Here are techniques, theory and ideas for designing and using your own team building games, exercises and activities, and tips for using the many free team and group activites and ideas on this website.
And here's some guidance about using games and group activities...
Team building games, exercises and activities help build teams, develop employee motivation, improve communications and are fun - for corporate organizations, groups, children's development and even kids parties. Team building games, exercises, activities and quizzesalso warm up meetings, improve training, and liven up conferences.
These free team building games ideas and rules will help you design and use games and exercises for training sessions, meetings, workshops, seminars or conferences, for adults, young people and children, in work, education or for clubs and social activities. Team building games, exercises and activities can also enhance business projects, giving specific business outputs and organizational benefits. We cannot accept responsibility for any liability which arises from the use of any of these free team building ideas or games - please see the disclaimer notice below. Always ensure that you have proper insurance in place for all team building games activities, and take extra care when working with younger people, children and organising kids party games.
Great teamwork makes things happen more than anything else in organizations. The diagram representing McGregor's X-Y Theory helps illustrate how and why empowered teams get the best results. Empowering people is more about attitude and behaviour towards staff than processes and tools. Teamwork is fostered by respecting, encouraging, enthusing, caring for people, not exploiting or dictating to them.
At the heart of this approach is love and spirituality which helps bring mutual respect, compassion, and humanity to work. People working for each other in teams is powerful force, more than skills, processes, policies. More than annual appraisals, management-by-objectives, the 'suits' from head office; more than anything. Teams usually become great teams when they decide to do it for themselves - not because someone says so. Something inspires them maybe, but ultimately the team decides. It's a team thing. It has to be. The team says: 'Okay. We can bloody well make a difference. We will be the best at what we do. We'll look out for each other and succeed - for us - for the team. And we'll make sure we enjoy ourselves while we're doing it'. And then the team starts to move mountains.
Using and planning team-building activities
People are best motivated if you can involve them in designing and deciding the activities - ask them. Secondly you will gain most organisational benefit if the activities are geared towards developing people's own potential - find out what they will enjoy doing and learning. Games can be trite or patronising for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff - again ask them. When you ask people commonly you'll have several suggestions which can be put together as a collection of experiences that people attend or participate in on a rotating basis during the day or the team-building event. Perhaps you have people among your employees who themselves have special expertise or interests which they'd enjoy sharing with others; great team activities can be built around many hobbies and special interests. If you are planning a whole day of team-building activities bear in mind that a whole day of 'games' is a waste of having everyone together for a whole day. Find ways to provide a mix of activities that appeal and help people achieve and learn - maybe build in exercises focusing on one or two real work challenges or opportunities, using a workshop approach. Perhaps involve a few employees in planning the day (under your guidance or not according to the appropriate level of delegated authority) - it will be good for their own development and will lighten your load. See also the guide to facilitating experiential learning activities.
Team exercises and events for developing ethical organizations
Team-building exercises and activities also provide a wonderful opportunity to bring to life the increasing awareness and interest in 'ethical organizations'. These modern ethical business ideas and concepts of sustainability, 'Fairtrade', corporate social responsibility, the 'triple bottom line', love, compassion, humanity and spirituality, etc., are still not well defined or understood: people are unclear what it all means for them individually and for the organization as a whole, even though most people are instinctively attracted to the principles. Team-exercises and discussions help bring clarity and context to idealistic concepts like ethics and social responsibility far more effectively than reading the theory, or trying to assimilate some airy-fairy new mission statement dreamed up by someone at head office and handed down as an edict. Fundamental change has to come from within, with support from above sure, but successful change is ultimately successful because people 'own' it and see it as their change, not something handed down. See for example the Triple Bottom Line exercise.
Ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc. Age discrimination is a potential risk given certain groups and activities, and particularly so because Age Discrimination is quite a recent area of legislation. Team-building facilitators should be familiar with Employment Age Regulations and wider issues of Equality Law and its protections against discrimination for reasons of race, gender, disability, etc. While this is UK and European legislation, the principles are applicable to planning and running team-building exercises anywhere in the world, being consistent with the ethical concepts.
