20 Brilliant team building activities to strengthen relationships and improve company culture

team building exercises header image by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

In life, family, friends, teachers and mentors all help to define our future and put us on the road to success. It’s no different in business. Strong relationships with coworkers and mentors motivate us to perform at peak levels and enjoy ourselves in the process.

Good relationships between employees are the building blocks for a well-founded company culture, something that 94% of executives and 88% of employees say is important to business success.

In this post, we’re going to show you how to facilitate team building activities that foster strong relationships within your team and enhance your company’s culture

These exercises work for teams of all shapes and sizes. You may have started out on your own but recently decided to hire your first employees and are looking for ways to engage them. Or, perhaps you’re a larger SME hoping to boost engagement and cultivate loyalty as your team experiences growth. 

We’ve put together a collection of 20 straightforward and effective activities that you can host with minimal cost or resources. Each exercise is designed to get your teams thinking, engaging and collaborating together for the long-term benefit of your company.     

As COVID-19 has caused a shift from in-person to remote-work environments, you may be wondering how to boost team morale and employee engagement from home. Luckily, many of these team building activities can still be carried out over a video-conferencing platform like Zoom. 

Before we get into details of how these activities work, let’s first discuss what team building can do for your business.

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How team building can benefit your business

team building graphic

Team building is the collective term for activities designed to bring coworkers together to foster more valuable relationships. Whether it’s solving problems, thinking creatively or competing against one another, activities are carried out with the aim of tightening team bonds. 

The more that an organisation focuses on employee well-being, the more everyone in the company’s ecosystem benefits. Happy managers lead to happy employees which in turn leads to happy customers. And all of this results in better business performance. 

Regularly hosting team building activities for your employees helps to:

  • Encourage teamwork: According to research by Gallup, poorly managed workgroups are 50% less productive and 44% less profitable. Team building activities address these issues by encouraging teams to work together efficiently to overcome challenges.

  • Improve communication: Research shows that 86% of all workplace failures are a result of ineffective communication or a lack of collaboration. What’s more, an MIT study found that “35% of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for simply by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members.” In all of the activities we mention below in this post, teams can only be successful with clear communication and strong collaboration. Qualities that, through the relationships formed during exercises, filter back into the workplace.    

  • Increase engagement: Highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave a company. They also achieve 2X the annual net income of employees with low engagement. Team building activities give employees the chance to inspire one another, effectively increasing their bond. Working together on challenges also helps to form workplace friendships, something that Gallup says can increase engagement by 50%. 

  • Build trust: Trust is the natural result of employees that are engaged and collaborating. By encouraging coworkers to put their faith in each other, barriers are broken down, and this impacts every aspect of a person’s work life. Research shows that employees believe a high level of trust at work would have a major influence on their happiness, loyalty, quality of work, and productivity. They’re also more likely to recommend the company to others.

We’ve created this list of activities and exercises with these benefits in mind. While each one is different, they’re all designed to help your teams work better together.

Let’s take a closer look. 

20 team building activities to engage your team

1. What’s My Name

What’s My Name is a great game for breaking the ice and building relationships. The idea is for team members to figure out which famous or notable person they have been tagged as by asking yes or no questions to each other. There’s no competitiveness or complicated rules involved in this activity. It’s simply designed for teams to have fun spending time together.

What you need: 

Pen and name tags or Post-It notes 

How to play: 

  1. Write down the name of a famous or notable person on a name tag or Post-It note.
  2. Attach the label to the backs or foreheads of team members, so that they can’t see it but everyone else can.
  3. Instruct the group to mingle and ask each other yes or no questions to find out their names. 
  4. When the player finds out who they are, they can exit the game or play again. 

Quick Tip: Introduce empathy-building by asking coworkers to treat each other the way they’d treat the person written on the tag. For example, if a player has The Queen written on their tag, coworkers might bow or curtsy or act overly polite.

2. Memory Wall

Like What’s My Name, Memory Wall is a team-building activity for fostering relationships and improving the camaraderie between colleagues. The idea behind the game is to get your team to share positive memories about the workplace.

What you need: 

Paper, pens, and tape 

How to play:

  1. Give each team member a few sheets of paper and pens.
  2. Ask team members to look around the room and write down positive memories of shared experiences in the workplace.
  3. After 15 minutes, ask team members to draw their favourite memory from the list on a fresh sheet of paper. 
  4. Ask team members to tape their drawings to the wall to create a memory wall. 
  5. Ask for volunteers to expand on the memory in their drawing. 

