Anytime you’ve been in a group, especially at work or school, you’ve probably been subjected to some ridiculous team building activities that were really boring, not affective, or both. If team exercises are done right, they can be beneficial and non-painful. What does it take for true team building and what types of things can you do that will actually work?

One idea is back to back drawing. Break the group up into pairs and have them sit on the floor. Give one partner a simple image and the other partner a pen and paper. Ask the person holding the image to give verbal instructions to their partner on how to draw it; then have them compare it to the actual image. This will reveal how well the employees can communicate verbally, how well they listen to instructions, and any potential communication issues that can be related to more important scenarios.

Another activity could be a survival scenario. Tell the group that their airplane has crashed and they are stuck on a lifeboat in the ocean and they can take 12 items with them to survive on an island. They need to decide amongst themselves what they will take. Listen to how they decide and rank items. What seems important to them? Do they work together and compromise or do they argue? This activity promotes interaction and agreement.

The stereotype party is a way to eliminate labeling. Write different professions on nametags and tape them to people’s backs. Then have everyone ask stereotype based questions of other people: Am I a man/woman? Am I an entertainer? Do I make a lot of money? Only allow yes or no answers and see if anyone can guess what their roles are.  This will help people realize that there can be misconceived notions about certain roles and they should be open to characteristics that don’t always fit the stereotype.

One thing that won’t work is to only do these activities once or a twice a year. You should incorporate them more often (and as your team gets to know each other, they can be more task related), maybe once a month. This should be a continuous process that has “refresher courses” every now and then.

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