Top team building activities for work (that aren’t forced fun!)
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” –Andrew Carnegie
American entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was onto something when he talked about the importance of teamwork: Without it, it’s hard to accomplish anything of note.
But building a highly-functioning collaborative team isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It takes some hard work, and that includes plenty of team building activities along the way.
In this post, we’ll look at everything you need to know when it comes to team building activities for work.
What is the purpose of team building activities for work?
In our normal day-to-day work environments, we all spend a lot of time down in the details.
We work on to-do lists. We go to meetings. We sometimes even skip lunch to catch up on tasks, munching away on a sandwich in front of the computer and forgoing the chance to chat with co-workers. Getting assignments done and making progress on projects is important, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for getting to know your teammates or building trust and rapport with them.
This is why it’s so essential for companies to regularly implement time for team-building activities at work. In fact, MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab found that strong communication (which is improved by team building activities) is one of the key factors for any successful team.
When there is time set aside for dedicated activities focused on team building, you create an environment where employees have better collaboration, can better understand each other, and have stronger communication, too. Giving people a chance to get to know one another (both as humans and as parts of the organization) builds a path to a place of greater trust and respect–which pays off in daily work.
The bottom line: There’s more to work than work. Building a strong team means and providing team building activities means creating a more successful, collaborative organization as a whole.
Statistics that show the importance of team building activities
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to the efficacy of team building activities. Let’s look at a few key research findings and statistics that illustrate why they’re so important.
1. 86% of employees and executives say a lack of collaboration and poor communication is the cause of workplace failures.
So how do you improve communication? By focusing on team building on a regular basis. Great organizations do more than just assign tasks–they are living, breathing teams that function cohesively–not as independent parts or cogs in the wheel.
2. 39% of surveyed employees say people in their own organization don’t work together enough.
As humans, we’re wired for connection. We thrive in team environments where we work in tandem with others, where we get encouragement and feedback, and where we feel like a valued piece of something bigger. Team building helps establish those initial connections that can then be leveraged in project-based work down the road.
3. 97% of employees and executives believe a lack of team alignment negatively impacts the outcome of a task or project.
Ever tried to work on a team project wherein there are major disconnects or misunderstandings between the people involved? It’s nearly impossible to make progress because no one can see eye to eye. Again, this is where team building activities can help remedy the issue. By bringing people together in a low-stakes/fun context, you can help them move past those issues and become better team players.
What are the best team building activities for work?
Now that we know how important team building activities are, what are some of the best ones you should consider testing out? Here are a few ideas grouped by category and type (no trust falls or silly games required.)
- A company retreat. “Fun” is a fairly subjective concept that varies from person to person, but most people can agree that getting out of the office and doing things without a focus on specific work-related tasks is enjoyable. This can take various forms, but could include things like traveling to a resort as a team, taking a weekend camping excursion, or hosting a weekend at a hotel with events planned throughout your stay.
- Scavenger hunt. This can be a fun challenge that gets your employees working together to find clues and to ultimately win a prize. You can do this in your local community or even just in your office space if it’s conducive for that.
- Office Olympics. Take a page from the TV show The Office and organize office-centric competitions (like desk chair soccer, pencil javelin, etc.) to challenge your team. Molly Cain, Founder of Gov City, said: “A group of colleagues and I once put together a day of Office Olympics and it was both hilarious and fun. About 50-100 employees ultimately competed.”
Activities for small groups
- Board games. Small groups work well for playing board games, which encourages team collaboration. Plus: It’s a low-cost option and works well on days when you can’t go outdoors. Consider offering prizes to tease out your team members’ competitive spirits.
- Escape room. Take a trip to an escape room and put your team’s collaborative skills to the test. This works best for small groups of less than eight, so you may need to divide and conquer.
- Group walks. Encourage team members to get together for walks each day so they can get some movement into their day as a break from sitting at a desk. To get things rolling, put up a sign up sheet or start a group email with the details on where to meet and when.
- Lunch on us. Order in some pizza or go out for lunch as a team and pick up the bill, as this removes the barrier to entry around cost and ability to attend. A group lunch on the company provides a place where team members can chat (and eat!) in a more relaxed environment.