Quick Tip: Create a list of topics that team members can use if they’re struggling. For example, their first day at work, a moment that involved problem-solving, challenges they’ve faced, moments with friends at the office, accomplishments they’ve achieved as a team, or a project that involved creativity and fun.

3. The Shrinking Space

The Shrinking Space is a team-building activity in which team members must figure out how to fit themselves into an ever-decreasing space. It’s a challenge that starts easily enough but quickly becomes a test of the team’s collaboration, problem-solving and creative thinking. It’s fun, simple and a great game for building relationships. 

What you need: 

Rope or tape 

How to play:

  1. Mark a space on the floor using the rope or tape. 
  2. Have every team member stand in the space. 
  3. Shrink the space every thirty seconds, asking the team to keep everyone within the boundaries. As the space shrinks, teams must get more creative in how they keep everyone inside. 

Quick Tip: After each round, talk about the strategy that the team used and see if there’s a better way of doing things.

4. Survival

Survival is a game where small teams are placed into an imaginary situation and asked to rank items in order of importance to survival. It’s a game that encourages creativity, teamwork and problem-solving. It also helps build relationships between coworkers and can be a good way to break the ice for team members who don’t know each other. 

What you need: 

10-12 random items from around the office (e.g. phone, pen, stapler, mug, book or paperclip).

How to play:

  1. Tell team members they are stranded somewhere (a desert island, the Arctic, the jungle, etc.).
  2. Give the team a selection of random items and ask them to rank each in order of importance to survival.
  3. Ask teams to explain the order of their ranking.

Quick Tip: Add a twist to the game by introducing a time limit. For example, tell teams that they are stranded on a sinking ship and have 20 minutes to rank the items. This is meant to throw teams into a brief chaos that forces them to intently discuss and rank the items in order of importance. In this situation, successful teams are the ones who choose a leader. 

5. The Mixed-up Jigsaw

This game is all about problem-solving and communication. The rules are vague so team members need to use their collective thinking skills to complete their jigsaw. 

What you need: 

One jigsaw puzzle per team. The puzzles need to be different, but with equal difficulty.

How to play:

  1. Divide teams into equal groups (the game works best with four teams).
  2. Take the jigsaw puzzles and mix them up, adding an equal number of pieces from each box into another. So, if your puzzles contain 250 pieces, you might remove 50 pieces and replace them with 50 pieces from another box. 
  3. Give each team a puzzle and set a time limit of 20-30 minutes (depending on the difficulty of the puzzle).
  4. Once teams start working, they’ll realise that some pieces don’t match. They’ll then need to all work together to complete their own respective puzzles. 

Quick Tip: Separate teams so that they can’t see each other, but remain close enough to communicate and find their missing pieces from each other. This will increase the difficulty of the game, but also improve the quality of the communication as the teams will, hopefully, create a central location for depositing extraneous pieces and collecting the misplaced ones. For another twist, you can add a competitive element by rewarding the team that completes their puzzle first. This may change how the teams communicate.  

6. Lip-sync Battle

Lip Sync Battle is an activity mostly for fun, but with the added bonus of teamwork and camaraderie. It’s based on the popular TV show where contestants mime to their chosen song and have the audience judge the winner. Whether or not you make it competitive is up to you. 

Performing in front of others is something better suited to extroverts, so consider this a task for those personalities. 

What you need: 

A music player and a varied selection of music (a music streaming service will work well for this). 

How to play:

  1. Divide your team into smaller groups (enough for a band).
  2. Ask them to choose a song to lip-sync to and give them 10 minutes to rehearse. 
  3. Give each group the chance to perform their song in front of the other participants and/or a panel of judges.

Quick Tip: Put names of popular songs into a hat and have a member of each team choose with their eyes closed. The randomness of the selection can make for some hilarious performances.

7. Back-to-Back Drawing

This game involves one person instructing another how to draw a basic image with often hilarious results. Despite its simplicity, back-to-back drawing is great for improving communication skills and building relationships. If you’re hosting a team building day, it’s a great starter game to break the ice.

What you need: 

Paper, pens, and copies of simple drawings (e.g. car, dog, house, snowman, clown).

How to play:

  1. Divide your team into pairs and have them sit back-to-back. 
  2. Give one member of each pair a drawing and the other a pen and some paper. 
  3. Have the person with the drawing describe the image without giving away what the image is while the other attempts to draw it. 
  4. Compare the results and talk about how difficult it is to communicate this way (an example of why good communication at work is important). 
  5. Ask partners to swap roles and repeat. 

Quick Tip: Add a new element to the game by having the drawer work blindfolded. Taking away sight forces the drawer to listen more closely to the instructions. 