Corporate events and social responsibility
Also consider the effects of team building and corporate events in terms of effects on employees' families and people's broader life needs. It is easy to become very narrowly focused on the organization and the community within it, without thinking of the families and social needs outside. Alcohol is another increasing area of risk for organizers of team building and conference events.
An employer's duty of care (and potential liability) at corporate events traditionally was fulfilled by ensuring no-one tripped over the electrical cable for the overhead projector. Nowadays organizations have a deeper wider responsibility, which is progressively reflected in law. Alcohol and discrimination are big issues obviously, but arguably a bigger responsibility for employers is to the families and social well-being of employees, which impacts directly onto society as a whole.
Today's well-led and ethically-managed corporations understand that divisive treatment of employees' partners and families undermines loyalty and motivation of employees, and creates additional unnecessary stresses for workers in close loving caring relationships, especially for young families, which have evolved a strong sensitivity to such pressures.
If you read about Erik Erikson's Life Stages Theory you will understand why parents of young children especially are not helped by this sort of work pressure. Thwarting or obstructing people's instincts - evolved over millennia - to be with and take care of their partners and young families is extremely destructive. Employers who have a blatant antipathy for these crucial life needs of their people are therefore socially irresponsible.
Inevitably strong work commitments put pressure on employees' families and partners. This is particularly so in big modern corporations where travel and lengthy absence from home is unavoidable in key roles. Modern ethical socially responsible organizations should be doing whatever they can to minimize these effects, not make them worse.
Where possible employers should reward partners and families for their support and loyalty, rather than alienate them by creating selfish staff-only events.
Laws are not yet clearly defined about the employer's liabilities arising from such situations, however there are clear principles (e.g., related to stress, duty of care, social responsibility, etc) which demand responsibility and anticipation from employers in this area.
Moreover, fostering a healthy work and home life balance tends to make organizations run smoother and less problematically, notably in areas of grievance and counseling, stress and conflict, disputes and litigation, recruitment and staff retention, succession planning, company reputation and image.
Risks and dangers of socially irresponsible events and activities
I was prompted to add this item because I received a question about the implications of running a staff-only dinner dance at a conference event.
If you are considering a staff-only social event - especially at night, involving alcohol, dancing, overnight accommodation - or you are wondering generally where to draw the line between working relationships and intimacy, or between fun and irresponsible risk, these observations might help you decide.
Implications and risks of organizing socially irresponsible events concern chiefly:
- Romantic/sexual relations between staff, whether extra-marital or not.
- Stresses on partners and families, and thereby on staff too, if partners are excluded from intimate social events.
- Problems, accidents, incidents arising from alcohol.
- Impacts on performance, management distraction, and staff retention arising from the above.
- Risks of litigation and bad publicity arising from any of the above.
The risks of running a socially irresponsible corporate event are emphasised if you consider a scenario containing the following elements. Do not run an event containing these elements. This is a negative example for the purposes of illustrating risk and responsibility:
- Evening dinner and dance or disco.
- Dressing up - especially black tie, long dresses (and whatever the women will be wearing - no, seriously..)
- A bar, or other access to alcohol (the more freely available then the more risk).
- Overnight accommodation.
- Heady atmosphere of achievement, motivation, team-working, relationship-building and general showing off (many conference events contain these features, especially those aiming to motivate, reward, entertain, etc., and especially events for staff involved in sales, management and the more extroverted people-oriented roles within organizations).
- Scheduled on the last night of the event (sense of climax, relief, tension release, "...Tomorrow it all ends and back to normal...", etc.)
- Partners excluded (for whatever reason - either because the CEO is a thrice married and divorced dirty old man, or because the event necessarily brings delegates together from a wide geographical area, which prevents partners attending due to logistics and costs).
You do not need to be a professor of social anthropology to guess that the above circumstances are unlikely to be a useful corporate defence against any of the following problems which could arise, directly, indirectly, or ironically if actually nothing whatever to do with the event itself - try telling that to the offended party afterwards...
