Team building games and activities (in or out of the office), by definition, are activities that enhance social relations, define roles within teams, expose and address interpersonal problems within the group, as well as improve performance in a team-based environment. Team building games and activities, in reality, are activities that make employees roll their eyes and/or get back into their high school roles again, bosses check their phones more often than usual, and HR managers become frantically enthusiastic. If you’ve ever watched The Office, you know what I’m talking about.
During the week, especially in winter time, things can get a bit grim and tense. People tend to lose focus and motivation in the last quarter of the year, due to the glutting of tasks and tons of deadlines. That’s why we chose to share with you five of our favorite office games, which have saved our day more times than we can count. We’re providing you with several ideas about how to shake your team up inside the office – with minimal resources, and as much time as anyone can afford once in a while. The purpose of these is to shift the attention from complicated problems for a little while, engage the brain with something totally different but equally demanding, entertain, and, eventually, refresh and energize everyone engaged. Plus – they’re cheap.
Clap – Clap
Participants: At least 3
Duration: Anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours
I don’t really know if this one has a name, so we just call it “clap – clap” or “the clap game.” It is the simplest one – you can play it anywhere, it can fit into your lunch break, and you don’t need anything but a pair of hands. It is our favorite one, too.
First, everyone should stand in a circle. One person (Person 0) starts the game by simply doing a single clap and saying the direction in which the clapping will continue. The next person in that direction (Person 1) should clap next. Now, there are two options: if Person 1 claps once, the clapping goes on to Person 2; but if he or she claps twice (quickly), the clapping changes direction, and the person before (Person 0) is supposed to continue – so if Person 0 now claps once, the person before (Person -1) continues. The general rule: one clap = continue in the current direction; two claps = change direction.
The clapping is supposed to be fast and almost reflexive, so that you could easily make a mistake, and therefore it forces you to focus more. The one who makes a mistake (e.g. claps after someone who changed the direction) is out of the game – so the number of participants goes down until ultimately two of them win. In the meantime, the outcasts can cheer or try to distract them (but hey, no clapping!), or do whatever until the next round, if you decide to have one (you will).
Participants: Enough for at least 2 teams + the Leader
Requires: A whole lot of Legos, and a timer
Duration: 15 to 30 minutes
Before the beginning of the game, the Leader (or his/her kid at home) builds a Lego structure away from the rest of the participants. It shouldn’t be too complicated, but not too simple either. The game starts when one person from each team comes and sees the structure. They come together and have ~10 seconds for observation (no notes, sketches or photos allowed!). Then they go back to their team and try to explain what they saw. The goal of each team is to recreate the Leader’s design as closely as possible, based on the memory of their colleague. All teams have a set amount of time to do this – 10, 15, 20 minutes, you name it (if the Leader was creative with his or her structure, it usually takes a bit more). At the end of this period, the alarm rings and all teams present their creations. The one that looks the most like the original sculpture wins.
WorkPuls Tip: Make sure to remove all the Legos after the game safely because… you know.
Participants: 3 or more
Requires: Papers, pens/markers, and a large table (conference room will do)
Duration: 15 to 20 minutes
Seat everyone around the table and give each person a piece of paper and something to draw with. Tell them that you want them to follow your instructions word for word; they may not ask questions, and they may not look at anyone else’s paper during the exercise.
First, tell them to draw a circle. Second, tell them to draw a triangle in that circle. Third, tell them to draw a square in the corner. Lastly, ask them to sign their name on the paper. At the end, ask everyone to hold up their sheet of paper for all to see. Chances are everyone will have drawn something slightly different. At this point, you should ask why everyone’s paper looked different. You may get a variety of responses such as, “The instructions weren’t clear,” or “You didn’t allow us to ask questions.”
After this brief discussion, begin the exercise over again on the other side of the paper. This time, tell them to draw a circle four inches in diameter, then to draw a triangle within that circle such that all three corners touch the circle with the triangle pointing up. Then ask them to draw a square in the top right-hand corner, roughly one inch wide and one inch tall. Lastly, ask everyone to sign their name at the bottom center of the page in cursive. After you’re done, ask everyone to hold up their sheets of paper. This time, each sheet should be nearly identical.
This exercise is useful in the beginning of group projects, or troublesome situations that occur during them, because it demonstrates very nicely the difference between vague and clear instructions. Therefore, besides shifting everyone’s focus from current problems, it also points out the consequences of poor communication.
The Marshmallow Challenge
Participants: More than 5, split into teams
Requires: Spaghetti (uncooked), tape, and marshmallows (the more the merrier)
Duration: 20 minutes
Divide participants into two or more groups, then assign each group an equal amount of spaghetti (we usually do 50 sticks per team because the damn things break all the time) and tape (3 feet per team is fine), and a single marshmallow. The team that builds the tallest freestanding structure that can support the marshmallow wins. And oh yes, they only have 15 minutes to get it done, so get out the timer. The winning team, of course, gets the rest of the marshmallows.
This particular activity is a fantastic way for teams to demonstrate innovation, creativity, effective communication, and listening skills. So, if you have a team that is struggling to think outside of the box or needs to work on listening to and respecting others’ ideas, consider adding the Marshmallow Challenge to your next team-building day.
WorkPuls Tip: It can get frantic.
Participants: Doesn’t really matter
Requires: Printed picture as a model, papers, pens, markers
Duration: As much long as you want
Before you begin this activity, download and print a doodle of anything, from a cartoon character to a landscape of Tokyo (still, unless you’re a company full of designers and architects, we recommend you stick with something moderately simple). Make as many copies as the number of participants. Then ask all of the participants to draw an X on the hand they use for writing/drawing. Afterwards, give them the drawing materials and tell them to copy the original image as closely as possible, but with the hand without an X on it (this way it will be harder to cheat). You can set the timer in order to keep some pace, but it’s not necessary, since it’s not a competitive game.
The point of the game, besides relaxing, is to spark creativity while at the same time exercising the brain by using the non-dominant hand.
While all of these games help in situations when a constructive break is needed, there are differences in outcomes for each. Which one will fit the best for you depends on the type of situation, as well as the configuration of your team. However, our recommendation is to try them all – after all, more often than not they are extremely funny and creative. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the exercise is only going to be effective if you, as the leader and driver for change, know where your team should be headed, and what it is that they need at the moment.