Desperate to bring your staff closer together but sick of running the same old team-building activities? You’re definitely not alone. Today, I’d like to introduce you to five free and low-cost ways of getting your team talking, cooperating, and forming real bonds.
Forget the annual egg drop competition and endless rounds of two truths and a lie – it’s time to have some creative, competitive fun with your staff!
Teacher for a Day
Everyone loves a good TED talk. But why let the college professors and world-famous authors have all the fun? Invite your staff to present mini lectures, workshops or demonstrations about something they love or are especially good at, setting up a little stage or a mock “classroom” for them to teach from.
The content of the classes doesn’t have to be quite as inspiring or serious as a typical TED talk – if anything, the sillier or more trivial the topic, the more likely it is that your staff’s personalities will shine through. Topics could be anything from “How to Change a Diaper in Under Three Seconds” to “Why J. K. Rowling Stole My Ideas And Why You Should Buy My Book on the Kindle Store”. The point is to get your team to come out of their shells and display a side of themselves that their co-workers seldom get to see. Limit talks to no more than ten minutes to keep the pressure off, and be sure to give your staff plenty of time to prepare.
But what if your team lacks the confidence to stand in front of their peers and give a lecture or demonstration? Putting them in small teams could be one solution.
Over in the UK, we have a long-running TV panel show called “Would I Lie to You?” In it, two teams of three celebrities take it in turns to read aloud statements (usually embarrassing or outrageous) about themselves, which may or may not be true. They’ve never seen the cards they’re reading from before, so they have to think on their feet to convince the other team that they’re genuine statements, even if they’re complete lies.
It’s the opposing team’s job to work out whether the person reading the card is telling the truth by asking them questions and forcing them to elaborate. After the timer (usually set for 3–5 minutes) runs out, the opposing team has to reach a consensus on whether the person was lying or telling the truth. If they guess it right, they score a point. The process repeats until everyone has had a turn reading a statement aloud.
Even when it descends into complete chaos, playing this game at home or work is always tremendous fun, and allows for people to learn a great deal about each other. So why not queue up a few off-the-wall statements to go along with your team’s individual truths and have a little game show of your own to bring your staff closer together?
What’s the only thing better than getting to know your workmates through team-building exercises? Picking up a cool new skill while you’re at it!
Enroll your team in a one-day course to learn something that none of them has ever done before. This will take your staff out of their respective comfort zones and force them to learn at the same pace – as well as allowing for a few entertaining mishaps to put smiles on their faces.
It’s best to avoid sports or traditional “team-building” days out, as there’s a chance that at least one of your staff will already have some experience of it, so be prepared to think outside the box. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
– Glass blowing
– Cow milking
– Cake decorating
– Brick laying
– Sushi rolling
– Tightrope walking
You get the picture!
It doesn’t really matter what activity you choose, just so long as you level the playing field and that your team have fun together. Plus, at the end of it all, some of them might even come away being pretty good at the activity you’ve chosen – or at least have a fun story to tell their friends and family.
You’re never too old for a fort – that is, if you can actually build it!
Put your staff into teams of three or four and tell them that they have two hours to build a fort large enough for them all to fit inside. The catch? They can only use old newspapers and duct tape as their building materials.
The key to doing this, of course, is to roll the sheets of newspaper so tightly that they become strong enough to be used to construct a frame for the fort and support the weight of its paper “walls”, but your teams will have to decide between them how exactly they want their forts to look. If you want to take the activity to the next level, dish out some paints and paintbrushes so that your teams can decorate their finished forts, and judge your teams not only on the sturdiness of the structures but on their “artistic vision”.
This task allows employees to have a bit of fun by channeling their inner child, but the real secret to Paper Forts’ success as a team-building exercise is simply that, with so much time spent sitting together and rolling up their sheets of newspaper to build their forts, your team will inevitably end up chatting about anything and everything – without those pesky smartphones around to distract them.
My final team-building suggestion today is a little more business-focused, but it should also appeal to your staff’s creative side.
In teams of 2–4, your employees must devise an original business idea or product to pitch to a panel of business “sharks” (these can be any of your managers or other senior staff) who have the power to invest in them. The products your staff come up with can be as crazy or ingenious as they like, just so long as they develop a semi-realistic pitch, name their product and come up with a few sketches or, if they’re feeling especially creative, some prototype models.
Give your teams 30–60 minutes to prepare, then march them all into the “board room” to take it in turns to present their business ideas to the sharks and their peers – and survive the panel’s probing questions.
The beauty of this task is that it allows different personalities to shine, with your creative thinkers coming up with the business idea itself, marketers banging out straplines and ways to pitch it, and the more confident members of the group taking the lead during the pitch itself.
Rather than choosing to invest or pass on each idea presented, have your sharks choose the three best ideas at the end of all the pitches. Whether or not you want to reward those teams with bags of chocolate coins is entirely up to you!
If your staff have moved around a lot in their careers, there’s every chance that they’ve already been subjected to the same few icebreakers and team-building activities over and over. If you want them to stick around and become a vital part of your business, it’s important to show them that you do things a little differently.
Whatever activity you settle on, don’t be afraid to be a bit silly with it. Team-building needn’t be just another HR box to tick or an exercise in corporate fun. By giving your staff a genuine chance to let their hair down, they’ll be more likely to form lasting relationships that will help them in their professional roles, as well as show off skills that you probably never knew existed.
Good luck, and remember: Have fun!
Philip Kendall is the digital marketing and social media executive at RotaCloud , a UK-based startup that provides staff scheduling solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. A writer, blogger and lifelong video game fanatic, Phil is never far away from a keyboard, and has worked as everything from a freelance food writer to managing a team of writers for a Tokyo-based news and entertainment site.
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