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5 team-building activities that actually work

Team-builders that work

While most companies have their employees engage in team-building exercises, finding one that makes a real impact can be tough. Here, our human resources experts share activities that can improve teamwork for the long term:

1. Style assessments

What they are: Assessment tools, such as the commonly used DiSC® program, and activities that reveal how various personality types operate can help team members appreciate their colleagues, according to Marcia Mueller, a human resources consultant and area chair with the University of Phoenix MBA program.

When to use them: “Many effective salespeople use small talk to build rapport with clients, while analytical thinkers like accountants just want to get to hard numbers,” she explains. “By helping everyone on the team understand different personal styles, it improves teamwork.

“Improving communication is essential to team building, and I’ve found that personal style assessments work wonders for communication,” Mueller says.

2. Role-playing exercises

What they are: Another effective way to improve teamwork is to have team members trade places with one or more of their colleagues. “I call this cross-training,” Mueller explains. “Many conflicts in the workplace arise when you don’t understand what someone else’s role actually involves, so exercises that allow people to play a colleague’s role for a day can make a huge impact.”

When to use them: Cross-training exercises are especially effective in service- and deadline-oriented industries, according to Mueller.

3. Icebreakers

What they are: Effective team building doesn’t require spending a lot of time or money, notes Dee Sloan, a human resources professional and another instructor in the MBA program. “A simple icebreaker activity for a few hours can be as effective as — and certainly less expensive than — a corporate retreat,” she says. Popular icebreakers include word games, Helium Stick and Common Threads.

When to use them: Sloan suggests that, for teams with trust issues, icebreakers can be interactive and hands-on, and encourage real-world communication.

4. Team agreements

What they are: Writing a team agreement is a team-building activity that results directly in a concrete action plan designed to last well beyond the activity itself, Mueller says. “This is one of my favorite activities,” she adds. Working as a team, everyone collectively creates and writes down ground rules, plans for how to work together and overall team goals, according to Mueller.

When to use them: When a group has to work together over a long period of time, this is a great foundation to build upon. “The team agreement then becomes an operating guideline for the team to use to keep themselves on track for the long run."

5. Simulation games

What they are: Activities that involve teamwork toward a common objective outside of regular work tasks can reap real-world rewards afterward, according to Antonio Vianna, a human resources consultant and an instructor in the MBA program.

A favorite team simulation he’s used involves Tinkertoy® building blocks. “Groups get a set of Tinkertoys, along with instructions to make a structure of a certain height and width. But how the team decides to execute the structure — their end goal — is entirely up to them.”

When to use them: Simulation games like this are great tools for when you need to encourage problem-solving. They can also help foster compromise within the team, according to Vianna. “It helps build trust,” he says.


DISC is a registered trademark of Inscape Publishing Inc.
Tinkertoy is a registered trademark of Hasbro Inc.