Not all team building games are beneficial. When you’re planning team-building activities and reading about what games you can use, they might all seem good on paper but turn into a disaster when you actually try to implement them. People get bored, don’t understand the rules, or think the game is pointless.
When planning a team building session, you need to know the games will be effective and engaging. To help you get started, here are some proven hits I’ve used time and time again that both teach teamwork and help teams gell.
Your team members will remember these games for years--they’re that good!
Most of the games you’ll find online are either too short or don’t really 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.
Online searches will give you tons of ideas for games, but most of them are either too short or don’t really accomplish the goal of team building. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make use of them.
The most effective sessions involve a short game called a warmer that can be used to warm your team up and get them ready to engage in more constructive activities. This is where those online searches come in. Below is a list of some of the best ones out there you can use to get your team animated. These warmers shouldn’t last than 10-15 minutes, and should then be followed by the main game, which is a longer, more constructive game.
Game #1: Two Truths and a Lie
This game is a great ice-breaker for teams that might not know much about each other, but teams who have worked together for years can also have a lot of fun with it. The concept is simple: Everyone introduces themselves and then gives three statements about themselves. Two are true and one is a lie. The group then has to guess which one is a lie. You can even hold a vote. Encourage people to be creative and make the lies difficult to guess.
Game #2: Seven
In this game, have your team stand in a circle and start counting. The first person says 1, the second says 2, and so on. When you get to 7 or one of 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 (jumping, sitting, touching their nose, etc). The winner is the last one standing.
Game #3: Action Intros
This game is great for teams that don’t know each other’s names but will be working together soon. Each person says their name but adds an adjective before it that starts with the first letter of their name. They then have to act out that adjective. For example, a person named Bill will say, “I am Bossy Bill!” and act like a boss. Encourage people to be more creative and choose less obvious answers.
Game #4: 60 Second Speeches
The goal of this game is to talk about a set topic for 60 seconds without stopping. Choose funny or ridiculous topics and let people have fun with them. The facilitator can break the ice by demonstrating first, and then quickly going around to each person without pausing.
The main team building games
These main games are the ones that will really help your team bond and build camaraderie. What all main games should have in common is a set task or goal that participants have to work together on to complete. Like the warmer, they should be entertaining and engaging, but in this case, they also have a purpose. These games typically last 30 minutes or longer, but you can always keep the clock going if you see the participants are really enjoying them.
Always follow up each game with a wrap-up session so the participants have a chance to reflect on their collaboration process, decision making, what they learned, and how would they improve the process.
Many of these games will require handouts or props that need to be prepared in advance.
Game #1: Survival games
This game focuses on the importance of teamwork in reaching a common goal. There are many possible scenarios, but all of them have the same task: keep the team alive for as long as possible. There are many versions, but the end goal is the same. Here are some examples with links to resources: Lost at Sea or Lost in the desert, or Stranded on a Moon.
In all of these scenarios, each team member is given a list of 15 items, which they have to rank according to importance. Once each team member has completed their rankings, the entire team is given a new list. They must work together to agree on the best order for the items on the list. Once they’ve made their decisions (or time runs out), the facilitator reveals the correct ranking. The team must then compare it with both their personal rankings and the group’s ranking.
Usually, the team rankings match the desired outcome more closely than individual rankings do. But sometimes an individual is more successful. In this case, the lesson learned from the game is the importance of working on making individual voices heard.
Game #2: Bank Robbery
This game focuses on the importance of sharing information and placing value on individual insights in order to solve a greater problem.
The scenario goes like this:
Someone has robbed a bank. Each person gets a few clues from the clues handout (which can be downloaded here), like “Mr. Green was the only person who had a key to the vault.”. Team members circulate and read their clues to each other out loud. The team must then discuss with each other everything they’ve learned in order to piece together what happened.
Game #3: Building games
These games encourage teams to work together to carefully juggle resource allocation, planning, and task delegation to build either a tower or a bridge. In this scenario, participants are divided into two or more teams. Each team is given resources they can use to build something.
There are two versions, one of which is more simple, while the other is more complex.
In the simpler version, teams compete to see who can build the highest tower with the materials they’ve been given.
In the more complex Bridge Building Game, each team has to “buy” resources to build a bridge. Each team gets some money to buy supplies like scissors, glue, paper, etc. But there’s a catch--materials are limited. For example, if there are 4 teams, there will only be 3 pairs of scissors and 10 sheets of paper. Here is always pressure to buy materials before the other teams do.
The winner is determined by a jury who judges the bridge based on several criteria:
- stability (will it collapse if you put something on it),
- looks (how attractive/creative it is),
- and budget (how much money the team saved).
Game #4: Zoom
This game is based on the book “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai and focuses on communication and problem-solving skills. It’s Every page in the book is a zoomed-in aspect of another page. Each team member is given a copy of a laminated page. The team must communicate with each other to discover who has the missing pieces. They then have to work together to arrange the pages in the correct order.
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 only one lifeboat and it only has room for y 8 people. The team has just 15 minutes to decide together who is worth rescuing and who will be left to drown.
The people on the list are morally ambiguous and there is no right or wrong answer. For example, who is worth more? Billy, a 16-year-old who steals? Or Tom, a 41-year-old war hero who hears voices? Expect a lot of discussion on ethics and some strong opinions!
The final list doesn’t matter. The point of the game is for people to reach a consensus through negotiation within 15 minutes before everyone dies.
Download the handout for the lifeboat game.
Game #6: Faraway Kingdom
People will hate this game, which is exactly why they can learn so much from it. This 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 for the answer, the whole time getting more and more anxious.
The point of the game is for someone from the working group to brief the waiting group on what’s going on and realistically manage their expectations. Of course, you as a facilitator don’t tell them that. They have to figure out that part on their own.
In this game, the wrap-up discussion is the most important part because it demonstrates how important feedback is.
Read more about our experience with this team building game here.
The Big Book of Team Culture
Other team-building options
Team building sessions and team building games are great solutions if your time and resources are limited. But if you really want people to bond, get them out of the office.
"Nothing beats a pub lunch or regular walks to the local coffee shop. Throwing an epic Christmas party offers good laughs for years to come." — Cam Lee, Rock Agency
This doesn’t necessarily mean take them outdoors It means take them outside the usual surroundings they cohabit day in and day out. Make it an experience!
Here are three ideas for getting out of the office:
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 everyone, and let them have fun.
Choose something active that will encourage people to mingle. You can go on a hike, a conference, do a room escape, organize a scavenger hunt, visit an obstacle course, or play a team sport (bowling, shooting, basketball, rowing, paintball) or a video game (Overwatch, League of Legends).
Just make sure there are a clear start and finish, and that people have a chance to interact with one another. This means not going to the movies or something similar where people are passive and aren’t encouraged to interact with one another.
Hire a consultant
If you don’t have the time to create a team-building session, hire an expert. Big companies typically have an HR specialist who creates and runs team-building sessions, or else they hire consultants to teach their team about leadership, teamwork, and collaboration.
These consultants typically come to your premises. But if you’d rather get out of the office, you can also organize a one day retreat. You can rent space at a hotel or another venue and leave it to the consultant to facilitate games and discussions.
Go to a company retreat
This is an excellent option for companies that work remotely and team members only know each other through their screens. You can pick a destination, rent a large venue on Airbnb, and fly everybody in. Then you can mix team building games, fun activities, and work.
The folks at HelpScout and Buffer have lots of experience organizing events like these and have written extensively on the topic. They offer a wealth of advice and information to help you get started.