The 9 Secrets to the Best Team Building Activity

What is the best team building activity? Well, it depends on your team and what you want to do. Learn how to create it by yourself here.

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In this article, I want to explain the rules to find the best team building activity for your team. Most articles about team building just throw at you a list of things you may do, but most – if not all – of those may not apply to your team. Instead, here I want you to show you the criteria you should use to create or pick the best team building activity specific for your team.

How to Select the Best Team Building Activity

If you want to identify the best team building activity, you need to keep in mind the needs of your team and the purpose of team building itself. If we want to be short, that’s about all you need to do. Think critically about these areas and you will select the best possible activity.

In this article, however, we want to dive deeper and will break down both team needs and team building purposes into smaller areas you should consider. Take this as a checklist: have you considered all these items in selecting the team building activity? Is the activity aligned with the purpose you want to reach? Let those questions guide you.

After explaining the criteria, I will also give some examples of the best team building activities. I won’t do that with a simple list because that would be meaningless. Instead, I will present with a case study of a team and then present the activity that meets their need, also explaining why.

Each section will start with a brief definition for easier navigation in the article.

Consider Team’s Needs

Accessibility & Inclusivity for the Best Team Building Activity

This is something most people taken for granted, or an afterthought. It should not be.

Your team building activity should be accessible for all your team members: they should all be able to do it without issues, embarrassment, or shame.

If one member is working remotely and lives far away from the office, having a celebrative dinner is not the best team building activity if he cannot attend. In fact, this would marginalize the remote employee.

Even if the company pays for travel and a night out at a local hotel, you need to remember that this is an extra toll on him and it is asymmetrical: his colleagues, living close to the restaurant, have just a small drive to get there and they are back with their family right after dinner. He, instead, is not, so he might feel as he is always going the extra mile for the team. This is an example of when accessibility is not taken into full account.

The other factor to consider in this section is inclusivity, ensuring the activity is pleasant for all participants, including people who might have different preferences or member of minorities. Sometimes, it overlaps with inclusivity. For example, organizing an airsoft match can be a great team building activity in theory.

Yet, if you have people with impaired mobility, they could not participate, or could not enjoy the full experience. Quite the contrary, it might be stressful and unpleasant for them. So, this would turn a good team building activity into a very bad one – and certainly not the best team building activity.

If you want to go the extra mile, you should envision the future and do not be stuck only in the present. Think about other new members the team might have in the future. You cannot be sure what they will look like, so you want to prepare an activity right now that would suit even special needs.

What you are trying to prevent here is having the team enjoying quarterly airsoft session as a great bonding activity and almost as a tradition, then have a person with reduced mobility join and have to halt such sessions. The team would feel resentment toward that person (subconsciously, I hope), or if you keep the sessions going that person may not feel truly part of the team.

Having multiple opt-in activities does not work either. The risk here is that team members will cluster: some will always go to the same activity, while other members will go to other activities, creating silos within the tam.

Time Constraints

In theory, time constraints are a type of accessibility concern. Yet, in a way, they are also different from the general accessibility concern we mentioned before. General accessibility is something constant and almost abstract, always present. On the other hand, time constraints are variable over time.

You want that all the team members have the time to participate in the team building activity without impacting their duties and without overwhelming them in any way.

Airsoft can be the best team building activity for some teams
Airsoft, if played in teams, can be a great time building activity.

The idea is simple: if your team is clocking 60 hours per week because it’s “busy season” (Big 4 Accounting Firms, anyone?), maybe the don’t want to have a 10-hours teambuilding session over the weekend as well. Or, maybe, they might because they are all young professionals with no dependent and they love spending time together and this would be a great way to recharge after such an intense work week. It really depends on the team.

As a general rule, if you have your team putting in significant extra-time in a given period, you don’t want to tax their extra-work available hours even more by placing them a team building activity.

At the same time, you don’t want to place such activity in the working hours either: it would make the team feel “we did the activity in the working hours, but now we have to do all this extra-time to recover the productivity that we missed by doing the activity”. With this mechanic, people may start to even resent your team building activity. And, when people resent it, you just cannot build the best team building activity.

The suggestion is to plan for the best team building activity outside of peak season. You might do it inside or outside business hours, but don’t do it during your “busy season”, whatever it is for your industry. A good approach might be to do it a few weeks after the busy season has ended: this increases the sense of accomplishment and bonding.

Where Does the Team Want to Go?

If you are trying to create the best team building activity, ask yourself this simple question: where does your team want to go?

Various team building activities can have a different set of benefits for your team. Consider that is the benefit or improvement your team needs the most.

