Here are 32 team building games to choose from, and none of them involve trust falls (whew):
1. What Makes You Tick
You could think of this as “what makes you ticked off”, as this is an exercise in learning about each other’s personalities and seeing what kind of personalities will clash. As a group, take a personality test together. Bring in a speaker, if time allows, to expound on the different personality traits, their strengths, their weaknesses, and a plan on how potential clashes can be alleviated.
Choose a personality test that isn’t excessively complicated. The DISC personality test is a good choice, as is the True Colors personality test. These tests simplify things and create easily remembered results. During future teamwork efforts, when conflicts arise, a team member can say “remember, I am orange” and the others will know exactly what she means.
Purpose: Knowing what motivates and what demotivates other team members is powerful. By establishing how each team member works best, and how they react in different situations, they can learn how to approach each other differently to succeed in work and personal interaction.
2. Ideas As Building Blocks
Create a fictional problem that must be solved. It could be a theoretical product, a brain teaser, a riddle, a design challenge — anything that needs a solution. Assemble your team, and have them write down an idea on a large sheet of paper. They only need to write a sentence or two.
Have them pass the paper to the person on their left, and instruct them to use the new idea to build another solution upon. Continue for several rounds, and then see what the results are. You may want to choose a fictional problem that allows you to reveal one aspect of the challenge each round.
Purpose: This exercise shows the value of everyone’s ideas. As you work as a team, brainstorming sessions often sway towards the vocal and dominant personalities even though other team members have valuable ideas, too. By forcing these ideas to have equal footing, each team member’s ability to contribute is established.
3. Truth And Lie
Give each team member four identical slips of paper. Instruct them to write down three truths and one lie. The lie should be believable to some extent (i.e. not “I’ve been to Mars”), and the tenor of the truths and lie should not be offensive or crude. Go around the group, one at a time, and have them read the truths and lie in random order. When they are finished, the team should discuss which they think are the truths and which are the lies.
Purpose: This exercise fits into the “get to know each other” category. Extroverts have no difficulty in making themselves known, but introverts often remain an enigma, bowled into silence. This exercise gives them equal footing to reveal facts about themselves as well as expose the assumptions others have made. Participants learn about others and also learn about themselves through the lies they thought were true.
4. The Barter Puzzle
Break your team into groups of equal members. Give each team a distinctly different jigsaw puzzle of equal difficulty. Explain that they have a set amount of time to complete the puzzle as a group. Explain that some of the pieces in their puzzle belong to the other puzzles in the room.
The goal is to complete their puzzle before the other groups, and that they must come up with their own method of convincing the other teams to relinquish the pieces they need, whether through barter, exchange of team members, donating time to another team, a merger, etc. Whatever they choose to do, they must do it as a group.
Purpose: This exercise is time-consuming, but it accomplishes creative teamwork on several levels. As a team, they must build the puzzle. As a team, they must find a way to convince the other teams to help them. In other words, they must solve both the puzzle and the problem of getting their pieces back.
5. Use What You Have
Divide your team into equal groups. Create a specific project with clear restrictions and a goal. For example, you might have your team create a device that involves movement without electricity, and moves a golf ball from point A to point B. The challenge is completely up to you.
Then give each team the same supplies to work from, or create a pile of available supplies in the middle of the room. Give them a specific time to complete the project, making sure to mention that they can only use what is available, though how they use it is completely up to them. The final reveal is a fun event, and a great opportunity for your team to compete.
Purpose: Problem solving as a team, with a strong mix of creativity, is exactly what this exercise accomplishes. It also brings an element of fun and maker-ism into the mix, with the added twist of learning how to solve a problem with reduced options.
6. Created Economy
In the book Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, the young boy Wes creates his own language, culture, and economy one summer. A new startup created a small economy and ended up having a great deal of fun as well as learning about what motivated other team members.
Get your team together and decide if you want to create an economy or some mini-aspect of larger society. Set up the rules you will abide by, leaving enough wiggle room to experience problems that need group agreement to solve as the system is put into action.
Purpose: By creating a “mini” society, your team naturally creates problems and challenges that force them to work together. There are rewards and penalties. Some team members will reveal themselves to be rule-abiders and others as creative rule-benders. The team will quickly learn how others work, solve, and think outside of the typical work-related realm. This will bring new understanding to work-related projects that need solutions.
