Team building can feel like a chore. This article explores how we can make these activities more meaningful and effective.

Strong teams are the basis for any successful organization. Because of this, companies invest in team building activities to strengthen the relationships between individuals within a team. But unfortunately, despite being well-intentioned, team building activities don't consistently achieve their main objective: to activate the behaviors that enable teams to work well together.

Reflecting on traditional team building activities reminded us of an old episode of The Office UK. In the episode, aptly named Training, a paper company called Wernham Hogg hosts one of its bi-annual training days. They've brought in an instructor called Rowan, who pairs everyone up for a team building activity that involves solving a well-used logic problem. Cringe-worthy comedy ensues! 

Tim, the show's voice of reason, is paired with the self-important and not-so-bright manager's assistant, Gareth, who asks many unrelated questions about the problem they need to solve. Ultimately, Gareth is unable to grasp the problem. He eventually asks Tim (who already knows the answer to this problem, no doubt because it was used last year) what the point of the exercise is. Tim replies, "We aren't learning anything. It's just a problem to be solved." Unfortunately, David, Wernham Hogg's (hilariously) insufferable middle manager, does not improve matters. He would rather force his employees to listen to him playing guitar than learn meaningful lessons about teamwork. 

It soon becomes obvious to Rowan that no one is learning anything, and the point of the exercise is lost. Finally, fed up and annoyed, Tim abruptly says he is going to quit. Rowan echoes his sentiment that the whole thing was "a waste of time" and also leaves. While this is an extreme example, it's a painfully accurate description of how many team building activities are received by employees who don't understand the point of the exercise. Team building activities are often nothing more than fun or sometimes bizarre activities that employees do on days off.

Have you ever experienced team building exercises that felt pointless, silly, or worse, a waste of time? In this article, we discuss how to create engaging and meaningful team building activities that work. We will also provide actions that you can use to activate your employees to work better as a team. 

Every Day is a Team Building Exercise 

Once-off events, like Wernam-Hogg's bi-annual training day, don't include learning experiences that contribute to team building and sustained change. Team building is a process that can't happen in one event. The truth is, getting your team to build a tower out of dry spaghetti to support a marshmallow will not help them to take concrete actions that will result in a cohesive team. 

Instead, try taking small and sustained actions using the head, heart, and hands in parallel to help your team bond and grow together. When designing team building activities, ask yourself, "What do we want our people to think, feel, and do as a result of going through this exercise?" 

Get to the Heart of the Matter 

You might be asking yourself, "In what ways does appealing to the head, heart, and hands result in a more connected team?" Barry Kayton, co-founder of Cognician, suggests that "Learning is multidimensional. Getting people to think, feel, and do something that involves the head, heart, and hands makes learning and change more effective." 

Think of your organization: it is structured to achieve specific goals with the help of a team using their heads and hands. Matters of the heart – how people feel while thinking and doing the work – are seldom considered. The messy matter of feelings is often assumed to be unimportant. However, the reality is that great companies pay attention to how people feel. It makes an enormous difference to their performance and well-being. Likewise, team building initiatives are unlikely to succeed without finding ways to appeal to the heart. Using all three elements in parallel is essential for sustained team development. 

In East of Eden, John Steinbeck suggested, "The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar." You want your employees to take action because they want to, not because they have to. If you only appeal to the head, like Rowan, the Wernham Hogg instructor, it could come back to haunt you.

Activate Team Building by Appealing to the Head, Heart, and Hands

Below, we will explore some team building activities that incorporate the head, heart, and hands: 



Since the term 'brainstorm' was coined in 1941 by advertising executive Alex Osborn, it has become part of most organizations' fabric. When done right, brainstorms can help teams generate and develop new ideas. Also, successful brainstorming leaves your team feeling energized, accomplished, and excited for the next steps.

To strengthen team bonds and collaboration, brainstorm regularly with your team. Consider connecting with your team to brainstorm a problem, challenge or project and see what new ideas emerge. 

Here are Osborn's four rules for successful brainstorming: 

    1. Focusing on quantity: Generate as many ideas as possible. Of course, not every idea will be good, but that's not the point. One bad idea can lead to several good ones. 

    2. Withholding criticism:  There is no room for negativity in a brainstorming session. No one idea is better than another. To foster a judgment-free zone, master the skill of saying 'and' instead of 'but' when building on someone's idea. The word 'but' is typically used to introduce an objection, whereas 'and' shows that you are open to new ideas.

    3. Welcoming unusual ideas: No matter how strange an idea may seem, express all ideas. Even eccentric and unusual ideas can lead to innovative solutions you hadn't considered previously, even if they're not always feasible.

    4. Combining and improving ideas: Combine concepts to create new solutions. First, identify which ideas are feasible, innovative, and well suited to achieving your goal. Then, piggyback on those ideas and, as a group, suggest improvements or similar alternatives. 


Make Caring Part of the Job

Strong teams have the same foundation – they look after one another. Here are three important ways to encourage a culture of caring in your team: 

    • Appreciating a team member: Take some time to reach out to a colleague and let them know what you appreciate about them. You will be surprised at how directly it improves team morale!
    • Offering support: When there is a lack of support, it makes a job harder, and an employee is likely to experience burn out. Therefore, regular support and one-on-one check-ins are essential team building activities. With this in mind, when someone in your team is struggling ask them if they need help. 

    • Celebrating wins:  It's essential to make a habit of recognizing individuals in your team who have exceeded expectations. To avoid demotivated and unproductive employees, celebrate achievements – no matter how big or small. Acknowledging wins does wonders for confidence and motivation.


Get to know your team

Meetings and never-ending emails make our workdays hectic. Finding time in your busy day to personally get to know your teammates might seem like a tall order. However, making that time to interact with them yields great rewards. Getting to know your teammates on a more personal level builds trust and mutual respect. In addition, knowing a person's strengths and flaws improves communication and efficiency. 

Most team building sessions start with ice-breaking activities that help team members get to know each other. So why not make a regular time to go out for coffee with a team member or your whole team to get to know each other. Use the time to share something about yourself that your team might not know about you. It could be a memorable experience, achievement, or even a quirky habit. While you're at it, share your strengths. For example, you may have a strength that your colleagues need to leverage in certain situations, or you may need help from someone who has a particular skill set. Again, sharing this information will only make your team stronger in the long run. 


Collaborative teamwork can promote innovation, increase job satisfaction, find solutions to resolve problems, and develop excellent soft skills. Collaboration also allows a group to accomplish a shared goal faster by leveraging a wide range of skills. 

Consider reaching out to someone on your team and asking them to collaborate on a project just as team members work together to build their dry spaghetti and marshmallow tower during team building days. Asking someone for help with a task will foster a bond and make the job easier to accomplish. 

Final thoughts

It's time to abandon well-worn team building approaches like flash mobs, chariot racing, and Wernham Hogg-style logic problems! Instead, real team building happens by taking small and sustained actions over time to create an environment where a team can thrive. In this article, we only briefly touched on a few of those actions. If you are ready for a more holistic team building experience,  why not try out a free trial of our Team Building Quest today!