If you’re like me, the words “team builder” or “ice breaker” cause you to break out in a cold sweat. Sure, the intent behind these activities is usually good, but they often end up feeling forced and awkward—like something you participated in as an 11-year-old at summer camp.
As a manager, there’s no doubt you want to proactively build morale and camaraderie within your team—but how do you do that in ways that people are actually excited about? To help you out, we’ve pulled together a few secrets for leading successful team activities and making the process a lot more productive and a lot less painful.
1. Take a Field Trip
Sometimes, the best way to get to know the folks you work with is to just let everyone interact freely, without a formal plan. One company I worked for had an annual field day, complete with food, silly games (that were all optional), and prizes. At another job, my team went on quarterly trips to the movies. Depending on how much time you can allocate to an activity, consider getting offsite and encouraging your team to get to know each other free from the confines of their cubicles.
2. Get Together to Give Back
Working together on a cause that the people on your team care about is a great way to bond. My company facilitates a lot of volunteer outings with local non-profit organizations that employees love. Around the holidays and back to school seasons, we spend days collecting and delivering school supplies for children in need, and we’ve also participated in programs to build bicycles for kids and have taken part in Habitat for Humanity builds. These types of activities create an opportunity to do something meaningful for others and provides a break from the typical work routine.
A great way to kick off this process is having the team decide, as a group, what type of volunteer activity they’d like to participate in. Take suggestions from your employees, and have everyone vote on which they’d like to do—you’ll get a chance to learn about what causes people care about before you even get started.
Can’t get out of the office for a full day? Try setting aside an hour for a simple charitable act, like writing letters to service members.
3. Professional Development
Learning and growth are important parts of your employees’ professional success, but they don’t have to happen individually. Have your team participate in a professional development activity together, and use it to encourage people to learn collaboratively. This type of activity can take on many forms—guest speakers, online seminars, and relevant publications are all great educational opportunities. You might consider inviting one of your company’s leaders or board members to present to your team, or have an executive from an outside company who can share advice and insights on your industry come in to present.
4. Share Your Strengths
There are tons of well-known team compatibility programs available that can team your team members about themselves, each other, and how to work best as a group, like Strengths Finder, Emergenetics, and even the Myers-Briggs Personality Index. These are fantastic tools to promote open communication and respect of different personalities and work styles. This kind of exercise often involves very focused learning, so it’s helpful to find fun ways to share each person’s results, like having people predict results for their colleagues, or asking everyone to suggest a celebrity or famous character who best represents them.
5. Show and Tell
It might seem like a flashback to elementary school, but when done with a bit of finesse, show and tell can be a fun, low-pressure way to help people learn about each other. I once worked on a team where, at each month’s staff meeting, everyone was asked to bring in something that reflected herself—whether it was a favorite recipe, an interesting article, or even a family photo. At the start of each meeting, we set aside 10 minutes to go around and have everyone share what they had brought. It was quick, non-cheesy, and a cool way to learn about your co-workers that didn’t require much heavy lifting.
Leading an engaging team activity doesn’t have to be stressful, and can be a lot of fun if you apply some creative juice to your plans. So don’t be afraid to try something new. Chances are, your team will appreciate a break from their typical routine and leave with renewed energy and a more positive attitude.
Photo of team building courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jessica Taylor is the annoying friend who responds "seen it" to every link you send her. After graduating with a BA in public relations from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Jessica went on to earn her MBA and is a corporate communications professional in Phoenix, Ariz. She’s reportedly allergic to cold weather and anything sci-fi related, and known to travel great distances to see the Red Sox play. Read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitter @JesDoit.More from this Author