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5 team building exercises that make a difference

'Dread', 'annoyance', and, 'indifference'.

Those were the top 3 adjectives associated with the prospect of team-building exercises in a September 2021 survey done on UK employees by YouGov.

Let's be honest we have all been there. Aren't we all a bit skeptical when urged to play those "games" that are supposed to bring us closer together and create an atmosphere conducive to more collaborations? Maybe it is because we feel like we have tried them all. Or maybe it is that they actually very often stay on the surface. Sure we share a laugh, but does that really deeply connect us?

two women wearing Windows branded sweaters awkwardly team building

In this post, we wanted to share with you some maybe less known exercises, which in our experience, truly help a group connect and relax in each other's presence. Contrary to what we may think, team building does not always mean having to share extensively or play sports together. It can be about learning to observe and pay attention.

The equidistant triangle

This is a really nice exercise to break the ice as it does not require people to talk and allows them to ease in, without the anxiety of small talk.

How to:

  • everyone stands in the room forming a circle. People are then asked to start walking around wherever they want, breaking the circle pattern for a few seconds.

  • Everyone stops where they are when the facilitator says so.

  • From where they stand, each person is asked to "pick" 2 other people in the room (they keep that information to themselves).

  • Once everyone is ready, they are asked to start walking around in the room again and to only stop when each participant has managed to form an equidistant triangle with the 2 people they have secretly picked.

  • It takes time but eventually...everyone stops.

  • Asked then for everyone to point at the 2 people they form a triangle with.

How is it different:

Just look at people's faces when they realize what happened when everyone slowly comes to a stop one after the other. It is a beautiful moment of silent and embodied collaboration.

Don't forget your name

This is a great way to get people to learn everyone's name and a fun challenge to try and accomplish at the start and at the end of the retreat to notice the progress of the group.

How to:

  • everyone stands in the room forming a circle. They are then asked to start walking around wherever they want, breaking the circle pattern.

  • The first time their path crosses someone else's, they shake hands and introduce each other by simply stating their first name and they continue walking.

  • The next time they "meet" someone on their way they shake hands but instead of giving their own name, they give the name of the last person they just shook hands with.

  • They keep going until someone they meet greets them with their own name. When that happens, they step aside and wait.

  • If done properly (if no one forgets or messes up the names) eventually there should be no one left playing as everyone has their own name given back to them.

  • Celebrate!

How is it different:

First of all, it is harder than it seems so people might want to do it again a few times to complete the challenge! It is a fun way for people to familiarize themselves with other people's names, as well as a realization that we often focus more on what we are going to respond, instead of deeply listening to what we are being told!

some blank name tags and pens for a team building exercise

Deep observation

Another one where there is no need to talk, this is all about being observant.

How to:

  • Ask people to stand in pairs and face each other.

  • The exercise is to truly observe each other for 30 seconds without speaking, paying attention to every little detail.

  • After 30 seconds each pair turns back to back and each participant changes something about their own appearance (untying their hair, removing a ring, or pulling up their sleeves..).

  • When everyone is done they face each other again and have to find what has been modified.

How is it different:

We usually break the ice by talking but how much time do we actually spend observing each other? This is a brilliant way for participants to remember people's faces and later on recognize a "familiar face" in the crowd.

A man in a white shirt staring and pointing at the viewer

2 facts 1 lie

A fun little game that tells you as much about the other person as it can tell about yourself.

How to:

  • In a pair, each participant shares 3 facts about themselves, except that one of them is a lie.

  • The other person has to guess which one is not true.

How is it different:

This is an interesting one as it raises the question: what are interesting facts about myself? It also creates great conversation starters for the rest of the stay.

A yellow line and 2 feet ready to start walking the line to play a team building game

The imaginary line of separation

We keep learning about each other without staying static!

How to:

  • The facilitator draws an imaginary line from one side of the room to the other

  • The facilitator asks their questions to the group standing in the middle: ex: who has traveled the furthest to come here? The facilitator then explains that the left wall represents "the moon" while the right wall represents "the next village".

  • The goal is for people to figure out where to place themselves on the imaginary line. They can do that by observing others and checking in with each other.

  • Add as many questions as needed.

The facilitator can decide to also go around and ask a few people to share why they place themselves there.

How is it different:

Instead of awkward and repetitive small talk, we use our bodies and the space to answer as a group, those basic and yet important questions.

Have you tried these before? Do you know more exercises that truly make a difference? We would love to expend this list.


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