Team Building Exercises – Strategy and Planning

Engaging Ways to Build Core Skills

Team Building Exercises – Strategy and Planning - Engaging Ways to Build Core Skills

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Building strategy skills helps teams to set their own path.

No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.– Reid Hoffman.

How does your company approach strategic planning?

Traditionally, strategy is developed by an executive team and rolled out to the rest of the company for implementation. But today's rapidly changing commercial environment, coupled with the growing popularity of agile business practices, means that many organizations are now moving away from a formal, top-down approach.

Our current climate calls for a more flexible method that allows teams to shape their own path (while following organizational goals and guidelines). So, it's important that your team has the strategic thinking and planning skills it needs to contribute effectively.

Individuals with strong skills in these areas are also better at aligning their efforts with the broader objectives of the organization, so that their work contributes to a meaningful end goal.

This article explores three team building exercises that can help your people develop their strategic thinking and planning skills.

Strategic Thinking and Planning Exercises

Use the exercises below to strengthen your team's strategic thinking and planning skills. The activities should also help to improve communication and collaboration skills.

You can use them in various ways, for example with a group of new managers, or to refresh the skills of senior leaders.

Exercise 1: Early Bird vs. Second Mouse

This exercise was inspired by the saying (often attributed to American comedian Stephen Wright): "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

In it, two teams explore the implications of the phrase through presentation, debate and discussion.


This exercise helps teams analyze different strategic positions. It also emphasizes teamwork, presentation, argument and debate, and group decision making.

People and Materials

  • Between eight and 30 people.
  • A presenter from each team.
  • Two flip charts, with pens.


  • Flexible, typically 30-60 minutes.


  1. Divide the group into two equal teams. Make one the "early bird" and the other the "second mouse."
  2. Give both teams five to 10 minutes to develop a short presentation outlining why their strategy is the best for business.
  3. A member of each team gives their presentation.
  4. When the presentations are over, ask each team to elect someone to debate the question, "Is it better in business to be the early bird or the second mouse?"
  5. Combine the teams into one big group and ask for a show of hands to determine which strategy is, indeed, the best.

Advice for the Facilitator

This simple exercise can be adapted in various different ways, depending on your objectives. For example, you may wish to make the exercise about generic business practice or specific to a particular industry or situation. You could also try debating which strategy is best for a particular scenario and then, after the vote, ask if people's opinions would be different if you changed the scenario.

You could ask the group to vote on which strategy is best at the beginning of the exercise and again at the end of the debate, to see if opinions change.

Possible topics for discussion after the exercise include different strategies for different situations, the relative virtues of adaptability versus consistency, how much people's values influence their choice of strategy, and so on.

Exercise 2: United Hearts

In this exercise, teams develop a strategy and compete for points in a card game. The United Hearts Game was published in "Quick Team Building Activities for Busy Managers," by Brian Cole Miller. This is an adaptation of his original game.


This game strengthens strategic thinking skills. It also reminds players to stay flexible with their strategy and adjust it according to events.

People and Materials

  • Between six and 15 people.
  • One deck of cards.


  • Thirty minutes.

Rules of the Game

The aim is to get as close to 30 points as possible by winning hearts. Aces are low, Jacks are worth 11, Queens 12, and Kings 13 points. All other cards have face value.

Each round begins when the dealer places a heart card face up on the table. Team leaders then pick a card from their own deck and place it face down. When all three have laid down a card, they flip them over and the highest card (irrespective of suit) wins the heart. The rest of the cards from that round are discarded.

When all of the cards have been played (13 rounds in all), teams count up the number of hearts they have won. The closest to 30 wins.

In the event of a tie, the team with the highest value heart is the winner.


  1. Put people into three teams of two to five members – group sizes don't need to be equal – and ask each to designate a "leader" who will play for them.
  2. Remove the hearts from the deck, and give each team a suit of cards.
  3. Explain the rules of the game, and give each team three minutes to plan how they will play.
  4. Before the game begins, each team is given time to discuss their strategies but, once it gets underway, discussion is no longer allowed, although team members can indicate which card to play through non-verbal gestures.
  5. Interrupt the game after the fifth and ninth rounds to allow the groups to analyze their progress and, if necessary, adjust their strategies.

