Psychological safety: the key to high-performing teams
The more you train and develop your soft skills, the better you will feel about managing…
If you’ve ever taken part in team-building events or activities, thinking about them might stir up some strong feelings.
You might feel genuine excitement—you’ve experienced the way team-building activities form stronger bonds, bring out new perspectives and approaches to problem solving, and of course, how this boosts collaboration and camaraderie back at the office.
On the other hand, if you haven’t experienced successful team-building events, you might roll your eyes at the very thought of them, knowing that when they’re not done right, they can be boring and even awkward.
With the right planning, team-building activities can liven up company social events, encourage employees to connect on a human level, work better together, and even help resolve underlying conflict. Team-building activities done well have the power to open up communication, nurture relationship-building, and encourage innovative thinking, all of which will give your team’s engagement and performance a boost.
To make the most out of team-building activities, you want to ensure employees are engaged and having fun. Here are seven planning tips to make your team-building event a success.
The first rule of team building activities is not to refer to them as team building activities. It’s important that the moment feels as organic as possible, because forcing people to bond never works. Instead, use language like “let’s take some time away from the office today”, or “let’s take a break from work this afternoon.” No need to say “for team-building”—it’s a given.
Employees with kids might not be able to join in for evening or weekend activities, and introverted individuals probably won’t love being forced into a flash-mob or karaoke. Plan events during office hours whenever possible, and try offering a variety of activities so that everyone feels comfortable and included.
Make sure that when employees show up for the scheduled activities, instructions and timeframes are clear and accessible. When activities are too complex, or the guidelines are unclear, people can become disengaged and give up.
If possible host an offsite event away from the office, and make it a work-free day. You’ll get the most out of team-building if employees are fully present, and it’s hard to get in the game if you’re trying to answer emails from your smart phone.
For bigger events, or if you don’t have enough time to properly plan these team-building activities on your own, you might consider the help of professional team-building facilitators. This also means that planning won’t land on leadership, and employees at all levels can participate together, helping to break down barriers and hierarchy.
Breaking your staff into smaller groups for large team-building events can make for a more intimate and meaningful event. Mix people up from different divisions and have groups change from one activity to the next to foster connections that might not otherwise take place.
After the event, follow up is key. Survey your employees to see which activities were preferred, which games they’d prefer to skip next time, and gather any additional feedback. This lets your employees know their opinion truly does matter, and might bring out some creative ideas for the next event.
How do you know when to prioritize team building activities? Tools like Officevibe help managers track team engagement metrics such as “Relationship with Peers.” When this metric is low, it might be a good time to start thinking about getting your team together.
Now that you have all the tips you need to plan the perfect team-building event, it’s time to pick the best activities for your team or organization.
Ice-breaker activities are perfect when you’re welcoming new employees onto the team or for kicking off a quarterly review or retrospective. They help people feel more connected and comfortable, and build trust by encouraging authentic relationship building.
Split the group into two teams and have everybody write down one surprising fact about themselves. A volunteer from each team reads their list of facts, and the teams take turns guessing who each fact belongs to. Does Scott speak Klingon? Did Laurel star in a french fry commercial as a kid? This game is bound to unearth some fascinating information that employees would never have known about each other otherwise.
Time Required: 10 minutes to split into teams and write down facts, and 45 minutes for the game itself.
Materials Needed: Nothing more than pens and paper.
Find a big open space and set up obstacles for team members to navigate through. You can make use of stuff from around the office, like desk chairs and stacks of books. One by one, have blindfolded employees try to navigate the obstacles using only the instructions of their team. This activity builds communication skills and trust at the same time.
Time Required: 15 minutes to set up the obstacles, and 5 minutes per walk.
Materials Needed: Office items to use as obstacles—chairs, books, exercise ball, boxes, lamps…just nothing too breakable.
An all-time classic, each person comes up with two things about themselves that are true (that others don’t already know), and one that’s completely made up (but still believable). Everyone takes a turn stating their “facts,” and the group guesses which one is a lie.