8. Zombie Escape

Zombie Escape is all about creative problem-solving and collaboration, with the added element of working under pressure. Teams are tasked with solving a series of puzzles before a zombie reaches them. If that happens, it’s game over. The fact that teams are against the clock forces them to work together efficiently, emphasising teamwork and communication

What you’ll need: 

A small room, rope, and puzzles or riddles.

How to play: 

  1. Gather your team in a room and ask for a volunteer zombie (zombie-like behaviour should be encouraged). 
  2. Use the rope to tie the zombie’s foot or waist to something in the room (e.g. a table leg). If the participant doesn’t want to be tied with the rope, masking tape can be used to place markers on the floor instead. 
  3. Instruct the team to start solving the puzzle or riddle. Let them know that the zombie’s rope is slacked by a foot every five minutes. 
  4. If the team solves the puzzle before the zombie reaches them, they’ve escaped. 

Quick Tip: If the room is lockable, lock teams in and make the key the reward for solving the puzzle or riddle.

9. Salt and Pepper

Salt and Pepper involves your team each having one half of a common pair on their back or forehead that they must figure out. In that way, it’s like What’s My Name, but there’s a twist: once they’ve found out their label, they must find their other half (e.g. salt must find pepper, fish must find chips). It’s an activity that’s great for communication and team bonding, with just the right amount of problem-solving to keep it interesting. 

What you need: 

Pen and name tags or Post-It notes. 

How to play:

  1. Come up with a list of common pairs.

Here are a few examples:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Fish and chips
  • Batman and Robin
  • Peaches and cream
  • Bread and butter
  • Laurel and Hardy
  • Jekyll and Hyde
  • King and Queen
  • Rock and Roll 

  1. Write the name of one half of a pair on each player and stick it on their back or forehead where they can’t see it. 
  2. Instruct players to ask coworkers yes or no questions to figure out their label. 
  3. Once they know their label, ask them to find their pair. 

Quick Tip: Increase the difficulty of the challenge by adding more obscure pairings. This will force players to think more about their questions.

10. The Paper Plane Challenge

This game requires teams to build a paper plane that can fly the farthest or for the longest time. With the competitive element, teams have to think beyond conventional paper planes to come up with something that outdoes the rest of the field. This requires teamwork, creativity and a good dose of problem-solving.

What you need: 

Paper.

How to play:

  1. Divide your team into smaller groups.
  2. Ask them to create a paper plane within a specific time limit (e.g. 10-15 minutes). 
  3. Find a large space to throw the planes and have each team nominate one member as the thrower.
  4. The plane that flies for the longest distance or spends the most time in the air wins. 

Quick Tip: Let the team research paper planes to evaluate their building options. They’ll most likely ponder if they should build a simple yet proven model or whether they should build something more complex that presents a risk but comes with big rewards.

11. Two Truths, One Lie

Two truths, one lie is a good relationship builder and a fun way to introduce teams. And the more elaborate the lie, the more coworkers are forced to think logically and find faults with the story – does the timeline hold up, are those facts correct, etc?

What you need: 

Willing participants.

How to play:

  1. Ask each member of the team to come up with three things about themselves and make two true and one a lie. 
  2. Players take it in turns to tell the group their truths and lie. 
  3. The rest of the group discusses and votes on which was the lie. 

Quick Tip: Encourage the group to ask questions on the statements. It’s a good way for members of your team to discover new things about each other.

12. Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt is another game that focuses on teamwork and communication whilst giving coworkers a chance to bond. The winner can be the first team to find all of the items or the team that finds the most items in the allotted time. Either way, having teams compete adds a healthy dose of competition that keeps the game interesting.

What you need: 

Pen and paper.

How to play:

  1. Write down a list of obscure items for teams to find on their scavenger hunt.
  2. Divide teams into equal groups.
  3. Give each team a list of items and encourage them to find them all or find as many as possible within a set time limit. 

Quick Tip: Use clues to help teams locate hard to find items. This adds an element of problem-solving to the game, as well as upping the pressure, particularly if teams are playing against the clock.

13. The “Suddenly” Story

This is a fun team-building exercise that relies on the creativity of coworkers to come up with a random story. Everyone is given a chance to talk, making the game a good icebreaker. It also encourages players to think on their feet to connect their story to the tale that’s already been told.

What you need: 

Willing participants. 

How to play:

  1. Gather your team in a circle and say three sentences to start the story. The story can be about anything. 
  2. At the end of the final sentence, say “suddenly” and pass the story on to the person next to you. 
  3. Repeat until everyone is happy or the group gets stuck. 