Activities to do during meetings
- “Today I learned…” Having each team member share an interesting fact they learned (either about work or something related to their personal interests) is a quick, easy way for employees to share more about themselves without having to stand up and do a big presentation during a meeting. This can help break down the walls between silos and open doors around shared interests, too.
- Pass the baton. The idea behind the baton is simple: Whoever achieves something impressive, goes above and beyond at work, or steps up in a situation earns the baton for that meeting. This is a great way to recognize hard work and incentivizes team members to earn that token.
- The two-minute summary. During your standing meeting, give each team member two minutes (use a timer!) to share what they’re working on or an issue they’re struggling with. This is a fast way for team members to share information with each other face-to-face and to prompt problem-solving that can happen after the meeting wraps up.
- Share a photo. Have each person share a photo with the group that they took on their phone over the past week and explain why they chose it. This builds personal connections and is a good icebreaker around personal interests, too.
Virtual activities (for remote teams)
- Remote office hours. Have a set window of time where you and your remote team members meet each week for a video chat session wherein you do a short catch-up and then work together as if you were side by side at the office. This will make it easier for organic conversation to flow and presents a chance for remote workers to feel like a real part of the team.
- Virtual coffee chats. Encourage your in-house team members to set up regular one-to-one virtual coffee chats with your remote team members. These can be short video catch up sessions where both sip a hot drink and share what they’re working on, struggling with, and excited about.
- Volunteering. Invite your team to take some time out of the workday to go volunteer locally as a group. This is great visibility for your organization and a simple, feel-good way to get team members working together for a positive outcome. Bonus: You can always find an indoor volunteer opportunity.
- Potluck day. Having each team member bring in food that you can all graze on throughout the day means more organic opportunities for conversations in the break room, during lunch, and all throughout the day.
- Paintballing. On a nice day, round up your team and suit up in paintball gear for a fun round of paintball. Marketer Bethany Johnson said, “Our firm went paintballing against a few professional players. It was great because we had to band together as the underdogs and use strategy–not ammunition/tactics to win.”
- Challenge your team to do something unusual together, like ziplining. Megan Berry, VP of Product at OctaneAI said, “Ziplining was scary/exciting enough that it brought people outside their comfort zone, and since you go one at a time, we would watch and cheer for each other. It really brought us together as a team and was decidedly not lame!”
Activities for large groups
- Rent an offsite location. If you’re not doing a full-on retreat but want to take your large group out of the office for a day of bonding, consider renting an offsite location for the day like an arcade, a large Airbnb, or a movie theater so you have the space to yourself but can still accommodate your large group size.
- Field day. During the time of year when you can get outdoors, plan a Friday where you and your team can take the day off for a “field day.” This could be as simple as a variety of group activities in a nearby park (think kickball, kayaking, hiking, etc.) or an adult field trip to a museum, event, or exhibit. Give your team a chance to connect during a fun outing that’s not all that related to work.
- Paint night. Sign up as a group to attend a local paint night where you can relax and get creative (or host your own!) With a few art supplies, drinks, and light snacks, you can put together a fun, creative evening of team building that lets people express themselves in a way they don’t usually get to at work.
- Tie-dye event. This low-cost, hands-on activity lets team members work together to create things without any special artistic skills required. Kinfield founder Nichole Powell said, “We did a team tie-dye event–it was super easy to do and you can buy kits and things to dye on Amazon for cheap!”
Writer Beth Collier said, “I like activities when the ‘team-building’ element is subtle. I did a creativity workshop that actually helped the team connect and collaborate while solving a business problem. It strengthened trust – which then helped create a culture for more creativity and innovation.”
Team building doesn’t have to be eye roll-worthy or forced fun
Sometimes we hear organizations talk about “team building activities” and it elicits a collective groan. The good news is: It doesn’t have to be that way. Try out a few of the ideas we’ve outlined here and see what your team enjoys (and benefits from) the most.
Remember: Team building isn’t a one-and-done thing. You need to make it a regular part of your company culture for it to truly feel like a worthwhile investment of time, resources, and employee energy.