7. Common Book
This team-building exercise takes place not in one sitting, but over time. Make a large, blank journal or scrapbook available in the break room or other common areas. The book may have prompts on each page, asking questions or suggesting things to write or draw. Or, you may have guidelines printed and displayed next to the book (i.e. no swearing, nothing offensive, no complaints, no scribbling out other’s work, etc.).
Leave pens, markers, tape, and other items that your team can use to write and draw in the book. Encourage them to write down quotes from things they are reading or from team members, to write about a fun event that happened at work, tape or glue ephemera or anything that helps record the team’s culture. When the book is full, put it on the shelf and get a new one.
Purpose: This team exercise creates a living history of your business that you can keep adding to. It is somewhat similar to the Zappos culture book, but allows your team a chance to build it more directly. This game encourages creativity, collaboration, and recollection. It also gives you something concrete to look at in the future to see where your team has been and how far they’ve come.
8. Scavenger Hunt
Divide your team into equal sized groups, and send them out with a list of items to locate and bring back. Whether they remain in the office or are to leave the building is up to you. The ultimate goal is to get back first with the most items. You may want to set a time limit so that all groups are back in a reasonable time, whether they found all items or not. A scavenger hunt can be themed, and might involve a variety of clues or other twists that force a team to get creative and work together.
One variation is to make it a digital scavenger hunt in which they must find examples and specific information or web pages online. You may wish to restrict which search engines or methods they use to complete the challenge.
Purpose: A scavenger hunt is a fun activity that forces people to work together as a team. It spurs creativity, particularly if clues or riddles are involved.
9. Geocache Adventure
Much like a scavenger hunt, a geocache adventure relies on clues but has the added level of using GPS coordinates to find an item. Each group will need to have a GPS device that will work for finding geocaches. There are several apps available to use on smartphones that would suffice. You may wish to have a set time in which all groups must return. The clues you hide in specific geographic locations could be part of a larger riddle or message that you wish the teams to have revealed to them.
A variation of this might be to use QR codes placed around the office or neighborhood, mixing GPS locations with other clues found in QR codes.
Purpose: This exercise helps team members work together to achieve a specific goal using a specific and narrow process in which close enough is not good enough. It also promotes problem solving in a creative way if riddles and puzzles are involved.
10. Show And Tell
It’s unfortunate that show and tell is something that ends when you’re young. Whether your interest is in the code you’re writing or ham radio, there are things each person would like to share with the group. Set aside a regular day for “show and tell” and give the next team member on the list the opportunity to bring something in and/or present on a topic. If you do this over lunch, be sure to cater food and make it a fun time. Require team members to be present. Have a question and answer session afterwards.
Purpose: Most people are eager to let others know interesting things about themselves, but not all team members are able to make that happen. Most teams are lopsided, with some members dominating discussion. Using regular “show and tell” sessions gives all team members a chance at center stage while also becoming familiar with giving a presentation and fielding questions.
11. Find The Common Thread
Before your regular staff meeting, break your team into groups. Instruct the groups to find out one commonality among themselves. It might be a hobby or an interest they all do, or having the same favorite genre of music or favorite food. Once they discover a commonality they can agree on, they create a list of what might be stereotypical qualities of such people.
Then, the groups come together to announce to the rest of the groups who they are. For example, they might be “Roller Coaster Buffs” or “Jane Austenites.” For the rest of the regular staff meeting (or the day, if you’re daring), group members must fulfill the stereotypes they listed. The Roller Coaster Buffs, for example, might periodically raise their arms and holler, or the Jane Austenites might rephrase all of their speech to co-workers as quotes from Jane Austen books. At the completion of the meeting (or day), talk about stereotypes that we assign to people. Discuss how they affect how we perceive other people’s abilities. Talk about how people managed to find a commonality, and the process it took to dig it up.
Purpose: The idea is to force your team to confront the foolish nature of stereotypes and how, if people really behaved as we casually write them off to be, the office would be much different. The game also reveals the ability of a seemingly random group of people to find a commonality.
