Can team building exercises really be magical? Yes, I believe they can. And I’ve seen the magic happen. I’ve seen the cynical come in and leave reunited with belief in the mission. I’ve seen the disengaged come in and leave filled with motivation and enthusiasm. I’ve seen the out-of-focus come in and leave with goals and action steps.
But is team building usually magical? Unfortunately, no. I stopped being surprised a long time ago by the negative reactions of people when they see team building on their agenda. Too often team building exercises make people feel like children. And not in a good childlike enthusiastic way. But rather in a uncomfortable, put on the spot, middle school way.
Team building can and should accomplish positive things. And when it’s well facilitated, great things do happen.
Things Team Building Should Do
With a little magic and a bit of expertise team building exercises should:
- Inspire collaboration
- Increase participation from all members of your group
- Break down walls and open lines of communication
- Build trust through shared experience
- Increase focus on mission and inspire engagement
If you’ll accept my list above of things team building should accomplish, you’ll have to admit there’s real value in it. And with all that value it makes sense to make time to search for great team building exercises.
Fun Is First
Let’s develop a recipe for a magical experience. Here’s a list of ingredients you’ll need to cook up a successful program for your team.
- Fun – Think of what you experience when you’re having fun. You’re not bored. You’re in the moment and you’re actively engaged. Think of the fun times you have with friends or family; genuine, spontaneous and often motivating. There’s power in bringing these attributes of fun to your team building experience. When you’re looking for a program, make sure the facilitators you hire know how to bring the fun. Don’t be afraid to check references.
- Challenge – Appropriate challenge is vital to success. If your team has members with physical limitations you won’t want to plan a white water rafting trip. On the other hand, if you have a young active team that loves being outside that rafting trip might be perfect. Every team building program should be challenging in some way. You want to experience challenge, collaborative problem solving to overcame challenge, and the success of an effort well done. The best programs evolve from feelings of challenge, to confidence to exhilaration.
- Delivery – I firmly believe delivery is as important as content. A potentially great activity or great subject matter won’t meet your expectations if the person facilitating your team building exercise isn’t entertaining, engaging, informative and accessible. That’s a whole lot of adjectives! But they’re all important traits you need to look for.
- Content – Of course content is important. But I’ve saved it for last because the magic won’t happen without all the other elements I’ve described above. There are so many choices for types of team building programs with content ranging from build a bike to improv, songwriting, trapeze and more.
The Best Team Building Exercises
Ideas For Large Groups
Making team building magic with large groups is quite different from small groups. The best large group programs are specifically designed to work well with lots of people. Surprisingly, they really do bring people together. I’ve seen groups of over 1,000 share experience that makes everyone feel closer, creating the same kind of energy and exchange of ideas you’d expect from small group team building.
When I facilitate my own large group programs I ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be engaged and to interact. Music is a powerful way to bring people together. There are drumming programs, orchestra programs and the song programs I’ve already mentioned. Sophisticated scavenger hunts using smartphones and GPS are great ways to involve large groups.
Tips for planning a successful large group team exercise include the following:
- Create accountability – You’ll want to know that everyone participates. So make sure everyone has a goal or is part of a group that has a goal.
- Opportunity for leaders, followers and in-betweeners – Make sure your team event provides opportunity for people to succeed. For example, even an live performance activity in which presentation is important should provide comfort for all participants. Perhaps an introvert can direct or create a script but not perform in front of the entire audience.
- Beginning, middle and end – Too often team building exercises for large groups consist of a set of instructions given to the entire group, followed by….well…followed by not much! Make sure your large group program moves from introduction to active participation to a final task that must be accomplished. Make sure you have enough team building facilitators on hand to ensure success.
Ideas For Small Groups
Tips for planning a successful small group team exercise include the following:
- All of the above listed in the large group section!
- Rules for collaboration – When I lead groups I establish rules for brainstorming to ensure that everyone in a small group will feel welcome and honored. I have three simple rules: There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Since there’s no such thing as a bad idea, everyone can feel comfortable contributing. Lastly, if you do hear what you believe to be a bad idea, don’t verbalize that you think it’s bad (keep that to yourself). Different activities may have different ground rules but most importantly, make sure you’re creating a positive environment that supports collaboration.
- Team roles – With small groups you’ll have time and you’ll have focus to establish roles. With the best programs roles will evolve as your exercise evolves. If you’re making a movie there will be clear roles like director, script writer, costumer and actors. But if you’re strategizing how to get out of an escape room, roles should evolve as you plan your activity. Make sure that each group collaborates to allow everyone a vital role.
Regardless of your group size or who you are, magic happens when people have genuine fun. It happens when participants feel transformation through succeeding with a new experience, when trust is gained through sharing a challenge and when camaraderie is established by going through it together.
You can and should expect the best team building exercises and programs to have some magic. Don’t settle for anything less.