Collaboration

7 team-building activities to move forward as one

Improve collaboration, boost employee motivation and unlock your team’s creative potential

Author: Devon MaloneyJanuary 24th, 2020Illustration by Ping Zhu

The phrase “team-building activities” might make some wince at the thought of awkward small talk during “forced fun” with colleagues, while others might imagine group outings like karaoke that they find downright uncomfortable. Meanwhile, whisking employees away for a weekend getaway might not actually involve learning how to work better as a team.

Yet organizations can benefit from team-building activities and team offsites with specific goals in mind, while cultivating individual skills. Gallup research shows that developing team members’ strengths and talents can make a team 8% more productive and 15% less likely to leave the organization.

Just because your people might cringe when you say the word “icebreaker” doesn’t mean that they don’t want to collaborate better. Here’s a list of team-building activities you can choose from based on the skills you’re hoping to cultivate, the size of your team, and the time and effort required.

1. Board game gatherings

Goal: Minimize arguments, boost collaboration
Team size: 10 people or fewer
Commitment level: Moderate

Prevent conflicts before they start by giving employees the chance to collaborate and learn from each other in low-stakes situations. Andre Lavoie, the CEO of HR software provider ClearCompany, says playing board games can create instant collaboration. It forces individuals to think through things as a team and helps them better understand each other’s motivations and priorities to achieve a common goal.

This type of team-building activity can even lead to friendships between employees, which ultimately boosts performance. “Friendships provide us with the emotional and psychological strength to deal with whatever comes our way—whether an exciting opportunity, a challenge, or a crisis,” writes Annie McKee, an advisor for Fortune 500 companies, in her book How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship.

During the board game gathering, try pairing employees with people who have different working styles, or create cross-functional teams of people from different departments.

Tip: Pick cooperative games based on how much time you have. For example, if only an hour or two is budgeted, consider playing a charades game or brain-buzzing Trivial Pursuit.

If much more time is available, consider playing the classic murder mystery game of Clue or coming up with a strategy for world domination with Risk. If you want to go digital and only use your mobile phones, check out SpaceTeam or the JackBox party pack.

2. Moonshot brainstorms

Goal: Encourage innovative thinking, inspire creativity
Team size: Up to a dozen people
Commitment level: Moderate

Try giving teams the opportunity to develop a moonshot strategy. It’s what Google X’s research facility deems impossible “radical solutions” that take creative thinking to an entirely new level.

Ask your team to come up with a plan that goes beyond the constraints of time, money and tools. This gives employees an opportunity for freedom of thought and prevents naysayers or higher-ups from shooting down ideas.

Tip: If you don’t want to get into a deep strategy session, smaller team-building activities such as art projects or group meditation might have a similar unconstrained focus effect.

3. Lunch and learns

Goal: Build trust in a relaxed environment
Team size: 10 to 20 people or more
Commitment level: Moderate to high (some preparation and public speaking required)

Swetha Amaresan, a contributor at the marketing software company HubSpot, recommends using lunch and learns as a time to discuss matters that affect employees’ day-to-day work lives.

“This is not the time for intensive training, triggering material or firm talk-downs,” Amaresan writes. “This is a time to cover lighter topics that may not typically take priority in a busy employee’s day. You want them to leave the lunch and learn feeling refreshed and excited to complete the second half of their day.”

Tip: These events can also provide a rare opportunity for employees to chat with top-level leadership. By getting everyone in the same room, regardless of their position in the company, it helps break down the hierarchical barriers that can often stifle teamwork.

4. Project management call and response

Goal: Develop project management skills, improve collaboration
Team size: Around 25 people
Commitment level: Moderate

Divide employees into multiple teams, and have each team choose a speaker. Managers can also assign a speaker if they want to help develop the skills of a specific person.

Each speaker will then get to look at a hidden, pre-built structure. This structure can be made of Legos, construction paper or any other materials. The speaker then figures out how to instruct their teams on how to replicate it—without touching it themselves.

The speakers will need to use strategic thinking and communication to effectively give directions and delegate tasks, and the rest of the team will get a master class in project management.

Tip: Turn up the heat by giving teams a time limit.

5. Grab bag of creativity

Goal: Boost creative problem-solving, spark cooperation
Team size: Around 25 people
Commitment level: Low
A recent study by Gallup shows that only 29% of employees strongly believe they’re expected to be creative and try new things at work. Buck that trend by bringing a grab bag full of everyday items or pictures of those items to work, such as a TV remote, pencil, tennis ball, screwdriver or pair of gloves.

Divide the group into small teams of three to five people and have each team draw two items from the bag. Then ask them to work together to develop a list of ways that the two disconnected items can be used together. The random and sometimes silly nature of the exercise will help team members flex their critical-thinking and creativity muscles.

Tip: Offer a prize to the team who comes up with the cleverest answer.

6. Volunteering together

Goal: Foster real intra-team relationships
Team size: Any size
Commitment level: High

Organize a volunteer outing, be it for a few hours or on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to bring teams together for a noble purpose—and it can be effective whether you have just five volunteers or turn it into a companywide initiative.

By working together toward a shared goal, coworkers can develop deeper bonds based on their shared experience. What’s more, when employees practice empathy, it can help to minimize conflict between team members.

Tip: Find a cause that aligns with and can make use of your team’s unique talents.

7. Mini hackathons

Goal: Boosting creativity, solving an actual problem
Team size: Any size
Commitment level: Moderate to high

According to Mohit Talwar, the CTO of recruitment and HR services company Hays, identifying the root cause of an issue is a necessary step that teams must take before brainstorming possible solutions. “Many problems remain unsolved because there has not been a focused effort to really understand the problem itself,” he writes.

Give your team an example of a simple problem that your company is often faced with. Ask them to identify the symptoms (how the problem is affecting their goals) and the root cause, and then brainstorm solutions.

And don’t just have a team come up with one right solution. Encourage divergent thinking: brainstorming a lot of different answers to the same question.

Tip: Sticking to simple problems is key. Anything bigger and it becomes more of a moonshot brainstorm (see No. 2).

Find the right team-building activities

There’s a place for traditional team-building activities such as scavenger hunts and paintball matches. However, these offsites and events might not foster the sort of trust and collaboration that meaningfully influence team dynamics.

The next time you organize an event, consider the unique makeup of your team. What would they get a kick out of? By providing an environment in which employees can laugh, open up and support one another, you give colleagues the opportunity to build genuine friendships in the workplace—and perform better in their day-to-day roles too.

 

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