Team Building Activities

Published 2019-02-20, updated 2023-03-21

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Summary - Building a great team isn't easy! It takes time, patience, & a lot of hard work. To help you better understand group dynamic & team success check out this blog.

Building a great team is not easy! It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work.

Leaders are frequently thinking about the health and performance of their teams by trying to understand how strong the relationships are within it.

Many studies and research on understanding the group dynamics and success of teams have shown that successful teams will nearly always outperform individuals working independently, especially in high-pressure scenarios.

In this blog I will cover:

  1. Why social team building is important
  2. Five dysfunctions of a team
  3. My favourite three team building activities
  4. Three other team building activities (Video Links)
  5. Team building development model and tools
  6. Top ten awesome team building quotes
  7. Additional resources

Why Social Team Building is Important

Most businesses are now recognizing the value of team building. They are investing more time into fostering winning cultures while also putting forth a bigger push into recruiting talent which is becoming an increasingly more competitive environment.

"Why is social team building so important to our companies success?"

So why do some companies and startups spend so much on all those "fun activities"? Isn't it all a waste of money?

The short answer? No.

The long answer: Team building and bonding activities like going out for lunch, playing golf, go karting, axe throwing (our last team building activity which was super fun), white water rafting, scavenger hunts, book clubs, game nights, etc... are important. Hanging out with your co-workers during/after work hours in a social way is more important than ever as employees live and work in an era where we expect our job to be more than just a paycheck!

Did you know that one of the best questions you can ask your employees in an engagement survey is: "Do you have a best friend at work?"

Gallup research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job.

So whether or not you have a friend at work actually matters. Keeping your best employees engaged and retaining top talent greatly contributes to your success. So yes, social team building is important! (Go ask for that little extra of budget right now!)

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Ok so social team building is important but there is much more to it! A great book our entire executive team recently read was "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable" by Patrick Lencioni.

In this book, Lencioni highlights two critical truths: 1) Genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been and 2) Organizaions fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall to 5 natural dysfunctions.

The five dysfunctions are:

  1. Absence of Trust: An unwillingness to be vulnerable with each other
  2. Fear of Conflict: Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas
  3. Lack of Commitment: Without airing your unfiltered options, team members rarely buy in and commit to decisions
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: Without committing to an action plan, team members hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviours
  5. Inattention to Results: Failure to hold one another accountable then creates an environment where team members put their individual needs ahead of the team

As you dig into each layer of the five dysfunctions, you realize how important team building plays in helping to remove these obstacles. Where it is group activities that help build trust or ones that teach you how to handle conflict, if the team does not work on the first level of trust then its impossible to overcome the next four levels.

Bonus read: The first rule of building a great team is to lead the team by establishing your leadership, trust, and collaboration with each team member individually. Check out this great list of steps to building an effective team from Berkeley Human Resources.

Easy Team Building Activities for Work

Here are three of my favourite and easy team building activities you can use at work:

#1: Draw a Pig: The Pig Personality Profile

This is a fun and simple ice breaker to get the group engaged early in the day and breakdown some barriers while having a few laughs as you kick off a team building activity.

Purpose: All the participants get to know each other in a fun and easy way

Step 1: Give everyone a clean sheet of paper and ask them to draw a picture of a pig in less than 3 mins

Step 2: After everyone has finished drawing thier pig, tell them they can interpret themselves in the following way

Results: To share/interpret with the team

  1. If the pig is drawn on the top portion of the page you are optimistic and very positive
  2. If the pig is drawn in the middle of the page you are realistic and factual
  3. If the pig is drawn toward the bottom of the page, you are pessimistic or tend to have a negative outlook
  4. If the pig is facing left, you are traditional, friendly and remember birthdays and dates
  5. If the pig is facing right, you are innovative, action-oriented, not family or date oriented
  6. If the pig is facing straight ahead, you are direct, like to play devil's advocate and don't avoid issues
  7. If the pig is very detailed, you are analytical, cautious and suspicious
  8. If the pig has little detail, you are emotional, bored by detail and a risk taker
  9. If the pig has four feet, you are secure, stubborn and have firm beliefs
  10. If the pig has less than four feet, you are insecure or going thru major changes in life
  11. The larger the pig's ears the better listener you are
  12. And last, but not least the longer the pig's tail the better your sex life

Now that you got some laughs out of the group you can start to work on more serious team building exercises.

#2: Personal Artifact Game or Sharing Your Personal Story

These two team building exercises are great when you want your team members to connect with each other on a more personal level. These simple activities usually get team members to open up and there should be a decent level of trust before trying them...

Personal Artifact Game: Similar to "show and tell" when you were a kid, we'd like each of you to bring an object that has personal meaning to you. You'll share the object with the group and describe its importance.

Sharing Your Personal Story: Ask each team member to share the top 5 biggest things that have impacted their lives to date in 5 mins. 3 should be positive and 2 should be negative all that have influenced them in a positive way. A sample negative could be a lose in their life.

