For all its functionality, from handling onboarding to performance reviews, training, and benefits administration, one thing HR management software can’t handle all on its own is building a highly engaged, collaborative team. The responsibility falls to company leadership to unify employees across departments and to encourage teamwork and a collective commitment toward a shared goal.
Building a competent team that knows how to work well together doesn’t happen overnight. A company can have a powerful vision, well-planned business model, and structures in place to meet goals, but none of that will matter or even be possible with a team that doesn’t know how to collaborate effectively. In fact, 86% of employees blame poor communication or an absence of collaboration for workplace failures.
Improving interpersonal working relationships across teams is the key to boosting workplace productivity and ultimately meeting company goals over both the short and long-term. Teams that know how to effectively collaborate are more productive, with a study finding that companies that encouraged collaborative working were five times more likely to be high-performing.
Putting a focus on team building activities at work can a simple yet powerful tool that improves collaboration at a growing business. Team building activities for work could be as simple as having a weekly cross-departmental check in or as involved as a quarterly organized recreational activity.
For data-driven insights on using team building activities to boost work performance, jump to our infographic below. Otherwise, read on to see our hand-picked collaborative team building activities for work that will level up your company culture and employee performance.
Team Building Activities That Break the Ice
Perhaps the most essential types of team building activities for work, icebreakers are a great starting place for unifying employees. Icebreaker activities can orient new hires to established teams, but shouldn’t just be reserved for when someone new joins the team. These activities can and should be used regularly—even throughout the course of meetings or in training sessions—to keep teams alert and encourage people to speak up.
Use these icebreaker team building activities to increase employee interaction and lighten the mood at your next meeting.
1. Common Ground Icebreaker
Separate your team into small groups and task them to come up with as many things they have in common with each other as they can. Similarities can’t be based on physical appearance or common unifiers (race and gender, for instance). Likes, dislikes, and life experiences are all fair game here. This activity builds communication and can break down presumed barriers between people by team members with how much they have in common.
The challenge between each group is to find the most things in common with each other, beating out the other groups. At the end, groups will share what similarities they have, and everyone participating raises their hand if they too have it in common.
2. Toilet Paper Icebreaker
This simple ice breaker involves tossing a roll of toilet paper around a circle. Everyone is simply told to take as much as they need. After some laughs at the silly bathroom humor, the big reveal happens. For each square of toilet paper taken, each person has to tell the group a fact about themselves that the team doesn’t know.
This humor-based team building activity ends with employees getting to know teammates significantly better.
Don’t be surprised if one of the ‘facts’ is, “I don’t actually use this much toilet paper.”
3. Swapping Props Icebreaker
Passing props works best as a recurring icebreaker. Team members gather and take a few moments to share an achievement they’ve noticed someone else has made or pay a compliment to a fellow team member. Making prop swapping part of the weekly agenda can give team members something to look forward to while making each team member feel confident, valued, and comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas.
4. Three Shining Moments Icebreaker
Each participant in this icebreaker activity is asked to share three moments from their time at the company that are most important to them. Sharing work achievements between new hires and employees who have been there for several years can increase team connection, because recent hires can see potential opportunities of learning from longer-tenured employees, while company veterans can better understand their new team members.
This team building activity allows teammates to foster an appreciation for each other’s strengths and successes.
Team Building Activities that Encourage Problem-Solving
Exercises that encourage group critical thinking and problem-solving are among the best team building activities for work. Simple or complex activities that promote problem solving can help team members do their jobs more effectively and learn to draw on each other for ideas and support. For the 75% of employers that rate collaboration and teamwork as “very important” in the workplace, these types of activities should be prioritized.
These team building activities are lighthearted and great ways to encourage different perspectives, draw on creativity, and get team members collaborating with ease.
5. Reverse Pyramid
This team-builder works well with a large group of people—have the team members stand in a horizontal pyramid shape. Next, challenge them to flip the base and the apex of the pyramid by moving only three people. This activity promotes creative problem solving and challenges employees to be patient and effective in communication.
Dividing the group into even smaller teams can prompt healthy competition to see who can reverse the pyramid the fastest!
6. Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower
This activity requires a few props, but it’s one of the most popular team building activities for its ability to spark collaboration and engagement. Split a large group into small teams of three to five people, and provide each team with one yard of tape, one yard of string, 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, and one marshmallow. Instruct the teams that they have 18 minutes to make the tallest freestanding structure possible that will support the marshmallow.
The challenge fosters teamwork and should be ended with questions to reflect on the activity, such as “how did you come up with a strategy for the challenge?” and “what worked well and what didn’t go as planned within your team?”
The activity can translate to increased work motivation because it helps team members work towards a shared vision while providing real-time feedback to each other.
7. A Shrinking Vessel
This classic team building activity forces adaptability, which can help inspire team members to strive to be more innovative on the job. In a recent study, 43% of business leaders said that innovation was a competitive necessity for their organization, so integrating this type of team building activity could help companies come out on top.
In this activity, the team is required to occupy a space that continuously shrinks over time (this can be done with string or small traffic cones on the floor). Team members have to work together to come up with strategic ideas to keep everyone within the space as it gets smaller. The activity builds camaraderie while also challenging participants to be comfortable with change.
This team building activity relies on effective communication and requires a few sets of assorted Legos. Separate the team into at least two groups and have one person not in a group build a random structure from one set of Legos. Teams are then asked to replicate the structure piece for piece, but only one person from each team can look at the original build for 10 seconds at a time. When the team member comes back to their group, they can verbally communicate their findings but are not allowed to touch the structure.
Along with a nostalgic way to connect with team members, the activity builds skills in project management, efficient communication, and active listening.
9. Improv Number Count
This simple game helps employees learn to pick up on subtle communication cues. Splitting the employees into two groups, instruct the teams that the goal is to count out loud to a number that’s twice the size of their group (the larger the group, the more complicated this becomes).
Only one person can speak at a time, and once someone speaks they have to stay quiet until a new person says a number. If two people say the next number at the same time, the count must start over from the beginning until the group can work together to get to their designated number.
The participants are only allowed to verbalize numbers in sequential order and can’t do anything else to communicate (no pointing, etc). This forces team members to pay extra attention and become attuned to what slight communication looks like in other people.
10. Office Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts can be a great way to orient new hires to a company while encouraging team bonding. Split team members into small groups (ideally departmentally-diverse) and challenge them to find a list of objects hidden throughout the office. Give employees a set time frame to promote time management skills.
Scavenger hunts are easy to keep simple, but making the activity more complex by taking it out of the office or adding built-in challenges can further engage employees and support increased collaboration.
Bonus: Team Building Company Outings
Getting your team out of the office with company-organized outings can make employees feel more comfortable interacting with each other. Communicating on a personal level outside of the office helps to break down walls between team members and boost employee engagement.
Try out an escape room
An escape room team outing is a challengingly fun way to inspire teamwork, build trust, and facilitate communication. This type of outing can bring out various team members’ strengths and weaknesses as team members solve puzzles and hints to exit a room within a limited time frame.
Get active together
Organizing casual opportunities to engage in an active activity away from the office is a constructive, low stakes way to help teammates feel engaged and be themselves. Going to a trampoline park, kayaking, or even going for a quick group walk can energize employees and relieve burnout.
Volunteer for a meaningful cause
Volunteering as a team has immediate benefits both for individual employees and for the business on the whole. Research shows that 78% of US adults who volunteer cite feeling less stressed out, allowing them to feel better. Company volunteer days are also a great way to showcase your brand values while being active in the community.
More Ideas for Team Building at Work
Building a motivated team doesn’t end at setting up structured team building activities for work. Even small changes to a workplace can go a long way to strengthen connections between team members across departments and seniority levels.
Companies can make dedicated lounge areas with cooperative board games meant to inspire teamwork and relationship-building. If managers aren’t comfortable with outright having games on hand, making daily job responsibilities and tasks fun through games-based motivation is another way to build a happy, engaged team. Gamification strategies are increasingly being adopted to improve the employee experience, and 72% of adults say that using gamification at work would inspire them to work harder.
Other ways to spark team building at work include hosting office parties, field days, or even office trivia. For data-driven ways to build a happy collaborative team at work, see the infographic below.