12. Mad Lib Mission Statement
Take your company’s mission statement(s) and turn them into the popular Mad Lib game. To do this, remove key nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Create a worksheet in which the removed words are shown as a blank line with instructions on what kind of word is needed.
In groups of two, have one team member ask for the correct type of word and the other team member supply the word. Or, if you do not want to break the team into groups, ask the team as a whole to supply one word at a time. Once there are enough words, read the mission statement back. It will sound silly. Now that the team knows what the goal is, ask them for the same word types. See what kinds of words they supply. Repeat the exercise until you get a mission statement that the team feels is correct.
A variation is to categorize the types of words before the first round. So, tell them you are looking for words that apply to the team without telling them you are working on a mission statement.
Purpose: Mission statements can sometimes sound great but miss the mark, particularly if your team doesn’t feel it represents them, or that they even understand it. By stripping away the jargon and stiffness and allowing the mission statement to go through several rounds of nonsense, you allow your team to help you craft a statement that is more relaxed and honest.
13. Organizational Jenga
Using wooden blocks or an actual Jenga game, mark blocks according to the hierarchies present in your company. For example, you might have some blocks denoted as the IT department, and others as HR. You might have particular shaped blocks marked as “manager” and block shapes as “support staff.” The labeled blocks should reflect the composition of your office (e.g. if 10% of your staff is IT, so should 10% of the blocks).
Divide your team into groups, giving them an equal number and kind of blocks. From here, either specify the type of structure each team must build, or provide guidelines and allow them to build any structure they want. When the time limit has been reached, each team, taking turns, must begin to remove a block at a time without destroying their structure. Do not inform them ahead of time that you will be asking them to do this.
If time allows, you may ask them to repeat the exercise. See if they find a way to build a structure that can withstand removal of blocks.
Purpose: This exercise is meant to show how each department and the various managers and staff positions are necessary to complete the task, and that without everyone in place, things fall apart.The second round reveals what “blocks” the team sees as unnecessary as they conceive of a way to deconstruct their structure without destroying it.
14. Blind Drawing
Divide your team into groups of two each. Have each person sit with their back to the other. One person will have a picture. The other person will have a blank sheet of paper and a pen. The team member with the picture must not show the other person the image. Instead, the are to describe the image without using words that give it away, while the other team member is to draw what is being described.
For example, the picture might be of an elephant standing on a ball. The description cannot be “draw an elephant on the ball” but instead must use other adjectives and directions. After a set time limit, the drawing time ends and both team members view the original picture and the drawing.
Purpose: This is an exercise that focuses on communication and language. While the final drawing will seldom look like the picture, it is revealing to participants to see how different the interpretation of instructions can be even when they are supposedly talking about the same thing.
15. The Perfect Square
Gather your team in a circle, and have them sit down. Each team member should then put on a provided blindfold. Taking a long rope with its ends tied together, place the rope in each person’s hands so that they all have a hold of it. Leave the circle. Instruct them to form a perfect square out of the rope without removing their blindfolds. Once the team believes they have formed a square, they can remove the blindfolds and see what they’ve accomplished.
You can introduce variations into this game. For example, you might, at random, instruct a team member to not speak. One by one, members of the group are muted, making communication more challenging. Or, let the team come up with a plan before putting on the blindfold, but once they cannot see, they also cannot talk.
Purpose: This exercise deals with both communication and leadership styles. There will inevitably be team members who want to take charge, and others who want to be given direction. The team will have to work together to create the square, and find a way to communicate without being able to see. By introducing the “muting” feature, you also inject the question of trust. Since instructions can’t be vocally verified, the team member calling out instructions has to trust those who cannot talk to do as they are told.
16. What’s My Name?
On name tags or similar labels, write down the name of a famous person, or write down people types (e.g. doctor, athlete, nerd, disabled, wealthy, homeless, etc.). Place these nametags on a team member’s back so that they cannot see what they are, but the rest of the group can.
For a set amount of time, the entire group should mingle, and ask and answer questions. They should treat each other according to the stereotypical way based on what kind of person they have been labeled. Each team member can use that treatment, as well as the answers to questions, to figure out what the label is. As each team member figures out who they are, they can exit the game and let the rest continue.
