate people on a scale from “lawful” to “chaotic.” Or you may categorize them from “stubborn” to “compromising.” Obviously, you’ll need to tread carefully here, to avoid hurt feelings and fights, but if done well, it’s a good way to gently introduce people to the strengths and weaknesses of the people around them (as well as themselves).
40. Improv workshop.
Consider hosting an improv workshop. Improv is a style that forces people to think and communicate quickly, and read other people to respond and support them appropriately. Over the course of a few exercises, you’ll see your employees get more comfortable with each other, communicate more effectively, and probably laugh along the way.
Speaking of laughing, try karaoke. If your employees are sufficiently warmed up and okay with the idea, these sing-along exercises can be an absolute blast.
42. Memory sharing.
Many of these team building activities give your employees a chance to develop new memories, but it’s also good to help them share some of their old ones. Ask employees to share the standout memories they’ve formed in your workplace in the past; what are some of their most memorable experiences? The good memories will give you a chance to reflect on your organization’s strengths, and the bad ones can help you identify weaknesses—and point out the silver linings.
43. Campfire stories.
Similarly, you can ask employees to share stories about themselves, as if you were around a campfire. You’ll always need to tread carefully when venturing into personal territory, but if handled well, this can be a perfect opportunity to help employees learn about one another.
44. Different hands.
Encourage employees to work together in pairs more effectively by having them complete a task that requires two hands—but only using one hand from each person. For example, you can have each pair of person string and tie a shoe, using one person’s left hand and one person’s right hand—and only the power of effective communication to coordinate them.
45. Short filmmaking.
You can put your team’s newfound improv skills to good use by having them imagine, create, and produce short skits or short films for their coworkers. Pull concepts from a hat or select a theme, and let individual teams of employees figure out a way to make that subject entertaining.
Team Building Activities for Remote Teams
Okay, so what if your employees work from home? Working from home is more productive for most people, but it can be hard to foster a team mentality this way:
46. Fun surveys.
What’s your favorite childhood memory? What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? How many jobs have you had? These types of questions help you get to know someone better, and in a written format, they can be read, considered, and answered on each person’s own terms. Collect responses from your remote workforce and compare them; you can also distribute them anonymously and try to get each person to guess who wrote what.
47. Guess the office.
In a similar game, you can have each person take a photo of their home office and send it in. Each person can then guess whose home office is whose. Just make sure you get permission to share first.
48. Two truths and a lie (remote mod).
The “two truths and a lie” game can work for a remote workforce, but you might need to add a twist. Consider collecting responses over email, then presenting them all at once. You can make things more interesting by not assigning a name to each collection of three responses; make it part of the game to guess who wrote what.
49. Movie night.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try hosting a movie night with your remote team. You can start a video conference and play a movie for everyone to watch, or try to get everyone to sync up a copy of the movie at the same time. Then, you can chat and interact while you watch the movie, relaxing and engaging with your remote team all at once.
50. Online gaming.
Most of the games I listed in the first major section have some kind of online variant available. Gather your remote workforce and bring them together in the online gaming session of your choice.
After just a few of these team building activities, your employees should start to feel more comfortable with each other, and work should run a little smoother. Be sure to also check out these employee engagement ideas and activities! But if you want to polish their communication habits, and get them exchanging information more consistently and concisely, you’ll need to take a few additional steps.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.