Chapter 5

The 12 Best Team Building Exercises

Check out our handy guide to the best team beam building exercises that you can try out today with your colleagues.

Heather Harper

Written by Heather Harper

Last updated: Mar 30, 2020

In this chapter you'll discover the 12 best team building exercises according to...well, us.

According to business coach Dr. Carl Robinson, one of the most important aspects of any high-performing team is that each individual is able to feel like safely offering their opinions, challenge one another, and, most importantly, give each other praise.

In psychological terms, this is a construct known as ‘psychological safety’. There is an abundance of research evidence to suggest that teams with increased psychological safety have better learning behaviour, trust and overall team performance.

However, despite the noted importance of psychological safety, it can be difficult to create with any team, especially large groups when members might often feel like just another face in the crowd.

But with a small group, you can encourage a level of interaction and engagement that would be impossible to achieve if you had a dozen or more people together.

So, we recommend getting a small group together and practicing promoting psychological safety.

To quickly create that sense of familiarity and cohesion within your team, try out these following team building exercises designed specifically for smaller teams.


If your team is working remotely at the moment then you should check out our 7000 word guide on remote team building games and activities for virtual teams. In there you'll find 40 ideas with instructions that you can try with your newly remote team.


1) Who am I?

Objective: To improve communication and team bonding

Participants: 6 to 12 people

Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hours

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: Pen and paper per participant

who am i

Chances are, you’ve most definitely heard of this team building activity before.

Most of your team will have played it at family or social events, so it’s a great exercise to bring into the office… just without the same amount of alcohol or family drama!

We love this exercise so much because it's simple, yet fun, and encourages everyone to think outside the box.

Instructions

  1. Get everyone to write down the name of a well-known figure onto a piece of paper.
  2. Without looking at the name, another participant sticks the paper onto their forehead.
  3. Once everyone has a well-known figure on their forehead, they must try to figure out who they are by asking the group various questions.
  4. Go around the players in a circle, each time the player can ask one question to the rest of the group.
  5. Go around the circle as many times as it takes until someone guesses who they are - that person is the winner.

2) “What if…” scenarios

Objective: To promote creative problem solving

Participants: 4 to 12 people

Duration: 20 to 40 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: None (except your imagination!)

what if scenarios

“What if” scenarios have long been a favourite team building activity for many business leaders and managers because they’re great at getting everyone talking and applying their creative thinking skills at the same time - which is exactly why we love this exercise!

Instructions

  1. Pick a scenario of a hypothetical situation.
  2. A popular version of this game is the “Sinking Boat” scenario, where participants are invited to imagine themselves on a sinking boat with a variety of people (like a doctor, a parent, a teacher and a sports star for example) and are challenged with figuring out who they would save first.
  3. Everyone is then given a couple of minutes to discuss what they’d do and why.
  4. Another great version of this game is the “Stranded Island” scenario, in this case, everyone is (as the name suggests) stranded on an island and they’re all allowed to bring one office item with them to survive.
  5. The group then has to role-play out what they would do and how’d they work together.

3) Pay It Forward

Objective: To increase team bonding and confidence building

Participants: 6 to 12 people

Duration: 10 to 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: Pen and paper per participant

pay it forward

As human beings, we are naturally wired to crave recognition and appreciation for our accomplishments, especially in the workplace.

According to Work.com, 78% of workers say that being recognized by their peers is one of the primary motivators when it comes to working.

But it can be very hard to find the space to give someone a thoughtful compliment, no matter how much they may deserve it.

This is when this particular team building activity comes in handy, and is highly recommended for anyone looking to increase the level of camaraderie and intimacy amongst their team.

Instructions

  1. Gather everyone in a circle.
  2. Get everyone to look at the person to their right.
  3. Everyone must write three positive things about that person (they can be anything from a good work quality, a joke they once made or how they performed on a task).
  4. Once everyone has written their note, give the whole group a few minutes to read their note and to think about what the other person has said in silence.

4) Minefield

Objective: **To improve communication skills and collaboration **

Participants: 4 to 10 people

Duration: 30 to 45 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: A blind fold and some random items

minefield

This exercise is fun and gets all team members involved, hence why we love it so much.

We think this exercise works perfectly for teams who aren’t that well acquainted and it focuses on trust, teamwork and collaboration.

