Team Building - Activity of the Month
December 2010, Easy Knot
This is a great team building activity which challenges a group to think together, plan together, communicate and work together. It involves the team in trying to tie a simple knot in a rope. With many teams, they will jump right in, expecting the solution to be simple, only to find that it is more difficult than it first appears. (This is a good comparison to real-life projects that are more complex than they seem at first.)
Set-up is quite simple. You need two ropes:
- 10 ft. length of small diameter rope—3/8” to 1/2” dia.
- 40 ft. length of rope that is slightly larger in diameter—1/2” to 5/8” dia.
Use soft nylon braided rope if possible.
Join the two ropes together with a simple knot. Next, tie the free end of the shorter section of rope to something solid, such as a tree trunk, table leg, etc. You should now have the 10 ft. rope anchored to a tree, etc, and connected to the 40 ft. rope.
Have the team members all pick up the longer section of rope. Give them the following objective and rules, and let them begin.
Objective: Tie a simple overhand knot in the smaller section of rope—the section closest to the tree, table, etc.
- They cannot let go of the rope.
- They cannot change their relative positions to each other on the rope.
- They cannot touch the smaller section of rope.
The team will discover that they must move together to tie the knot in the long rope that they are holding. They will actually need to create the loop and pass team members through it. The challenge then is to somehow transition the knot onto the smaller section of rope, without touching the smaller rope or letting go of the larger rope.
Processing possibilities include:
The need for planning
Ask: How did you plan?
How do you plan new projects at work?
Did you have to adapt your plans as you went? How did that go?
How do you adapt at work when things are complex?
Ask: How were you communicating as you went?
How effective was the communication?
Was everyone communicating and participating? Describe it.
What are common communication challenges at work?
Ask: How was the overall cooperation in the activity? Explain.
When is cooperation critical in your real work? Why?
How do you encourage cooperation on the team day-to-day?
As with any experiential team building activity, be prepared to discuss any actions and behaviors that occur during the activity. Relate those activities back to their work settings. For example, if people get frustrated, discuss the impact of frustration levels on real work projects, etc.
August 2010, Giant Lizard Eggs
(Credit for this creative activity goes to our friend Sam Sikes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sam thought this up because he was wanting an activity that he could use bowling balls in. Well, as you’ll see, we have substituted basketballs for the bowling balls—a safer alternative. None the less, it is a great activity.)
- One basketball per small group. (The activity works best with several small groups. You can do it with a single team, however.)
- One 6-10 foot soft rope per person.
- A laundry basket or other receptacle for the "nest."
- Have the lizard eggs—basketballs—scattered around the room or outdoor area, on the floor or ground.
- Stage the basket in a central location. We like to elevate it somewhat for extra challenge. Setting it on an end table or chair works great.
- Give each team member one of the ropes.
- Share a scenario with the team, such as, “We have a real crisis here. A giant lizard has made a nest here—the basket—but her eggs have fallen and rolled away from the nest. This species is endangered, so we need to get the eggs back into the nest, so that she won’t abandon them. Unfortunately, the eggs are toxic. Fortunately, we have some material handling devices—the ropes—that will protect us from their toxin.
Objectives and rules:
- The team’s (groups’) objective is to use the ropes to transport the eggs back to the nest.
- Participants cannot touch the eggs with their hands or other body parts.
- Only the ropes can be used.
- The nest—basket—cannot be moved.
- Additional rule, if you want to increase the challenge—participants can only touch their own rope with one of their hands. (They will have to discover that they can touch/handle the ropes of their teammates. This forces them to get creative in how they use each other’s ropes.)
Processing points will include:
- How did we team together to accomplish the objectives?
- What was the communication like?
- Could we have improved the communication and teamwork? How?
- How did the group diverge for ideas?
- How did the group converge on a plan?
- What was done that was innovative? How? Why?
- What sparked creativity and innovation?
- Where at work do we need creativity and innovation?
