Team Building Activities

Team Building Exercises That Don’t Suck

Guest post by Adrienne Erin

Most people would rather find themselves facing a random performance review than be forced to endure most quintessential teambuilding exercises. Let’s face it: falling backwards into your co-worker’s arms and trusting that they’ll catch you isn’t anyone’s idea of fun (and that’s a tame example, compared to some ideas).

Teambuilding exercises that expose people to physical, emotional or mental risks seldom work. Humiliating activities, such as forcing same-sex co-workers to bathe together in the buff, never do — and yes, that has been done in the name of teambuilding.

Why Certain Teambuilding Exercises Don’t Work

Teambuilding exercises are supposed to build a sense of camaraderie and trust among co-workers while also improving their communication. While this is a noble effort, many well-meaning people have taken the idea to such an extreme that the activities are doomed to fail.

This is because it’s impossible to force anyone to trust another person under the best of circumstances. When you add in the stress of highly uncomfortable situations, and then tell someone they must participate or be subjected to some form of professional penalty, it’s a recipe for disaster.

In addition, many teambuilding exercises are simply irrelevant to everyone involved. They have nothing to do with the jobs people must perform together or in harmony. Really, what does completing a rope course together have to do with the way the accounting department communicates with human resources? Do the people in accounting have to navigate an obstacle course in order to reach the human resources office?

Admittedly, everyone needs to step out of their comfort zone from time to time, but we shouldn’t make an exercise in self-growth an opportunity for public humiliation. We especially shouldn’t do so when the people who will witness the humiliation are the very same people who must interact with one another a daily basis! Instead of bonding, we achieve long-term awkwardness.

How Teambuilding Exercises Can Be Effective

With all that said, there is validity in the idea of teambuilding exercises. True teambuilding has a tremendously positive effect on the entire operation of a company, from efficiency in tasks and communication to improved customer service. The trick is to design activities that are relevant to everyone involved and don’t create embarrassing or uncomfortable encounters.

In order to be effective in any way other than providing some downtime away from the normal grind, teambuilding exercises should have specific goals. It’s vital to determine where the strengths and weaknesses are among the group as a whole. How do those strengths and weaknesses affect overall performance? How do they affect the way co-workers interact?

Consider struggles with trust among co-workers. Performance suffers as several co-workers don’t trust each other to complete their individual tasks on time or adequately. Now, an irrelevant teambuilding exercise would be the falling backwards thing. Of course they’re going to catch each other!

Very few people would willingly allow someone else to get hurt, even if they personally disliked that person. Catching a falling person doesn’t prove you’re trustworthy with your responsibilities, only that you’re a decent person. This exercise does not address the weakness and serves no goal.

Examples of Effective Teambuilding Exercises

So if the standard exercises suck, what are some ideas that don’t? Let’s stick with the trust theme for the moment. The goal is to get co-workers to trust each other with their assigned duties so each person can focus on doing his or her own job without worrying about everything else. Here’s a great idea:

Sign up for a noble charity or cause. A marathon or walk-a-thon for premature babies or cancer research is a good idea to consider. Enroll employees as a team and give each person a task. One person should be responsible for managing the team, one responsible for securing donations, and so on. No one is allowed to do anyone else’s job, but they are encouraged to problem-solve together and have regular meetings.

This gives the entire team a very real goal that they all share and support. It’s not about increasing sales, making money or climbing the ladder of success–it’s about helping other people. If they don’t work together or do the jobs they were given, it takes away from people in need. Your employees will learn they can trust each other and, when they work together, they can accomplish something for the greater good.

Suppose communication is the problem. There are a number of excellent ideas to improve communication among a team, but here’s a specific one to consider:

Create a mock survival situation. Everyone is on a sinking ship, but there is a life raft available and a small island in sight. The raft will carry everyone, but not much in the way of supplies. The team must decide which 10 items they will take off the ship to survive for an unknown period of time, and they must do so quickly. How do they decide? How will they handle disagreements under pressure?

It’s important to not overlook the basics. In trying to come up with fun, innovative activities, it’s easy to lose sight of one of the most effective teambuilding exercises out there:

Have regular meetings. They can be daily, weekly, or even monthly, but just be sure to have them. Encourage everyone to participate in some way and always yield the floor to the person talking until he or she is finished. Then, allow time for discussion. The more people spend time together talking about their common goals and actively respecting each other, the closer the team will be.

Teambuilding exercises, when approached from the right angle, can be fun and effective. Just be certain to have a goal in mind and to design an exercise that works toward that goal. Avoid placing people in overly uncomfortable or embarrassing situations, and never underestimate the power of getting everyone excited about the same thing.


Align values, engage and motivate with WooBoard; an employee recognition platform that encourages happier, more productive workplaces.

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photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc

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