Instructions

  1. Skatter some random items on the floor.
  2. Blindfold one person and task them with making it to the other side of the room without touching any the items.
  3. The rest of the team have to verbally guide the player to the objective without setting off any of the “mines.”

5) Spectrum mapping

Objective: Promotes communication skills and confidence building

Participants: 5 to 30 people

Duration: 30 to 60 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: Several pads of sticky notes, pens and a whiteboard

spectrum mapping

Not only does this activity give people a chance to flex their creativity muscles and give people a space to speak up and share their ideas, but you might even unearth a whole heap of ideas on how to improve your business.

We love this exercise so much because as a team building activity, spectrum mapping is fantastic in giving people the space to speak up and share their ideas without fear of criticism.

For the business, this can be a powerful way to find out what employees are thinking and discover some unconventional ideas you may have never even thought about before.

Instructions

  1. Write on the whiteboard a topic that is related to your business that you want a diverse range of opinions and ideas on. It can be anything from “next product the company should develop” to “what can we do to improve the workplace?”.
  2. Set a two-minute timer and have everyone back to back, drawing or writing down as many ideas as they possibly can.
  3. Once the time is up, go around the room and have each person present their list of ideas and stick it onto the whiteboard.
  4. When everyone has placed their ideas, work together as a group to see if you can group certain ideas together under a single category or arranging all the sticky notes in a horizontal line based on how similar the ideas are to each other.

6) Catch!

Objective: To highlight the importance of teamwork and working together in a fast-paced ball game

Participants: 10 to 25 people

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: A ball or beanbag (or something similar that is safe to toss)

catch!

Catch! Is one of our favourite team building exercises because it focuses mainly on teamwork and communication. Teams that demonstrate good teamwork have been shown over, and over, again to have better productivity, organisational culture and job satisfaction.

Based on this, it is crucial that you ensure your team can work well together, and this exercise is just the way to do it!

Instructions

  1. Arrange your team into a large circle.
  2. Give the ball/beanbag to anyone in the circle and ask that person to throw the ball to any other person in the circle.
  3. Continue this, with each participant always throwing the ball to someone who has not had it yet.
  4. The last person to receive the ball throws the ball back to the participant who first had it - this means the group has established a pattern of ball throwing.
  5. Have your team repeat the same pattern (i.e., throwing the ball to the same person as they did before) and then time them using a stopwatch.
  6. The goal is for the team to pass the ball through the pattern as quickly as possible. If anyone drops the ball, it goes back to the first participant to start again.
  7. Once the pattern is completed, announce the time and ask them how much faster they think they can get.
  8. Get them to do the pattern again, with the aim of beating the time.
  9. After this round, give them 3 minutes to create a strategy to vastly improve their time.
  10. Repeat the pattern, and time them again.

7) Count Off

Objective: To get participants to learn to cooperate with each other and have fun whilst playing a game with numbers

Participants: 6 to 12 people

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: None

count off

This team building exercise is a personal favourite of ours because it teaches the importance of cooperation and communication.

As highlighted countless times throughout our guide, organisational psychological research has continuously found that teams that cooperate well together and demonstrate better team work have better outcomes.

We recommend using this ice breaker on new teams or on teams who are not cooperating as well as they should.

Instructions

  1. Get your team sat in a large circle.
  2. Instruct your team to count to a number that is over twice the number of the people in the group (e.g., if six players, you could pick any number from 13 or above).
  3. Each participant may only say two numbers during the whole activity.
  4. Only one participant may say a number at a time - if two people speak at the same time, the group must start counting again from the beginning.
  5. Each succeeding number must be spoken by a participant who is not sitting next to the one who just spoke.
  6. No one may say anything during the activity other than one of their two numbers.
  7. The game stops when the team have counted up to the number over double the size of the group.

8) Floor Designs

Objective: Participants learn to cooperate with each other by creating a large image on the floor

Participants: 4 to 10 people

Duration: 10 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Materials: A ream of paper, pens, crayons and marker pens (enough for each participant)

floor designs

We love this exercise because it gets everyone to loosen up, have some fun and have a laugh.

We recommend using this exercise on teams who are not cooperating with each other as they should because the exercise places a strong focus on developing cooperation and teamwork.