- How can we facilitate creative ideas in the workplace?
- What was the team’s focus like on the mission? Why?
- How well do we focus on our real business mission, day to day? Why or why not?
- How can we create the focus needed to succeed?
June 2010, Obstacle Course
This is a classic team building exercise. (We used to refer to this as the "Minefield," but in recent years have preferred the simple name of obstacle course.) It is worth sharing again, as we never seem to run out of opportunities and applications for this great activity. It is truly powerful in highlighting the challenges of communication. It can provide excellent insights into the importance of trust and trust buidling within groups.
There are many variations of this initiative but the objective is essentially the same. The purpose is to get through the obstacle course, without touching any of the objects (hazards).
- Select an adequate space (in-doors or outdoors)
- Set you course up beforehand if possible
- Create your course by scattering objects all over your designated area.
- Simply use a rope as a boundary or place cones at the corners of the area.
- Good objects can include hula hoops, rope or yarn, beach balls, bean bags and even paper plates. Tennis balls work fine but realize that they are more dangerous if a person steps directly on one.
Next, organize your group into pairs and instruct one in each pair to put on a blindfold. It will be the sighted person's job to guide the blindfolded partner through the obstacle course without touching an object. The sighted person may either be allowed on the course next to their partner, giving them an arm for support, or you may have the sighted guide stand outside the designated playing area. Once they have made it through the course have them switch roles and try again. You can quickly rearrange the course if you want. Remember, the density of the obstacles determines the difficulty level. Another variation is to set your course up in a circle formation and have partners stand across the circle from each other. This creates the added dimensions of focus, distractions, and nobody to hold on to! It also can be set up so that the team could work together to get across. When an object is touched, create a consequence such as taking a step or two back, start over, etc. Emphasize quality in the process!
- Evaluate your group before laying out the course. Balance is a key factor here. Very overweight, older people, and those with injuries may have trouble balancing. Also, remember that balls can cause an ankle sprain. Caution people not to step on the balls and not to kick them into someone else's path.
- Caution the blindfolded people to be careful what they do with their hands. If they get excited, and tend to talk with their hands, they may hit someone else who is trying to cross the course at the same time.
- Facilitators should be roving throughout the group trying to listen to the conversations occurring.
Communication -- process points seem endless around the theme and challenge of communication.
What was your beginning communication process like?
How did you calibrate communication as you went?
What would have helped or improved your communication?
What are similar challenges of communication in your workplace, day-to-day?
To what degree was support from your partner important to success and/or progress?
Descibe the support you received and how did it help?
Was the support physical, verbal, other? Describe.
In your work, what types of support lend themselves to effectiveness of the team? How are you achieving that?
To what extent was trust a factor in the exercise?
How did you build trust with each other?
At work, is trust within your group important? Explain. Provide examples.
In addition to instruction and support, were you receiving any positive reinforcement as you went?
To what degree did that impact your performance?
How did it feel to successfully get to the other side of the course?
Were any of you celebrating and feeling good about the success?
At work, is it important to celebrate success? Describe and explain.
Give some example of when celebrating gave the team a needed boost.
May 2010 , The Envelope
Welcome back for another team building activity. This particular challenge once again uses a rope to form a shape. When you are facilitating a team building day for a group, it can be an advantage to sometimes have several activities/challenges that utilize the same props. You can combine these similar activities back-to-back for ease and efficiency of facilitation, or you may choose to spread them out over the day so that you can provoke the team to think about using past experience and learning as they tackle new assignments and problems.
This activity, as an example, can use the sampe prop (the long rope) that you might have used for other activities we have described in past months on this blog:
- The Blind Polygon
- The Star
This is another great activity that can be done with a rope. Many activities such as Blind Polygon, require that participants be blindfolded. For this particular challenge, blindfolds are not necessary.
