Team Building Games That Really Teach Teamwork

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Not all team building games are good. When you’re planning a team building and reading what games you can use, they all look good on paper but once you actually use them, they are bad. People get bored, don’t understand the rules, or think the game is dumb.

So, when planning a team building session, you need to know the games will be good. Here are some proven hits (from extensive personal experience) that both teach teamwork and make teams jell.

Warm-up games

Most of the games you’ll find on the net are either short or don’t exactly accomplish the goal of team building. Their purpose is to warm up people for the main game, get them excited, set the mood, and break the ice if people don’t know each other.

When building a team building session, you’ll use one quick warm-up game and one long main game.

Each game needs to have a facilitator that’ll explain the rules and guide the group. A warm-up game shouldn’t last longer than 10-15 minutes.

Note: you can make a session using several quick games but the session won’t be useful.

Game #1: Two Truths and a Lie

Everyone has to introduce themselves to the group and tell two truth facts about themselves and one lie. The group then has to guess which one is a lie. You can even vote. The game is a good ice breaker if people don’t know each other well.

Game #2: Seven

People stand in a circle and count. The first person says 1, the second says 2 and so on. When number 7 comes up and its multiples (14-21-28-35…), the person has to clap instead of saying the number. If they say the number, they’re out. To make the game more difficult, you can change the number or introduce new moves (eg. jump).

Game #3: Action Intros

Each person says their name, adds an adjective that starts with the first letter of their name, and acts out that adjective. For example, a person named Bill will say “I am Bossy Bill” and act like a boss. The point of the game is to have fun and learn people’s name.

Game #4: 60 Second Speeches

Each person has to talk on some topic for 60 seconds non-stop, without a pause. Choose a fun topic and let people have fun.

The main team building games

For the main game, you’ll need materials and/or handouts, depending on the game. These games typically last around 30 minutes and longer, but you can always extend the deadline if you see people enjoy.

After each game, make sure you have a wrap-up discussion where you’ll talk about their collaboration process, decision making, what they learned, and how would they improve the process.

Game #1: Survival games

There are several survival games and they are all variations on a theme. The team is either lost at sea or in a desert, or stranded on a moon (handouts are in the links).

The team’s job is to survive as long as they can. To help them survive, they get a list of 15 items and they have to rank each item according to how important they think it is.

First, each person gets a paper and ranks the items alone. Then, the whole team gets one paper and they have to rank items together. In the end, the facilitator reveals the correct ranking and people have to compare it with their personal and team’s ranking.

Usually, people on the team get more things right than as individuals. The point of the game is to show how everyone is better thanks to teamwork.

If, on the other hand, an individual gets more things right than the team, it’s a sign they need to work more on making their voice heard.

Game #2: Bank Robbery

Someone robs the bank. Each person gets a few clues (like “Mr. Green was the only person who had a key to the vault.”). The team has to figure out who robbed the bank without showing their clues (but they can read them to the team word-for-word). People have to talk with others and piece everything together.

The game teaches the importance of sharing information and that each person has special insight that they need to share in order to solve a greater problem.

You can find the clues handout here.

Game #3: Building games

Two or more teams get materials with which they have to build something.

In the the simpler version, teams compete who will build the highest tower with materials they have.

In the more complex version, the team has to “buy” resources and build a bridge. Each team gets some money with which they can buy scissors, glue, paper, etc. But the trick is, materials are limited. So for example, if there are 4 teams, there are only 3 pairs of scissors and 10 sheets of paper, so there is always a pressure to buy materials before the other teams.

The team has to carefully juggle resource allocation, planning, and work delegation.

The winner is determined by the jury who tests the bridge based on several criteria:

  • stability (will it collapse if you put something on it),
  • looks (how pretty/creative it is),
  • and budget (how much money the team saved).

Here’s more info about the Bridge Building Game.

Game #4: Zoom

This game is based on the book “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. Each page in the book is a zoomed-in aspect of another page. Each team member gets a laminated page from the book and they have to arrange the pages in the right order. To do this, they have to talk to each other and discover who has the missing pieces.

Check out the more detailed instructions here.

Game #5: The Lifeboat Game

This game is about making difficult moral decisions as a team and reaching a consensus. The team gets a list of 14 people who are on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. There is one lifeboat which can rescue only 8 people. The team has to decide together who is worth rescuing and they have only 15 minutes.

The people on the list are morally ambiguous and there is no right choice. For example, who is worth more: Billy, a a 16 year old boy who steals, or Tom, a 41 year old war hero who hears voices? Expect a lot of discussion on ethics and strong opinions.

The final list doesn’t matter. The point of the game is for people to reach the consensus within 15 minutes or everyone dies.

Here is the handout for the lifeboat game.

Game #6: Faraway Kingdom

People will hate this game, which is why they can learn so much from it. The game teaches the importance of communicating progress and what happens when you don’t give feedback.

There are two teams: those who wait and those who work. While the working group solves a problem, the waiting group waits and gets more and more anxious.

The point of the game is for someone from working group to brief the waiting group on what’s going and manage their expectations. Of course, you as a facilitator don’t tell them that. They have to learn that on their own.

This is a game where the wrap-up discussion is the most important part.

Read more about our experience with this team building game here.

Other team building options

Team building sessions and team building games are fun if you don’t have much time or resources. But if you really want people to bond, take them outside.

It doesn’t necessarily mean outdoor; take them outside the world of their workplace they cohabit each day. Make it an experience.

There are 3 options for this:

Organize an activity

This is the cheapest/easiest/most organic way to make people bond. All you have to do is find an activity, organize people, and let them have fun.

You can go on a hike, a conference, do room escape, scavenger hunt, obstacle course, play a sport (bowling, shooting, basketball, rowing, paintball) or a video game (Overwatch, League of Legends). Just make sure there is a clear start and finish, and that people get to interact with one another. This means don’t go to the movies or something similair where people can’t mingle.

Hire a consultant

Big companies typically have an HR specialist who creates and runs team building sessions, or hire consultants that teach their team about leadership, teamwork, and collaboration.

If you don’t have the time to create a team building session, hire an expert. Consultants typically come to your offices; but you can also go on a retreat where you’ll rent a hotel and fill the day with games the consultants will facilitate.

There are plenty companies who organize team building games, like Eagle’s Flight and Human Synergistics.

Go on a company retreat

This options is the best if you’re a remote company and people know each other only through their screens. You can pick a destination, rent a mansion on Airbnb, and fly everybody in. Then you can mix team building games, fun activities, and work.

Folks at HelpScout and Buffer do this and have written extensively on the topic so make sure to read about their experience and hear what advice they have.

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