Long story short, there is no single best team building activity, but rather a set of best teambuilding activities. You can’t do all of them, otherwise people won’t even have time to work, so you have to choose. How do you choose? Consider what your team needs the most, or what does it need with greater urgency.

Common team needs may include:

  • Relieve pressure or stress
  • Increase bonding and tacit collaboration (having people “just understand” each other)
  • Extend connections to other teams in the company (for company-wide team building)
  • Enable a new skill, that generally requires cooperation
  • Have better alignment with company values and priorities

Not all teams will have the same need at the same time. And, over time, needs change and you may return over a need you had addressed before. For example, stress may be cyclical, and the company may shift its values after an acquisition.

The Purpose of the Best Team Building Activity

In the last section, when we discussed “Where does your team want to go?”, we presented several potential benefits of team building activities. But how exactly does team building achieve them? How can you say that teambuilding relieves stress, why is that? In this section, we will uncover the components of team building that address each specific area, so that you can see how to best construct your own activity.

How Team Building Relieves Stress

Once again, we can start with a simple definition and then dive deeper from there.

Cooking and related activities can be great if you want to do team building
Cooking and related activities can be great if you want to do team building.

Team building relieves stress by letting people know they are working with other humans, reminding them that they are emphatic and that they will stand for them and support them. It gives a sense to every individual that “I can count on the team”.

If your goal is to relieve stress, you will want to create a team building activity that sparks spontaneous discussion, have people express themselves freely and share their passions and interests, and engage in cooperation. Since the work is causing stress, you want to steer away and as far as possible from work-related activities.

Here, a good thing might be solving some sort of puzzle or treasure hunt, or play board games in pairs. Don’t be shy of creating activity that requires brainpower (e.g., solving a puzzle), as long as the type of brainpower is different from the one stressed at work (e.g., if your team proofreads legal documents, you don’t want a reading-based team building activity). In general, prefer activities were everyone works toward a common goal, rather than competitions such as board games in pairs.

Increase Tacit Collaboration with Team Building

Tacit collaboration is one of the coolest things that makes your team nimble and agile.

With tacit collaboration, people anticipate each other’s move and can get things done proactively and with limited explicit communication. Team building helps in that by teaching how to read other members’ non-verbal cues.

Building this takes spending a lot of time together and learning to become dependent on each other. It’s hard to shorten this process, but there are ways in which the best team building activity can help. One of the key parts of this type of collaboration is being able to read non-verbal clues and read each other’s state of mind and mood. This can be even more challenging if you have a diverse team coming from different cultures.

Minecraft is the best team building activity for a young and remote team.
Videogames can be a great team building activity for remote teams.

A simple activity you can start is counting to 20: a team member says a number, then another member says the next, until you reach 20. If two people overlap, speaking at the same time, you start from zero all over again. Of course, no round robin sequence is allowed, so people need to anticipate who will say what when, and they need to read non-verbal clues.

Airsoft is another good one here, but it may harder do execute. If you don’t want to get “killed” in terms of the game, you need to trust your team. To avoid being ambushed, or perform an ambush yourself, you need to be silent and rely on non-verbal communication. Combine this with the adrenaline and the fear of mild pain caused by getting hit and you will create quite good tacit collaboration.

Airsoft can be great if you can make it with two somewhat large teams with 6+ members each. A free-for-all airsoft match is worth nothing in terms of teambuilding.

Increase Bonding with Team Building

Bonding and tacit collaboration goes hand in hand. However, bonding is more about the general feeling each team member has toward the others.

Team building creates bonding by enabling shared passions and interests outside of work to surface.

This is probably the most classic and best-known purpose for any team-building activity. It goes something like this: just get together, get to know each other, and form connections outside of work. Unsurprisingly, it is one of the thing people enjoy the most and tends to work quite well. It is also simple to implement, provided you know what your team likes.

A general rule always applies: think about activity that requires collective effort and not individualistic activities. Bowling, for example, might not be the best because it is played in turns. Still, it may be a good activity if all your team members are fanatic of that hobby. More commonly, here you find going for hikes, dinners, and even playing Minecraft.

Whatever you do, remember to keep in mind what your team likes. For example, almost everyone likes going out for a good meal, but are they really passioned about? If the team is really passioned about food, try to make them discover new tastes or new cuisines, or consider a cooking class to do together even.

Volunteering is another great option here: find a good cause shared by the team members and give them opportunity to volunteer for that together.

Bond Outside the Team with Team Building

For this section on the best team building activity, we do not need to add much. In the end, bonding is always the same concept, whether you apply it to members of your team or to the company at large. However, there are some attention points you will want to keep in mind:

  • You are operating at large scale
  • There is more diversity (because you have more people) in what people want to do and might like
  • Time is limited, so you cannot bond in the same way with a large team as you would with a small team

Normally, corporate-level bonding activities best translate into off-sites.

