Team building 401: How to use team building activities to accelerate team development
The writer

Team building 401: How to use team building activities to accelerate team development

After spending several months apart due to COVID-19, teams are now engaging in team-building activities to restore their sense of teamwork.

Team building activities are undoubtedly effective in breaking barriers to team engagement and creating effective ways of working.

What’s more popular than team-building activities? The fact that it’s commonplace also means that most of these achieve average results.

Over the past decade, I facilitated several highly successful team-building activities.

Every team-building event is an opportunity to orchestrate team learning situations and conversations that enable teams to decode and embrace their performance and growth in an interactive, challenging and creative way full of celebration, energy, fun and learning while engaging with courage and vulnerability.  

Team building sessions are more than a break from work

Some team leaders perceive team-building events as an opportunity to take a break from work, play and have fun as a team.

That’s good. What if you could have fun and accelerate team development simultaneously? Every team has limited time to accomplish a lot.

Hence, why don’t you decide to use your play time to accelerate team development? There is limited value in taking a break from a stressful team situation and going back to the same without any hope of changing it.

Despite the popularity of team building sessions, some teams do not use them.

Many activities can be done during team-building events, ranging from simple birthday games to more challenging mountain climbing and trust exercises.

A simple Google search will throw up a thousand and one activities. Team building events can be organised in any space.

Certainly, an away day adds to the fun and colour of the event. However, team-building sessions can be hosted in the office.

They can be done virtually and several tools enable this to happen. There is, therefore, no hiding place for teams that do not engage in team-building activities when in fact they should.

Every team needs to team build:

Team building events are highly relevant for diverse teams that work together in a coordinated fashion to deliver outcomes. Well, this means most teams in organisations fit this description.

I have facilitated team-building events for a team of 5 and a team of 150 people. While there are numerous team-building activities available, it can be challenging to curate a set of engaging and thoughtfully crafted exercises that provide opportunities for learning and fun.

What do you have to do in a team-building event to make it relevant and meaningful? I share four critical ideas that can be incorporated into team building sessions to accelerate team development.

First, before organizing a team-building activity, clarify the reason behind it. Often, I receive requests to plan such activities, and upon asking, the reason is usually to help the team get out of the office and bond.

That is not enough. I often ask, where is the team today and where is it headed? What irks the team? What standing in the way of the team achieving their potential?

These will give clues as to what could be the focus of the team-building event. Then you need to understand the team you are designing for. The objective and composition of the team will then shape the choice of activities suitable for the day.

Second, get creative and design team activities that reflect the work of the team.

In a team-building session for a client in a fast-moving consumer goods industry, we designed an activity that simulated the work that goes on across an entire value chain.

Team members were doing exactly what they do at work but in a fun, low-risk environment. This practice unearths new ideas and opportunities that can be tried on the job.

It also shows areas team members have not been paying enough attention to. Do not simply pick an activity.

Think about how you can creatively redesign common team activities to fit your team scenario. This may mean changing the rules or the process. It’s a bit of effort but this makes the activity relevant and worth doing.

Third, give teams the opportunity to collaborate, compete and celebrate. Most memorable and fun team-building activities involve teams collaborating and competing against each other.

You can achieve more by allowing teams to celebrate their accomplishments in team activities. Creating a leaderboard adds to the fun.

I enjoy awarding winning teams, trophies, medals and some goodies. In the process, I have encountered some highly competitive teams who have challenged my rankings for certain activities.

Do not assume that team members are friends and colleagues so they will not take activities seriously.

I will encourage you to be clear about the rules of the game. In addition, have a VAR on the side in case some teams contest your decisions.

I have had to rely on video clips to settle which team won a particular activity. Be clear about what it takes to win an activity.

Fourth, reflect and harvest lessons for application. Every team activity from the simple to the esoteric is full of learning. Without proper debriefing, so much value is lost in the process.

This is where the work of an expert team development facilitator becomes very valuable. Facilitators can ask questions that enable team members to connect their experience in the activity to what happens on the job.

One of the essential things that facilitators also do is to put the team-building event in context at the beginning of the session.

This primes team members to engage for fun as well as learning. An expert team facilitator will support the team to define a worthy objective for the session, be creative in designing activities, create opportunities for collaboration, and celebrate and harvest lessons for application.

Although having an expert facilitator is highly recommended, it is critical to note that team challenges such as unclear goals and roles can only be resolved by the team. For more information on how to address these and other team challenges, please refer to the first three articles in this series. 

… of good cheer!

The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory.

The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice. If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Until you read from us again, keep leading…..from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

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