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#3: Another team building exercise: Impact of Negative Energy

This one may surprise you and many of you will be skeptical when reading this but I was blown away but the actual results.

The impact of negative energy on a team is amazing to measure. Yes you read that right, you can actually measure it.

Step 1: Ask for a volunteer to come up to the front of the group, close their eyes, stick out their dominant hand to approximately shoulder height (to their side) and ask them to start thinking of something that makes them really, really happy in life. You want them to think of positive thoughts.

Step 2: Now tell them to keep thinking about this positive thing while you assert downward pressure on their arm and explain to the group how much resistance you feel. Then take a rest and let their arm down.

Step 3: Now ask the same volunteer to close their eyes again and think about something negative or gets them really upset. Get them thinking about this really bad experience and again ask them to put up their arm and again apply pressure pushing down their arm.

Step 4: What you should notice immediately and can showcase to the group is how the arm is much, much easier to push downwards.

Step 5: Get the group to try it on each other in groups of 2s!

Bonus: To really wow the group ask for 3-4 volunteers to come up to the front. With each one side by side touching the shoulder of the person beside them. But this time get the first person to be thinking of the positive then negative thoughts, while the last person sticks their arm out and your apply pressure to that arm. What should happen is that the positive and negative energy actually flows from the person thinking of it on one side and flows to the other person. But its crazy to see how easy it is to witness negative energy having such a big impact on an entire group of people. The positive energy doesnt usually flow as well! Crazy Right!?

Three other simple team building activities (with videos)

Other fun team building activities for adults that I have used in the past including:

Marshmallow Building: This is really fun to watch how competitive your team members are and how well they do under pressure.

The Egg Drop Challenge: Teams use a supply of everyday office supplies in trying to protect an uncooked egg from breaking when dropped.

Snakes Trust Building Activity: This is great activity for larger groups in a bigger space that uses non-verbal communication to guide a team through building trust with each other.

Paper Holding Team Building Activity: This is a great and dynamic team-building exercise, ideal for one or more small groups.

Team Building Development Models and Tools

Want to leverage a more scientific approach to team building? No problem!

Over the past years I have had the pleasure go through many tools, all of which I like because each one has provided amazing insights into either the team I managed or the team I am on. A few of my favourite models that are more like scientific tools, in no particular order, are:

True Colours International: The core of the True Colors system identifies intrinsic values, motivations, communication styles, listening styles, non-verbal responses, and other key behaviors that help uncover how the four different types interact with others.

  • Example: How often do you show up to a meeting without an agenda? For "Gold" team members the lack of an agenda causes either frustration or stress as they don't have time to prepare for the meeting. So something as simple as an agenda already causes certain colours within the meeting undue stress and concerns!

Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI): Similar to colours, the SDI is a great way of discovering an individuals motives when things are going well as well as when in conflict. The three colours in this tool are: Blue = How motivated are you by a concern for people, Red = how motivated are you to perform/drive results, and Green = how motivated are you for the process and collecting of data before acting.

  • Example: Have you ever witnessed a team member's behaviour change? For example, team members that go to green in a disagreement will often be asking you for data or insights to back up your claim. It's not that they don't trust or believe you, but for them to agree with you they need their Green to be fulfilled to come to the same conclusion as you. Whereas someone is more Red will most likely act with the motivation "let's stop talking and get going." So when the Green conversation is happening they are starting to feel antsy. So there are no right or wrong colours, but understanding your team members needs helps greatly improve the communication and trust of each other.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: This is probably the most famous personality test that many of us have been tested on. Myers-Briggs has four indicator types which then maps to 16 types of personalities.

These four categories can be easily separated by the following questions: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

  • Fun Bonus: Did you know many shows/movies have mapped their characters to the Myers-Briggs indicators. So if you know your four letters then check out one of these: StarWars, Simpsons, Friends, and The Office.

No team building blog would be complete without some fun quotes you can add to your day of team building activities.

Top 10 Awesome Team Building Quotes

Incredible things happen when teams collaborate on shared objectives:

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” -Phil Jackson (Click to Tweet)

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” - Harry S. Truman (Click to Tweet)

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” - Steve Jobs (Click to Tweet)

“When you need to innovate, you need collaboration.” - Marissa Mayer (Click to Tweet)

“It is better to have a great team than a team of greats.” - Simon Sinek (Click to Tweet)

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller (Click to Tweet)

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler (Click to Tweet)

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” - Reid Hoffman (Click to Tweet)

“Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” - Michael Jordan (Click to Tweet)

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa (Click to Tweet)

Images for team building activity quotes:

Additional resources for more team building activities:

Well you have made it this far! Awesome… I will leave you with one more team building quote:

“The only way to win is by winning together!” - Jonathan Milne

What is your favourite teamwork quote?

Well mine is, "Team work makes the dream work." - Katya Zeisig (hijacking Jon's blog)

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