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December 9, 2014

Unusual and Effective Team Building Activities!

Andrew Heather


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What’s your gut reaction when your boss says you’re going on a team building day? My heart would probably sink, because my experience is that they tend be ineffective. You spend a day playing various games in the guise of boosting team morale and productivity, when – more often than not – the activities are predictable, you don’t learn anything new, and you spend the day worrying about the work you’ll need to catch up on when you're back in the office.

So how can organizations make sure that their team building events are positive experiences? We recently asked our friends on Twitter: “What's the most unusual but effective team building activity you've done?” We received a fantastic response, so thanks to everyone who contributed!

Although not particularly unusual, many of you suggested that keeping things simple helps teams bond. @TweacherSmith suggested: “Open a bag of pretzels, share and talk. You know, breaking bread with others?” Along similar lines, our very own Mind Tools’ editor, @SarahPaveyMT, recommended: “Going out for chips (fries) during lunchbreak every Friday!” I like these ideas because it means you spend some downtime with your colleagues, without having the commitment of going out after work when you’ve often got other things going on at home.

On a more extreme note, the most unusual team building activity 26@Cattell has done is a, “trust exercise involving being lowered by a rope off a bridge to collect a ‘bomb’ while over a river, #concentratesthemind”. Not sure I’d be up for that. I’m more of a Friday lunchtime, fry-eating mingler than a rope dangler, although I’m intrigued to know which organization this person works for!

Charity team building events seem to hit the spot for a number of you. “Building and painting flat-pack rocking horses for charity” was the best activity that @ChalaakLomdi has done. @ziggyu posted: “My best team building experience was at @ExtremeNetworks sales conference, putting together school backpacks for disadvantaged kids.” These are the kinds of activities I personally think are great, as they help others as well your organization.

From charity to just plain wacky, @Martin1961Smith said, “Role-playing superheroes” during group problem solving and brainstorming session was, “...great fun and alters perspectives!” I can imagine! Another unusual one, posted by @crbuitrago, is, “Constructing the Eiffel Tower with weird materials”. The activity seems to be the same that was suggested by @Smartworxs: ‘Spaghetti tower with a marshmallow on top - a true thinking game.”

The Spaghetti Tower game seems to have originated from a TED talk. The goal is for teams of four to build the tallest freestanding structure in 18 minutes out of: 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow – which has to be on top. Although the task seems simple, it's apparently pretty challenging, and it forces people to collaborate quickly.

One final suggestion was made by @brandyeeee about an App game called “Heads Up”. What you do is hold your mobile device to your forehead and a word appears on your screen every 60 seconds. Your team then shouts out clues and you have to try and guess what it is. A modern twist on, ‘Who am I?” for those of you who can remember that!

Thanks again for everyone’s input. If you have any other unusual or effective team building activities, we’d love to hear about them!


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3 comments on “Unusual and Effective Team Building Activities!”

  1. Good range in this post, Caroline. Charity team-building effectively directs focus on purposeful ends - not just "play" or boring business agendas.

    The Spaghetti Tower is a lot fun. Ted Wujec' TED Talk interestingly points out that Business School students and lawyers do it worst. They spend too much time in the analytical sphere. Right behind architects and engineers at the top are kindergarten students! These kids just grab the spaghetti and marshmallow and quickly grasp the need to reinforce the spaghetti structure.

    I'll have a blog post about another team-building activity in a month or so. Hope it doesn't cause your heart to sink, but no one dangles at the end of a rope off a bridge.

    1. Hi Bruce - that's a really interesting point about the business school and lawyers doing worst on the spaghetti exercise (having worked in the legal field for a few years, I can imagine - they're a cautious bunch!).

      I look forward to reading your blog (but no rope dangling? Shame!)

  2. These are some great ideas thank you for sharing. My work always does team building activities, but they don't have to be lame. Sometimes we just play cards together or some other fun game for about 15 minutes. It really does help our team to get closer. I really like the simple idea of the bag of pretzels. Simple is best.

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