Purpose: By confronting stereotypes in both how people treat us and in the questions and answers used, the team can get a better sense of how we mistakenly see people as well as how it feels to be so narrowly defined. This is also a good ice-breaker activity if you have team members that do not know each other yet.
17. Watch Where You Step
Using masking tape, create a large polygonal shape on the floor. It should be about 12 feet long by 6 feet wide, at least. Mark the start and stopping points. Make the shape a bit convoluted, choosing a shape that is elongated with the idea that people must make their way from one end to the other. Place a few squeaky dog toys inside the shape, and twice as many full sheets of paper with a large X on them inside the shape. The paper is the mines.
At least two at a time, each person on your team must make their way from start to finish blindfolded. They cannot step outside of the boundary, nor can they step on a mine. If they do, they are frozen. They can only be unfrozen if someone else inside the shape steps on a squeak toy. Their only guidance is the vocal commands of those outside the shape who are not blindfolded.
Purpose: This game is about communication, and trusting each other. Players learn to be observant of multiple action as well as give clear and timely advice.
18. Group Timeline
On a bulletin board or other surface which accepts thumbtacks, create a blank timeline. The timeline should start as far back as the oldest member on your team was born or when the company was founded, whichever came first. Mark each year on the timeline. Then, using narrow strips of paper, write down important dates for the company (e.g. founded, merged, changed names, incorporated, new product) and pin it to the correct spot on the timeline.
Give your team members four slips of paper, and ask them to mark down four important moments in their life. Let them pin them to the timeline.
Purpose: This exercise helps show, in a visual way, the different generations and experiences of your team. It leads well into talking about cultural and generational differences and the effects that has on how people work and communicate. It is also an opportunity for team members to learn more about each other.
19. What’s On Your Desk
Have each team member bring one item from their desk to the exercise. Then, tell them that this item is going to be their new product, and that they must come up with a name, logo, slogan, and marketing plan for that object. Give them a set amount of time. This could be done individually, or in small groups if desired.
Once the time is up, allow each person to present the item and give a two minute presentation on their “product” as if they were selling it. Discuss, as a group, which products were successfully sold and why.
Purpose: For marketing and design teams, this exercise presents the challenge of seeing old things in a new light. When combined with groups working together to sell a common object, you introduce teamwork and crunch-time brainstorming. It promotes creativity and problem solving, too.
20. You Get One Question
Come up with several scenarios in which a person would be chosen to do something. For example, it might be a new job hire, marriage, leading an organization, or commanding an army. Ask each team member to come up with the “perfect” question — but only one! — that should be asked of a person that would determine if they were the perfect fit for the scenario. Have each team member write their question down. When all scenarios have been covered, discuss the questions as a group and see what each team member thinks would be the perfect question.
Purpose: Team members quickly learn how each other thinks differently. The perfect question that each comes up with will reflect their motives and what they think matters the most. This is an excellent way to lead into a discussion on how team members determine who is capable and who they will follow or trust.
21. Classify This
Collect a variety of objects and put them in the center of a table. The broader the variety, the better (e.g. office supplies, dinnerware, jewelry, toys, game pieces, etc.), Aim for at least 20 different objects. The goal is to collect items that, at first glance, have no apparent connection.
Break the team into groups, giving each group a sheet of paper and pen. Make sure they have a clear view of all the objects. Instruct them to classify the objects into four groups, writing down the groupings on their sheet of paper. They should not let the team groups hear what they are doing. When the time is up, have a spokesperson for each group reveal how they classified the objects, and why. Reasons might vary, from the function of the object to how it looks, or the material it is made of.
Purpose: This exercise promotes teamwork and creative thinking, but it also encourages your team to rethink how they view everyday objects. They are forced to look for commonalities in otherwise unconnected objects. This leads to a discussion on how to work outside the box for solutions to problems that seem wholly unrelated.
22. This Is Better Than That
Bring in four objects (or multiple sets of four objects) of the same type (e.g. four different sets of mittens, four different coffee mugs). Write up a conversational scenario for each set that outlines what the perfect item would be, in the order of preference. While none of the four objects is an exact match, each have qualities that reflect that perfect list. Read this scenario to your team, and instruct them to order the objects from best fit to worst fit. When all object sets are done, have team members explain why they ordered the objects that way.