Advice for the Facilitator

When the game is over, ask the members of each team to describe what their initial strategy was, whether they thought it was successful, and how it evolved over time.

Discuss how their strategies would have differed if the aim of the game had been to get as high a score or as low a score as possible.

Ask them if other roles, besides leader, emerged within the team. For example, one person may have decided to keep track of which hearts had already been played, while another could have kept track of their competitors' running totals.

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Exercise 3: Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag is a classic outdoor game for larger groups. The goal is to successfully capture the other team's flag, without being caught on "enemy territory."


This game is excellent for building strategic thinking and communication skills. Teams assign roles (such as guards and raiders) and use battlefield tactics to successfully capture the opposing flag. It can be a great exercise to help new teams get to know each other, or to break down barriers between hierarchies or departments.


This game only works if all participants are prepared to play a vigorous outdoor game. You won't build a happy, engaged team if you try to force unwilling people to play.

People and Materials

  • Enough people for at least two groups of five.
  • A whistle.
  • Two "flags" – anything from a towel to a company flag.
  • Boundary markers (if necessary).
  • A large outdoor space, ideally one with trees, hills or buildings.


  • Flexible, typically 30-45 minutes.

Rules of the Game

The rules of the game are simple. The group is divided into two opposing teams. Within each team, there are guards and raiders. Guards stay on their own territory and capture any enemies who try to take their flag. Raiders infiltrate enemy territory to locate and capture their opponents' flag. Both roles report to the team leader, who makes sure everyone follows the overall strategy.

Guards capture trespassing raiders by tagging them. The prisoner must then stay where he is put until a member from his own team sets him free by tagging him again. Once a prisoner is set free, he must return to his home territory before resuming play.

If a flag is successfully captured, it must be taken back to the team's home territory. If the flag bearer is caught before she reaches her territory, the flag is returned to its original hiding place, the bearer goes to prison, and the game continues.


  1. Begin by dividing the available space up into three parts, with team territories at opposite ends and a neutral "no man's land" in the middle. Mark where each territory begins.
  2. Explain the rules, then split the group into two teams.
  3. Give each team 10 minutes to choose a leader, assign roles, and discuss their strategy. Teams can decide for themselves how many guards and raiders to have but, once roles have been allocated, they remain for the duration of the game.
  4. Instruct each team to place its flag in plain sight. It should present a challenge, but not be impossible to find.
  5. Each team then waits in its home territory until you blow the whistle to signal that the game has begun.
  6. The game ends when one team successfully brings the other's flag into its home territory. Blow the whistle again to show that the game is over.

Advice for the Facilitator

Bear in mind that this game may not suit everyone. It can be quite physical, with lots of running and, depending on the terrain, climbing and scrambling over trails, rocks and trees.

It's important that team members approach their roles with sensitivity towards others – both their team members and their "enemies." Make sure that guards understand that they must "tag," not "tackle," enemy raiders, so that no one gets hurt.

Encourage the team to be creative with their roles, so that everyone, regardless of physical ability, can make a positive contribution. For example, some guards could act as "lookouts," while raiders could be divided into "scouts," who use stealth to discover the whereabouts of the flag or prisoners being held captive, and "runners," who create a diversion while others go after the prize.

At the end of the game, gather the group together to discuss how it went. Ask how each person's role contributed to the overall strategy. Examine each team's strategy (or lack of one) and how well it worked out for them, and identify what gave the winning team their competitive advantage.


Team building exercises work best when, as well as improving team work, they help people to develop skills that benefit them in their day-to-day jobs, too. Check out our other team building resources for skills such as creativity, problem solving and decision making, and communication.

Key Points

Strategic thinking is important for aligning your own and your team's daily activities are aligned with the long-term goals and objectives of your organization.

The games in this article can help your team members learn how to think more strategically, and work together.

Apply This to Your Life

  • Think about how you could incorporate one of these games into your next team meeting, Away Day, or company retreat.