Building high performing teams doesn’t come easily. Before you reach that optimal level, there will be loads of blood, sweat and tears! There are so many elements that we often forget, or don’t think about. Most leaders are aware of things like articulating the common team purpose, clarifying roles and responsibilities, providing resources, and regular feedback, etc. that go with inspiring a team – these components are essential, but don’t necessarily build team spirit, morale and fun. Building a team into a vibrant and energised unit should be filled with joy and fun for both the leader and the team members.

You may be asking yourself how so?

We learn through laughter and having fun, and it also helps us to get to know each other. To do this, team building exercises are the ideal tool. I can see some of you cringing at the thought of going to some remote place to spend the day drumming, hanging off a rope, paint balling, shooting or rock climbing. There is definitely a time and place for those fun activities; some outdoor activities might be linked to a deeper purpose of addressing an underlying team challenge such as low communication, lack of trust, accountability or collaboration. What do you want to address or achieve? Being aware that team building exercises should align with where the team is at, i.e. is it a newly formed team, an established team going through a rough patch, or a team that has experienced a failure and needs a boost.

Here are practical team building exercises for each team stage.

Newly formed teams spend time sussing each other out. They are observing others to establish who they like and who they don’t, which person they can trust, who the inherent team leader is, and how they can be accepted into the team. In the beginning stage, a team needs exercises that assist and support this “getting to know each other” process.

* Truth or Lie – Each team member introduces themselves to the team by saying their name and then one fact about themselves that is either true or false. The other team members have to decide if the statement is true or a lie. Depending on the size of the team, you can repeat this game three or four times. It breaks the ice and allows people to get to know one another in a fun way.

* Blind Drawing – Seat two people back-to-back on chairs. Give one a pen and a piece of paper and the other a picture of a simple image. The person holding the picture has to describe the image to the other person without using any of words associated with the image.. The other person has to draw the image based on what he or she hears. This team building exercise is ideal for enhancing communication skills and collaboration.

Established teams who have been together for a while may get accustomed to each other to such an extent that they will understand one another without too much communication. The potential downfall is that the team may operate in their comfort zone without stretching or challenging each other’s thinking.

* Barter Puzzle – This exercise is best for small teams of up to 16 people. Divide the teams into three or four equal sized groups. Each group receives a different jigsaw puzzle of the same difficulty level to complete. The aim is to complete the puzzle in the fastest time. However, some pieces are mixed up with another team’s and they will desperately need those missing pieces to finish the puzzle first. Collectively as a team they will need to agree on how to barter for those pieces.

* Flow Moments – This is a more serious activity, where everybody shares activities and tasks where they lose total track of time. These will be moments where the challenge and the stimulation meet each other at a sweet spot. Share these moments and chat about how everyone can have them more often which will transform the team’s performance and bring in a magical fresh energy.

Every team experiences a low point where all energy and performance has been drained because of an unexpected mistake that was made. This mistake will have knocked the wind out of the team’s mojo. How and why the mistake occurred is not relevant, but what is important is to allow the team a time to “mope” and lick their wounds and thereafter the onus is on the leader to shift gears and get the team firing on all cylinders. Two team building exercises for this stage are:

* Strengths finder – Give the team a pack of blank cards, and ask each team member to write down one strength on each card that they feel the team has. In the end, collect all the cards and tally them up to show which are the most common strengths. The team must then discuss how they can bring alive what’s natural to them.

* Savouring – Taking Post-it® notes, let each team member write down up to three projects that the team was involved in where they delivered a phenomenal job. Remind the team of past successes and collect evidence so that they can and will experience these moments again which will help them to savour the past and move positively into the future.

In closing, team building exercises are important to build team spirit be it in a newly formed or experienced team. They shake up the energy, bring in fun and laughter, enhance team collaboration, open discussions on unpleasant topics, and stimulate innovative thinking.

Try it!

If you would like more ideas and exercises, or for us to build up happiness in your workplace, contact us at