Instructions

  1. Have each participant draw a picture on a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Randomly select one drawing.
  3. Have the group mimic the drawing on the floor using only the ream of paper (no pens, markers, etc).

9) Helium Stick

Objective: **To reinforce the need for communication and teamwork as participants lower a pole without losing contact with it **

Participants: 5 to 15 people

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes

Difficulty: Hard

Materials: Long and light-weight pole

helium stick

This is one of our favourite icebreakers for small groups because it’s active and stimulating.

It's guaranteed to get everyone laughing and feeling like they are bonding together - after all, they do say that laughter is the greatest medicine!

Instructions

  1. Get your team members to stand in two equal lines, facing each other.
  2. Each person needs to place a hand in front of them with their index finger pointed out.
  3. Place a pole on top of all the index fingers to that it is resting evenly.
  4. Get everyone to lower the pole to the ground without anyone losing touch with it at any stage (make sure you’re carefully watching to spot any cheats!)

10) Pass The Card

Objective: To enhance teamwork by playing a card game

Participants: 12 to 32 people

Duration: 10 to 20 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: A deck of cards, and a prize for the fastest team (optional)

pass the card

This activity is one of our favourites because it focuses on teamwork and adds a tiny bit of competitiveness.

We also love this activity because it energises team members, and research has found that when employees are highly energised, the climate in the organisation is of high energy; which leads to higher organisational performance!

Instructions

  1. Divide your team into teams of four to eight participants.
  2. Each team sits on chairs in a line, side by side.
  3. Place a deck of cards on the floor next to the chair at the far right end of each team’s line.
  4. The participant nearest to the deck of cards picks up a card with the hand closest to the deck.
  5. They should then pass the card from one hand to the other, and then into the nearest hand of the player next to them.
  6. The second player then passes that card to their other hand, and then onto the next player.
  7. Play continues like this down the line until the last participant places the card in a pile on the floor next to them with their second hand.
  8. No one must hold more than one card at a time.
  9. The first team to have all cards stacked at the end of their line wins (and gets a prize, we hope!).

11) Popcorn

Objective: To get participants to cooperate with each other and communicate effectively whilst trying to feed each other pieces of popcorn whilst blindfolded

Participants: 6 to 12 people

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: A blindfold for each participant, a spoon for each participant and some popcorn

popcorn

This exercise is a little different to other team building exercises. It’s a little bit silly, and with that means its a whole lot of fun.

This activity also promotes problem solving within teams, an attribute that we can all agree any successful team should have.

Disclaimer: watch out, popcorn might be a choking hazard if not used properly!

Instructions

  1. Have the participants pair up. Give each pair a blindfold, spoon and popcorn.
  2. While both are blindfolded, one participant feeds 10 pieces of popcorn to his or her partner on the spoon, one piece at a time.
  3. After they are successful, reverse roles and repeat.
  4. To add a bit of friendly competition, we suggest offering prizes to the pair who completes the challenge the fastest!

12) Puzzled

Objective: **To promote cooperation as participants assemble a puzzle **

Participants: 6 to 18 people

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

Materials: One childrens puzzle for each group (preferably with 20 to 50 pieces), an envelope for each group

puzzled

The final exercise on our list, but still in the top 12 of all the ones available out there (and trust us, there’s a lot!).

We love this team building exercise because it emphasises the importance of cooperation for team success.

We recommend using this team building activity on teams who are perhaps a little too competitive with each other, or with other teams.

Or, use it on teams who can’t seem to cooperate to solve problems.

Instructions

  1. Before the exercise, put all the puzzles in envelopes. However, remove two to three pieces from each bag and place those pieces in different bags.
  2. Divide the group into teams of three to six participants.
  3. Give each team a puzzle BUT do not disclose that the puzzles have been tampered with.
  4. Give the participants 5 minutes to complete the puzzle.
  5. Watch how they solve the problem of missing puzzle pieces. At the end, bring everyone together to discuss how they figured out who had what pieces.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Those are our favourite team building exercises.

We hope you've liked our list!

Try these out and let me know how you go.

Is there one that we've missed that should definitely be in our best of list?

Let me know in the comments below!

Heather Harper

About the author

Heather Harper has a Masters in Occupational Psychological from the University of Manchester. She currently works as an editorial writer specialising in organizational psychology - helping teams work better together.

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