Team building activities can cement friendships, improve cooperation between employees, and increase job satisfaction and engagement.
Team building activities can also be a massive waste of time and money.
The success of any team building activity is dependent on dozens of factors, but perhaps the easiest way to boost your return on investment is to spend little in the first place!
Low or no-cost team building exercises are especially useful for smaller businesses that don't have the resources to commit to a weekend at an outdoor adventure centre or a bout of corporate skydiving.
Let's have a look at some corporate team building ideas which won't break the bank.
What's Your Goal?
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Before we dive into the activities themselves, let's talk about goals.
Often, companies set their parameters (length, cost per head, location) and then try to find a team building activity that fits within those restrictions.
This approach sets you up for a low or negative return before you've even decided upon a specific exercise.
Instead, start with a goal.
Your goal will probably be one of the following:
Once you've decided on your goal, you'll find that it's much easier to choose specific activities to organise.
You've significantly reduced the chance that the activity will end up being little more than a holiday paid for by the company - or, on the other hand, a tedious waste of time that your employees resent.
These are the activities that help to improve the flow of information throughout your business. They help employees understand the causes of miscommunication and how to avoid them.
Group size: Pairs
Split off into pairs, and have them seated back-to-back.
One half of the pair, the speaker, is given an image of a simple object or shape. To save on printing costs, use smartphones or tablets or draw the object by hand on some scrap paper.
The speaker must describe the image to their partner, the listener - without using specific words that giveaway what the object is. The listener must attempt to draw the object based on their partner's description.
For example, the speaker might be given an image of a deckchair. Instead of referring to the chair's features by name, they must use other nouns and adjectives that relate to positions, sizes, and shapes.
After a set amount of time, or once the speaker has finished, compare the drawings. The listener can then suggest how the drawer could have improved their description.
This activity is trickier than it first appears, but you can make it even more difficult.
- Don't allow the listener to ask questions.
- Only allow the listener to ask yes/no questions.
- Use complex images.
Group size: 2-4
If you aren't aware of geocaching, it's essentially a global treasure hunt. There are millions of 'geocaches' hidden around the world. These physical containers often house little more than a log to record your find, but geocaching is still an addictive and enjoyable outdoors activity.
It's also perfectly suited to team building, because all you need is a GPS-enabled smartphone and an app. Form small groups and head outside to see how many caches you can find in a set amount of time.
Geocaching is much cheaper than other outdoor team building activities, and its slow pace means there's plenty of time for employees to chat and get to know each other.
Additionally, even with the GPS aid, some caches are very tricky to find - so teamwork, observation and logic all come into play.
Group size: 2-4
Minefield is a throwback to 'the floor is lava' game that you played as a kid - but this time, you're avoiding the objects instead of using them.
There are a couple of variations to this activity.
In the first, an area of the office is scattered with various objects (mines). One person in a pair is blindfolded and the other must navigate them across the minefield only through verbal commands.
This activity teaches employees how to communicate precisely, while building trust between colleagues.
In another variation, an area in the office is split into squares. Some of these squares feature invisible mines, but somewhere there's a clean route through.
The organiser of the activity should have a paper map of the minefield grid with mines marked, plus some way to play a sound effect when a mine is hit.
During the activity, participants must attempt to find their way through the minefield. If they hit a mine, they must head back to the beginning and the next team member gives it a go.
This version of minefield is a test of memory and communication, as participants try to guide their colleagues through the minefield.
These exercises are best used when introducing new staff to their team, or building links between distant departments or remote workers and the main office.
Through the Keyhole
Group size: 3-8
Ask participants to bring in a selection of photos of their home - hiding any family photos or obvious identifiers.
The team must look at each group of photos in turn, and try to work out which employee lives in which property.
The difficulty of the task depends on the closeness of the team, but the real value of this activity comes after the guesses have been made and the answers are revealed.
Participants will probably have lots of questions and remarks about items featured in the photo - maybe they support the same football team, they like a particular painting or furnishing, or they discovered a colleague has an unusual hobby.
This process kickstarts conversations and helps employees find common ground.
Office potluck or 'bring a dish'
Group size: 4-20
Asking employees to 'bring a dish' into the office isn't a very British thing to do - but this unusual team building activity can work a treat.
Themed potlucks in particular can be fantastic for team building.
Themes you might consider include:
- Childhood dishes - employees should bring in a dish or snack that reminds them of their childhood.
- Favourite meals
- Five ingredients or less
These themes are conversation starters, helping your new hires gel with the rest of the team.
Remind staff that these potlucks shouldn't be treated as competitive - it's perfectly okay to bring in a ready meal so long as it fits the theme!
Two truths and a lie
Group size: 2-8
This classic ice breaker is always a winner.
Each participant should write down two truths about themselves, and one lie. Instruct employees to make the truths as bizarre as possible, and the lies plausible.
Once everyone has their statements, take turns to read them aloud. The other participants should discuss the statements and guess which is the lie.
Finally, participants reveal the truth.
Group size: 2-8
In this activity, the organiser asks the team one question and expects one in return.
"If you were looking for a [role], which single question would you ask to determine suitability?"
The role can be work related - leaders, CEOs, assistants - but it's more interesting if you choose something non-work related - such as a partner, babysitter or butler.