Quick Tip: Encourage players to include twists and turns in their stories to make it a challenge for the person next to them.

14. Dragon’s Den

Dragon’s Den is a show that involves entrepreneurs pitching ideas to a panel of investors. This game follows the same format, and the teams take turns acting as entrepreneurs and investors. By seeking “investment”, teams are encouraged to collaborate and get creative to come up with fresh and unconventional ideas for a mock pitch. They also get to show off their communication skills in selling their idea.

What you need: 

Pen and paper. 

How to play:

  1. Divide teams into small groups of 2-6 people. 
  2. Ask each team to come up with a product and a pitch to sell it. The product must include a brand name, business plan, financial predictions and marketing plan.
  3. Each team presents their product to the “Dragons” (you and three members of your team). Encourage the Dragons to ask challenging questions about products and business plans to see how they hold up. 
  4. The winning team is the one that gets the most mock investment from the Dragons. 

Quick Tip: Let teams watch clips of Dragon’s Den and research ideas online.

15. Office Trivia

A round of office trivia is a simple and effective team bonding activity. Answering questions correctly requires teamwork and communication, as well as some workplace observation.

Questions should be specific to the workplace but can cover anything from “how long has X employee worked here?” to “how many people work in customer service?” to “what colour are the flowers in the kitchen?” 

What you need: 

Pen and paper.

How to play:

  1. Come up with the list of 20-25 questions and give each team a sheet to write down their answers. 
  2. Divide teams into equal groups. 
  3. Ask for a volunteer from each team to write down answers. 
  4. Read out the questions and give each team 15-30 seconds to answer.
  5. Once each team records their answers, have them swap answer sheets to ensure nobody cheats
  6. The team with the most correct answers wins. 

Quick Tip: Divide questions into categories. For example, one category could be on the IT department and another on company products.

16. Balls & Buckets

Balls & Buckets involves teams moving balls from one bucket to another with one major caveat: they must not use their arms or hands. That limitation, coupled with a time limit, makes for plenty of calamitous fun. Besides a great time, there are team building benefits too, such as teamwork, communication, leadership and task management.

What you need: 

Buckets, tennis balls, and tape or cones.

How to play:

  1. Use the tape or cones to create start and finish lines around 12 feet apart. Place a bucket on each line and fill the one at the finish line with balls.
  2. Divide your team into smaller, equally sized groups and have each team select a “handler.” The handler stays at the start line and is the only player on the team who can touch balls with their arms or hands. 
  3. Give teams five minutes to get as many balls as they can from the bucket on the finish line to the handler at the start line without using their arms or hands. 
  4. The team with the most balls in the handler’s bucket wins. 

Quick Tip: Encourage problem-solving, teamwork and leadership by limiting how many times a team can use a certain technique. For example, if a team is getting balls from one end to the other by rolling them with their feet, limit them to using that method only once.

17. The Great Egg Drop

The Great Egg Drop is a classic creative problem-solving and collaboration exercise. The aim of the game is simple: build a vessel that protects an egg from a high fall. And with each successful drop the height increases, meaning teams not only need to consider the short term robustness of their structure but how its design holds up over multiple falls.

In coming up with a home for their egg, teams must be able to successfully communicate their ideas and confidently convince others of their validity – both of which are good qualities to have in a team.   

What you need: 

A carton of eggs, a selection of construction materials such as newspaper, bubble wrap, tape, elastic bands, toilet rolls, straws and lollipop sticks, and somewhere to drop the egg from a height. 

How to play:

  1. Divide your team into small groups. 
  2. Give each team an egg and a selection of materials.
  3. Set a time limit of 20-30 minutes to construct a carrier for their egg.
  4. Ask each team to drop their egg from a height and gradually increase the height until there’s a winner. 

Quick Tip: Restrict the materials that teams have so that they’re forced to think creatively and use multiple items. Or, to increase the challenge further, restrict teams to using only things they can find lying around the office. 

18. The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge involves small teams competing to build the tallest freestanding structure from dry spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow. But while it seems simple, in practice it can be difficult. Teams are forced to collaborate quickly, solve problems and think creatively to come up with a tower that not only stands tall without breaking but is taller than the competition. 

What you need: 

One marshmallow, 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one metre of string and one metre of tape per team.

How to play:

  1. Divide your team into groups of four. 
  2. Give each team 20 minutes to build a freestanding tower with the marshmallow on top. While other items can be cut or broken, the marshmallow must remain whole. 
  3. The winner is the team with the tallest tower. 