The key to this exercise is to make the scenario complex enough that it isn’t immediately obvious which objects are best.
Purpose: This exercise helps your team break down a scenario or problem and figure out which things are the best fit. This dovetails directly into discussion on current projects or challenges facing the group, in which you can, as a group, write a scenario for an actual project you are working on and decide which solutions are the best fit.
23. It’s Your Problem
Bring the team into the room, and divide evenly into groups of at least two. Tell them they have thirty minutes to come up with a group problem-solving challenge that would make use of: teamwork, creativity, communication.
When the thirty minutes is complete, the team will choose from one of the problem-solving challenges and actually do the activity.
A variation is to use all of the challenges over a period of time so that your team-building activities come directly from your team itself.
Purpose: This team building exercise puts leadership responsibilities back on your team, showing them that they have the potential to come up with solutions, too. It also gives your team a chance to challenge other team members in ways they might not otherwise find the opportunity to do so in regular workday activity.
24. Active Listening
Bring your team in for what they think is just another staff meeting. Have a long document filled with mind-numbing but coherent jargon-filled speech that talks vaguely about sales and marketing goals. Sprinkled in the document are sentences which say something else entirely. These sentences should contain instructions or information that they will be quizzed on after you are finished.
Begin reading it to your team in monotone. The goal is to get them to tune you out. Do not over-emphasize the “real” sentences. When you are finished, hand out paper to each team member. Then, ask them to write down what they thought you talked about. If your real sentences contained random information, quiz them on that. Discuss who heard what, and see who was able to actively listen.
Purpose: This exercise touches on conflict resolution with the idea that many conflicts arise because team members don’t really listen. It shows the importance of listening to verbal communication, but also non-verbal communication. They can discuss why they tuned you out, and what you could have done to keep them tuned in.
25. Company Concentration
Most of us played the game “concentration” as a child, where you’d have pairs of cards randomly mixed and turned over, and you’d take turns flipping over two at a time. The goal was to collect as many pairs as possible, remembering what you’d seen.
Create a card deck that has images or words related to your company or brand. It might be logos, products, photos of your team, and so on. Whatever route you go, keep the images related. For example, use all photos of your team, or all photos of your products.
Divide up into teams and see which team can match the most pairs in the least amount of time. You might set additional rules, such as requiring the name of the person to be said aloud when the card is flipped over, or some other related bit of information connected to the image on the card.
Purpose: To learn the names, information, and visuals associated with your company. This is particularly effective if you have a lot of new team members and you want everyone to learn their name and something about them.
26. Company Concentration: Debate Version
The idea is the same as the “Company Concentration” format, where pairs of cards with visuals on one side are used. However, the goal here isn’t necessarily to match up cards and remember where they were, and the images on the cards will not depict team members but will instead depict discussion-worthy concepts.
Teams can get a point for matching up cards, but they can get two points if they choose to successfully debate and argue why the two cards the turned over are associated. If the majority of the room agrees with their reasoning, they receive the points. If not, they lose a point.
You might use cards illustrating user personas, products you sell, procedures you use in development, customer support problems, known issues you’re trying to solve, and so on.
Purpose: This team building game can help in brainstorming (associating two problems together, for example, that hadn’t been) as well as getting team members to think on their feet and spot connections they hadn’t before. It also forces them to decide what is worth debating or not, as well as whether or not someone has provided a good argument.
27. Hello My Name Is
Create a list of adjectives that describe people’s attitudes (e.g. grumpy, happy, negative, fearful, encourager, discourager, positive, joker, etc.). Have enough adjectives for every member of your team, and write each adjective on a self-adhesive “Hello My Name Is” sticker. Place the name stickers in a container, and have each team member draw a name sticker out without being able to see the adjective. Have them stick the name tag on their shirt and wear it for a specific period of time, instructing them that all of their responses and interaction for that time must reflect the adjective on their name tag.
You can use this in several ways. Your team could wear them during a typical meeting or brainstorming session to show how good and bad attitudes affect outcomes. They could wear them for a typical work day and then discuss how they felt. Or, you could have them wear a name tag half of the day, and switch with someone for the second half.