In pairs or small groups, discuss the scenario. Choosing just a single question to decide whether to marry or hire someone is a difficult task!
The goal of this activity is to understand how to communicate concisely and clearly - while learning a great deal about how the minds of your colleagues work!
Does your team struggle to deal with complex problems? Do you want your team to improve their creative thinking and approach problems in a new way? If you've answered 'yes' to either of these questions, these team building activities are right for your business.
Object sort or classify this
Group size: 2-10
This activity tests your employees' ability to think laterally.
The organiser should assemble a collection of 10-20 miscellaneous objects from around the office or elsewhere. They shouldn't have any obvious connections.
Split the group into pairs or teams of three. Each group must assess the collection of objects and attempt to split them into three to five groups.
For example, a watch, gloves and nail clippers might be grouped together because they all have a connection to hands.
Teams should write down their category choices.
After a short time, end the activity and ask pairs to report back, providing their reasoning. Give the other teams a chance to argue against the inclusion of items in certain groups, and perhaps decide which pair chose the best set of groups.
Office scavenger hunt
Group size: 2-20
Scavenger hunts are always good fun - but in the office, they're also great for team building!
Scavenger hunts take many forms, but the two most popular are task-based and riddle-based.
In a task-based scavenger hunt, teams are set a list of items to find (and document with a photo) or tasks to complete in a given time limit. Points may be awarded based on the difficulty of tasks or items.
After the hunt, teams compare their finds and a winner may be declared.
Riddle-based scavenger hunts consistent of a series of clues, with one clue leading to the next. Eventually, teams reach the end of the trail and find their 'treasure' - usually a modest reward such as a gift card.
The latter type of treasure hunts can also feature tasks, with the next clue given out only when the task is complete.
The biggest cost of these scavenger hunts is in their preparation. A well-crafted scavenger hunt can take hours (or days) to properly prepare. If you offer a reward for the winning team, you'll need to budget for it.
Additionally, if you opt for a clue-based treasure hunt, teams won't be able to take part simultaneously without significant office disruption!
Group size: 4+
Another classic team building activity is the egg drop. Teams must use rudimentary building materials such as paper, bin bags and straws to create a device that successfully protects an egg when it's dropped from a great height.
Typically this challenge is carried out competitively, but you could take a different approach:
- During the first round, set a reasonably generous time limit - say, 20 minutes - and test contraptions with a modest drop.
- In a second round, teams must start from scratch and have half the time - and the egg must survive twice the drop.
- In a final round, teams can adapt existing designs or start from scratch - but the egg must survive the greatest drop you have available.
By taking this approach, teams must quickly learn from their mistakes and successes, and work under greater pressure with each round.
There are plenty of additional challenges you can add to the egg drop, such as specifying material limits, having the egg land between two and six inches above the ground, or using multiple eggs.
Morale-boosting activities are ideal if your company's gone through a rough patch and you need to turn a corner. They'll also foster engagement.
Team memory wall
Group size: 4+
During the typical working day, there's little time for reflection - this team building activity changes that.
Create a team memory wall - it can be as a simple as Post-it notes on a wall or a whiteboard.
Gather everyone in a group, and ask participants to write memories on Post-it notes - or scrawl them directly on the whiteboard.
Choose a topic that everyone can relate to - perhaps it was their first impression of their interviewer, something embarrassing that happened on their first day at work, or the most amusing typo they've seen in an email.
Sharing these memories builds a great sense of camaraderie and provides plenty of amusement. Keep 'the wall' in place for weeks and months in the future so that employees can keep looking at the memories as they pass by.
Employee-led workshops and activities
Group size: Variable
A fantastic way to boost morale through team building activities is to let your employees choose their own to run and organise.
All you need to do is set a budget and ask for suggestions. Perhaps an employee is a watercolour artist and is interested in sharing their hobby with others. You could cover the cost of tools and equipment for the session and set time aside for the workshop to take place.
Employees will be excited to share their skills and appreciate that you gave them the chance to run the activity.
Group size: 4+
Again, this one's not very British - we're not great at accepting compliments - but you might want to give it a try regardless!
It works like the memory wall above - give everyone some Post-it notes, and ask participants to write a compliment about another participant on the first note.
You could ask participants to share a particular trait that they like about the other person, or something they're particularly good at - such as leadership, listening, or mentoring.
Gather the notes together, then place them on a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard or a wall under the person's name. They may be surprised by the compliments they receive - and they'll certainly feel more valued at work!
Repeat for all participants so that everyone has a 'compliment wall' of their own.
There are hundreds of team building activities to choose between - but we hope our selection has saved you the hassle of sifting through the rest!
These low or no cost team building activities are low risk options - if they work, great - they won't cost much to run again. If they don't work out, you won't have lost a great deal giving them a try.
By choosing an activity that fits with a goal, you'll increase the value of the activity and be able to better judge its impact on business outcomes.
Overall, team building activities shouldn't be an annoyance to employees or employers, but a tool used to further your goals and resolve workplace problems.
Which corporate team building exercises have you found most effective? Let us know in the comments section.
For more HR tips from RotaCloud, take a look through our HR blog archives.