Best Team Building Activity to Develop New Skills

Team building can be used to develop new skills or enhance existing skills across the team. It is particularly useful for skills that require collaboration.

Team building helps to develop new collaboration-oriented skills by letting people experiment with those skills and get feedback.

Sailing can be the best team building activity to learn how to collaborate
Sailing allows your team to learn how to work with each other.

Most collaboration-oriented skills involve some sort of communication, either written or verbal, or a mix of both. Skills you can enhance with team building are presentation skills, customer empathy, and leadership.

A great way to develop presentation skills is to run a PowerPoint Karaoke. Divide your group into two teams: have each member of the first team prepare a slide deck in a couple of hours, then make each member of the other team present these slide decks they never seen. Everyone rates the presentation, but people do not know who made the slide (at least not everyone). Then, invert the roles. This is fun, and a good exercise on impromptu communication.

To develop leadership, give a problem to solve to a large bunch of people that needs to organize themselves. Do not give them any structure, and let leadership emerge. Of course, this will develop leadership in people who already have some potential. If you want to foster leadership in each individual, you will need to have a more specific approach that would go beyond the best team building.

Realign with Company Values

Finally, team building activities can be used to realign (or just align) the team to company’s values, especially after those values have changed or have pivoted for some reason or another, like market shifts or acquisition.

There, the most used approach is a seminar. However, a seminar with presentations is not really a team-building activity. Instead, what works best in this case is having people engage in team building activities where they have to showcase the values. If the company values empathy, go volunteer for social services. If it values leadership, let leadership surface naturally in problem-solving activities. Facts, not words.

Examples of the Best Team Building Activity

Assembly Line Cooking

Case study: the team used to work in the office but now works remotely because of the pandemic. Relationships between colleagues have been decaying, and the sense of trust has been eroding as well. A similar situation has been happening in other teams.

Assembly Line Cooking is a great way to spark a sense of shared purpose and let people learn how to rely on each other. It is producing large quantities of food through an industrial-like sequence of steps. For example: opening packs of rice, boiling it, washing many vegetables, cutting them, merging them with the rice, packaging it. All the food produced in this way is typically given to charity organizations, which can also help you organize such activities.

This activity is great because it involves many people, it let them rely on others (the one boiling the rice need to trust the one unpacking rice will provide him with enough rice on time, otherwise everyone else will be affected), and ultimately comes with a noble goal of charity.

A Minecraft Server

Case study: a team is young with members ranging from 20 to 26 years old, and it is dispersed across the world, with rare overlap of time zones. They work in tech and often must abide by strict rules and work under tight deadlines and they don’t get to express their creativity to the fullest.

Here, a Minecraft server can be a good team building activity. This popular online game is accessible for all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux) and enables to develop creativity. As the game progresses overtime (it is not a series of matches, but a single world that progresses as player spend more time in it), it allows to create a sense of bonding and of doing things together outside work. Additionally, since the world is always there and waiting for the players, even if not all employee plays at the same time they can impact how others will play later.

Additionally, Minecraft in its nature consists of creating the world you want by placing and creating blocks in the way you want. It is a good way to foster creativity and spur lateral thinking.

Sailing a Boat

Case study: a team of accountant is approaching burnout after an intense busy season. In this season, there have been many conflicts and heated discussion between team members caused precisely by the increased level of pressure. The team is dispersed across the United States but works on-site by visiting customers almost daily.

Have all the team members fly to a beach town and sail a boat. This will enable to re-build trust by working on a new common endeavor together, and the relaxed setting of a beach and the sea in general will help unwind tension. Assuming no one would suffer from being on a boat.

Hackathon

Case study: a marketing team feels frustrated because they do not have much work to do, all the company products have reached a maturity stage and they do not feel challenged in their work.

A hackathon is always a good activity, it can be the best tam building activity when your team feels they are slowing down with work
A typical hackathon is actually not much different from a normal work day in the way it looks. But the goals are dramatically different.

Create a one-day hackathon, where the marketing team launches and completes a new project from scratch. It may be envisioning a new marketing campaign, creating a new ad, thinking about a new product – whatever. It might be for the company itself, or even for a non-profit.

The Best Team Building Activity…

The best team building activity depends on what you want to accomplish, and what your team really needs. In this guide, you saw what to consider to create your own team building activity that suits your team. Team building is not the only way you can strengthen bonds in your team. Sometimes, giving a sincere thank can be a good place to start.

Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

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Alessandro Maggio

2022-11-03T16:30:00+00:00

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