- Extra-marital liaisons of various sorts between various people away from home, whether serial philanderers, or momentarily weak in the face of temptation.
- Seductions or more serious sexual behaviours resulting in a victim or complaint of some sort.
- Abuse of power/authority/bar-tab by a senior staff member, resulting in scandal when a junior victim subsequently emerges, and says it all happened because they got drunk downing umpteen free sambucas with the directors and then got taken advantage of.
- Someone deciding to drive away on the night three or four times over the legal limit and getting arrested or causing an accident.
- Damage to person or property, or violence resulting from too much alcohol.
You could probably add to this list. There is no limit to human ingenuity when behaving irresponsibly under the influence of drink and any other stimulants of emotion or substance. A socially responsible employer should be able to demonstrate they have been duly careful and diligent in minimizing such risks when organizing any work events.
Excluding partners from events...
Executives, managers and employees of successful organizations hopefully love their work. They live and breathe it, which is great - but what about the partners and families? Do they love the organization? Sometimes not. Overly demanding work is a threat to family life - and thereby to society. And just because a few staff members and crusty old directors can't wait to get away from their spouses (a feeling no doubt reciprocated by the spouses), doesn't mean that all employees feel the same way. The vast majority do not.
Staging intense social staff-only events can be upsetting to employees' partners and families.
A modern ethical employer's duty of care and social responsibility extsnds to the families of its employees.
Divorce, separation and family conflicts and breakdowns are directly linked with many social ills. Socially responsible ethical employers should be doing all they can to reduce these causal factors - not to make them worse.
Remind yourself of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs if you are in doubt about the acute stress which arises when anyone is threatened at the level of family, loving relationships, home, etc. Consider the stresses and difficulties caused to employees' partners excluded from such occasions, and the effects which inevitably rebound on the employees, and cascade to children. These are truly basic needs and an organization which jeopardises these factors is irresponsible in the extreme.
Materials and ideas for teambuilding
Here are some examples of different resources which can be used in creating teambuilding events and activities.
free quizzes - questions and answers - trivia, general knowledge, and management and business quiz
free motivational and amusing posters - ideas for themes and maxims to underpin team-building
body language theory - provides an excellent angle for exploring relationships and perceptions
brainstorming">https://www.businessballs.com/problem-solving-and-decision-making/brainstorming-for-team-building-and-problem-solving-how-to-109/">brainstorming theory and tips
how to run workshops - tips for motivational, development and team-building workshops
role playing process and tips - for role play games and exercises
buddha maitreya's japanese garden and meditation centre - an example of an innovative venue for team activities and events
fantasticat - the Fantasticat ideas for motivating, teaching and developing young people - grown-ups too..
see also the free puzzles and tricks - ideal for team building exercises
and the training and business acronyms for more team building and training sessions ideas.
Easy way to start to the team building process
If you are a manager, supervisor or team leader, and are wondering how to select a team building activity, an easy and effective way to begin the process is to simply ask the team what sort of activity they would prefer. For example - do they want to play games, or would the team prefer to use an activity that focuses on a work issue, or work skills, in the way that workshops can do. Asking a team what they want to is particularly relevant if the team is mature and/or contains mature team members. Younger inexperienced teams will need more guidance and perhaps a list of possibilities to choose from.
Involving the team in deciding what activities to use is empowering and participative, and will help to lighten your management load.
Refer to, explain and remember the POB acronym, which is a great mnemonic (memory aid) to reinforce the need for all team members to be involved and engaged in team work - teams work best when everyone contributes - which means no passengers. It's the team leader's, or manager's, or facilitator's responsibility to structure and help teams to ensure that all team members have the opportunity and incentive to contribute and participate in team activities, and ultimately the team's success.
It is helpful to use and refer to these models when using, planning, designing, and evaluating team building activities or games:
Kirkpatrick's learning evaluation model
Bloom's Taxonomy of learning domains
See also the Team-Building Activities Evaluation Form and Outcomes Notes (Excel file).