Time Required: 5-10 minutes to prepare, and 5 minutes for each person to present and the group to guess.
Materials Needed: Everyone’s imagination and inquisitive mindsets!
This one goes a little deeper, really building those meaningful connections between employees. Go around the table or popcorn-style and give each team member an opportunity to share one of their life goals with the group. Whether it’s family-related, professional, or personal, this is a great way to form authentic relationships on the team and tap into that human element, which are essential to building trust.
Time Required: Between 30 minutes to 2 hours should give plenty of time for everyone to share as much as they feel comfortable, depending on the size of your team.
Materials Needed: Take care to create a safe space where people will feel comfortable to be open and share.
Once the ice has been broken, you can move onto these teamwork-oriented activities. These provide opportunities to strengthen collaboration, work through challenges, and be creative as a team. Who knows, they might just lead to your company’s next big breakthrough!
Start by having everyone brainstorm a list of 10-15 Lego City requirements—things like a set number of roads to be built, a river that flows through the town, a bridge crossing the river, structures such as a hospital, school, and fire station, and perhaps a bus or train station. Then, split your group into teams of 3 or 4 Lego City builders. Each team has to figure out their blueprint and how they want to divide the work of building. At the end, each team presents their final product to the group. One piece of advice: make sure you clean up all the Lego when you’re done. Nobody wants to step on one of those later!
Time Required: 3-4 hours
Materials Needed: Paper, pens, and Lego. Lots of Lego.
Get your group into teams of 4 to 6 people, depending on how many you are. Rather than having your teams collect bird feathers and a coin from 1987, put together a list of challenges that will get people working together. Different challenges can have different point values, creating the opportunity for teams to approach the game with different strategies. For example, a photo of everybody jumping in the air at once is worth 1 point, learning and performing a magic trick could be worth 3 points, getting or giving a piggyback ride from a stranger is worth 5, and making lunch for the less fortunate is worth 10. This makes it more of a collaborative effort and adds an angle of strategic thinking.
Time Required: 1-8 hours, depending how far you want to go with these challenges.
Materials Needed: A printed or digital checklist, and from there, the sky is the limit!
We’ve all had a great business idea that we didn’t see through or was launched by somebody else before we had the chance, so tap into your employees’ creative ideas! Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 to come up with a business or product idea, then pitch it to the group. You can have everyone vote for the winning team, but the best reward is giving your employees an innovative space where there are no bad ideas. In your next brainstorm session your team might be more comfortable sharing their out of the box ideas, and more welcoming to approaches they’ve never tried. It could just be the breath of fresh air your next project needs.
Time Required: 1-2 hours for planning and preparing their pitch, 1 hour for the presentations.
Materials Needed: Standard office supplies—pens, paper, computers, etc.
If you’re a fan of nostalgia, this one is bound to take you right back to your middle school science class. Divide your team into groups of 3 to 5 and have them build a contraption to protect their egg from cracking, then have everyone drop their devices from an office window (aim for 8 to 10 feet high). You can repeat this a few times, having teams who’s egg cracked restructure their device and successful teams make a new one. This hands-on collaborative activity will get everyone feeling inventive and solution-oriented.
Time Required: 30 minutes for building the container, 30 minutes for the egg drops.
Materials Needed: Cardboard rolls, newspaper, boxes, ziplock bags, tape, glue, elastic bands, popsicle sticks, plastic straws, cotton balls, pieces of sponge, etc. Really, anything you’d find in a recycling bin or junk drawer. Oh, and of course, half a dozen per team.
Team-building activities don’t have to be cheesy—they can set the tone for important meetings, get employees out of their day-to-day, spark innovative thinking, and make for lasting memories and authentic connections among colleagues. Big or small, these activities can have a positive impact on your team’s collaboration and communication.
So, what are you waiting for? Happy team building!
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