Purpose: To show that assigning an attitude or telling someone they are “acting grumpy” can actually affect how they view themselves and how they act during the day. If they switch name tags, they will see how behavior and action often defines feeling, and not the other way around.
28. Telephone, On Paper
Give each team member a piece of paper. Have them draw a simple drawing on the paper, without talking to anyone else. Each person then passes the paper to their right. Each team member looks at the drawing they now have, fold the paper in half, and write at the top what they think the picture is of. The paper is passed to the right again. Each person reads the description, folds the paper over to hide the words, and draws a picture of that.
This continues, where each pass alternates between determining what the picture was and drawing what was described. It is important that each turn only reveals the words or picture from the previous round. Separate sheets or pads of paper may be used if that is easier than one sheet of paper, but they should be passed together.
When the paper is back to the original owner, each member reveals what was written and drawn.
Purpose: This activity tends to create a lot of laughter and is an excellent ice-breaker at parties or before long meetings where you want people to be comfortable with each other. The drawings and interpretations tend to bring out discussion and jokes.
29. Do The Math
Create “tasks” that are assigned different values. For example, you might have “Climb Mt. Everest” and give it a value of 35, while “Give the dog a bath” has a value of 3.
Give each member of your team three cards with the same number on them so that every team member has a set of numbers different from every other player. One person will have all 1’s, while another might have all 10’s. The goal is to accomplish the tasks in a set amount of time so that whoever is left will get a prize based on the total value of the tasks completed.
However, in order to “do” the task, they must get people together whose numbered cards add up to the value on the task. Once a card is used, it can’t be used again. And once a team member has used up all their cards, they are taken out of the game and out of the running for the prize.
Ideally, there are more tasks and values than can be fulfilled by the cards your team possesses. They must determine which tasks to do, and which cards to use up. Ultimately, not every task can be completed, and not everyone can be a winner. The goal is to get the highest total task value (for the best prize), and work together to achieve it knowing that in order to do so, some will miss out.
Purpose: This rather painful game helps your team work together, understanding both strategy and self-sacrifice. Hopefully, once the game is over you’ll see that everyone has some kind of prize or reward, but it’s best to allow the team to not know that during game play.
30. Problem Family Tree
Give each team member a piece of paper. Instruct them to write down, at the top of the sheet, a problem they have at work. Make sure to tell them it shouldn’t be directed at a specific person. These should be complaints about procedure, product, or some other non-human problem they’ve observed or believe exists.
Next, have them write below that, leaving a slight space, two things they think causes that problem (again, not mentioning specific people but finding a way to focus on systems, ideology, or procedures that people use). Draw a line from the two ideas up to the main problem, much like a family tree structure. Then have them break down those two ideas further, two for each, as far as they can go. The idea is to figure out what small things have led to the big things.
The exercise could stop here, allowing the team members to simply enjoy personal discovery, or they results could be discussed as a group to see if there were small underlying problems that popped up on multiple problem family trees.
Purpose: To help team members to see the real problems they deal with, and what causes them, not as specific people who cause trouble, but as often seemingly small issues that mix with other small issues to create larger problems.
31. Triangulate Your Place
Assemble all but one of your team members in the shape of a triangle. They should be facing into the triangle, standing side by side to create the outline of the shape.
Take the remaining member and place them inside the triangle. Let them choose to face whatever direction they want to, and instruct your team to remember exactly where they were in relation to the spinner. They should note who they were standing next to, and how they fit into the triangle shape based on where the spinner is facing.
The spinner should begin to slowly spin around. Without warning, the spinner should stop and stand still. At that point, the team has a set amount of time to reassemble into place so that the end result is a triangle situated correctly according to whatever direction the spinner chose to face.
Purpose: This team building activity is a great way to get the blood-pumping and to get your team to work together. They need to remember where they belong on the triangle, and help others, too, in order to finish in time.
32. Penny For Your Thoughts
Gather pennies (or any other coin) so that you have one for each member of your team, and so that the year on the coin is within your team’s lifespan (i.e. you won’t have a coin dated older than the youngest on your team).
Dump the coins in a container, and have each person draw out a coin. Have each person share something significant that happened to them in that year.
Purpose: This activity is a simple way for your team to get to know each other, and it’s a quick ice-breaker to loosen up team members before a meeting.