Quick Tip: After the activity, show your team Tom Wujec’s ‘Build a tower, build a team’ TED Talk:

The video looks at the key insights of the challenge, including how teams collaborate, why prototyping matters and why kids tend to do better than grown-ups.

19. Volunteering in the community

This is the only activity in the list that isn’t a game or challenge, but it’s no less beneficial. Volunteering in the community is good for the heart and soul and brilliant at bringing people together for the greater good. This team-building activity is all about strengthening the bond of your team as coworkers benevolently work together to help others. 

Organisations such as Benefacto, TimeBank, Crisis and Keep Britain Tidy offer corporate volunteer programs that include everything from renovating community buildings to helping with meals for homeless people to team-wide litter picking in parks. Depending on how you choose to volunteer, there may also be a way for employees to use their professional skills in areas such as writing, marketing or design for nonprofits.

20. Improv workshops

Finally, improv workshops are a fantastic way to encourage people out of their comfort zones and to let their guard down.

These workshops should be fun, interactive, embrace creativity and reinforce communication. Depending on your budget, you can come up with the ideas and host the improv sessions yourself, or hire a professional to come in and lead the event.

The idea is to give your teams something to act out without giving them any script to follow. Your staff must act out a scene without preparing for it while reacting to new information in real time. 

This simple exercise helps people to accept what is happening on stage as reality and adjust their behaviours based on what their stage-mates do or say. This helps people to stay present and focused on the situation at hand and to adapt to many unexpected scenarios. Everybody on stage must work together to make sense of something in-real-time and trust their instincts in the process.

Exposing your employees to this type of exercise can significantly boost their confidence in their own decision-making processes and help them to accept and react better to things that are out of their control.

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Team building activities for corporations with bigger budgets

Whether your employees are located in one physical space or if your staff is spread across the globe, if you have a bigger budget, a team retreat is certainly worth organising.

Team outings are a great way to facilitate bonding outside of the office walls. Getting out of the office can help to reduce stress and make your team feel more comfortable, thus allowing them to get to know each other on a more personal level.

If you don’t have the time or staff or help to organise the retreat, there are several companies that will help you plan, manage and run the outing on your behalf. 

Once planned, it’s a great idea to get your staff hyped for the event ahead of time. This helps to build anticipation and get everybody excited about the upcoming excursion.

Now that you’ve gathered your team in a chosen venue or location, you can take advantage of several location-based adventures like kayaking, biking through a city, doing something touristy, attending a cooking class or going to a sports event.

No matter what you choose, the act of doing these new activities together will bond your team in a way that’s difficult to achieve in the office space. New experiences are one of a kind and will give your team plenty of room to engage in meaningful conversations that break down barriers and forge deeper relationships.

How does team building work with remote teams?

While all of the above-mentioned exercises are fantastic for teams that are physically together, remote teams are growing at lightning speed. So, how do you engage your remote teams with activities to cultivate bonding from afar?

Naturally, the first option is to host a team retreat. Yet, that may not be possible without a big budget, and you also can’t guarantee that everybody from your team could make the trip. If you do have the budget, gather the troops and partake in some or all of the activities listed above!

However, it’s more likely that you’ll need to run some virtual team building activities either in place of, or to supplement, a retreat. These activities will allow your remote team to create more meaningful relationships with one another and form deeper emotional connections. 

One great idea is hosting a virtual coffee break session. These “coffee chats” are something that coworkers in offices have a chance to partake in every day. They allow space for people to get to know each other on a more personal level as they take a break from work and engage in more laid back conversations.

The team at GitLab, a remote-only company, has been hosting virtual coffee sessions for years and asserts that these “face-to-face” interactions have helped to battle potential burnout and isolation.

A study by Gigaom also found that 87% of remote workers feel more engaged when communicating via video rather than audio or nonverbal communications. So, if you have the opportunity, use video chats to host remote engagement activities and meetings.

Another idea is to take advantage of a Slack extension called Donut that regularly and randomly pairs up team members to encourage them to get to know one another better. The team members can simply chat in a private Slack channel, or take it a step further and schedule a virtual coffee break via a video link to get to expand their conversation.

There are plenty of options for remote team building activities and the options will only grow as technology becomes smarter and remote teams become more innovative. 

Wrapping up

Team building is a great way for new colleagues to get to know each other and for existing colleagues to strengthen relationships. These exercises help to enhance your company culture and contribute to long-term business success.

Use the activities in this post to improve communication, collaboration and trust within your teams. But most of all, happier teams make for a better work environment, so use them to have fun, to laugh, to joke and enjoy each other’s company.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio, published on Pexels

Valentine Hutchings

Head of Community and small business enthusiast

Tide Team

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