The challenge is for the group to create the above shape, which looks like the underside of an envelope with the flap open, with the rope. The rope can never retrace the same line. In other words, it is like one of those puzzles with a pencil and paper, where you must draw the shape without lifting your pencil or re-tracing a line.
Equipment: 50 ft. or greater, soft nylon rope.
Setup: Have the team line up along the rope, and all grasp the rope. Instruct the team about their objective. (I’ll usually show them an index card with the shape.) Tell them that they must each keep their same location on the rope. They can slide up and down the rope, but they cannot hand the rope back and forth to each other. In other words, the rope and the people must move to create the shape. Also advise them that they cannot retrace any line, or double the rope back on a line.
Some groups take quite a bit of time to solve this. Others get very innovative, such as drawing out a sketch on the ground, etc., to create a plan of action.
Ask the team how they began.
Have them describe their planning efforts. Did they plan, or just proceed with trying ideas?
Did leadership emerge? If so, have the team discuss how this occurred, and the importance of it.
How was cooperation during the activity?
Did everyone share a vision about how to complete the task? How did they arrive at this shared understanding? Or, what would have helped them arrive at a shared understanding?
Did the team apply "lessons learned" from previous exercises? How important is it in the real work of the group, to be able to apply the collective learning and experience of the team to new problems and challenges that confront them?
April 2010 - Birthday Lineup
This is a simple exercise that reinforces important communication issues. It is a great ice breaker, too.
Instruct the team members that they are to remain silent during the exercise; i.e., no talking.
Their task is to line up by birth date, month and day. (There will usually be some laughing about birth years, but this isn’t part of the challenge.)
The group members will then start trying to communicate with each other regarding their own birth date. They’ll use fingers for counting, and a wide variety of gestures. Usually those with birthdays in January and December will quickly form two ends of the line. It may take a few minutes for them to work out the middle months and dates.
Allow the group several minutes to complete the task. When they have it, tell them you are going to do a little quality check. Start from the January end of the line and have each person tell their month and day of birth. If there were any errors in their positions in the line, have them switch places. Ask them how they might have better communicated the message across the team.
As with most teambuilding exercises, effective processing begins with what happened in the exercise.
Ask the group to describe in general this communication challenge.
- How did they begin?
- How did they calibrate their communication techniques?
- Were their specific challenges, and how were they solved?
Check to see if any frustrations were encountered.
- What was working well?
- How did you handle any struggles or stress?
In facilitating the discussion, turn the attention to actual workplace challenges.
Ask the group about all of the forms of communication they are involved with at work.
- Where and how do you communicate when you are not face-to-face? ( e.g. fax, email, v-mail, etc.)
- What challenges accompany your many forms of communication?
- How to you confirm that messages are received correctly at work?
Discuss the importance of being able to clearly send and receive information in a variety of ways.
Again, this is a very simple exercise. It requires no props or equipment. The activity can be completed in almost any setting.
It is surprising how much discovery about communication can occur within a group following such a simple exercise as Birthday Lineup. If you are aware of specific challenges your particular group has with communication. weave those elements into your facilitation/processing of the activity.
March 2010 - Noodle Relay
This is another low-level initiative that can be done just about anywhere. This is a great activity to get a group moving. It does generate a real sense of competition. If you are not wanting the group to compete, you may not want this activity on your agenda. However, if you want to stimulate discussion about the pros and cons of competition, this will definitely set the stage by creating competition.
The props are simple. Use swimming pool noodles that have been cut to half-length. You need approximately as many half-noodles as you have team members.
Break the group into team of from five to ten members.
You have probably seen relays where the team members have to move/run together with a balloon sandwiched between every two members. This relay is similar. Rather than the balloon, you use the noodle. I like this for a couple of reasons:
- Members are a little farther apart, which is safer. There is less chance of people stepping on each others heals and tripping.
- Members are a little farther apart, which is more comfortable if you have both genders participating in the relay.
Set up the relay with the following rules/instructions:
- The first member goes to the pylon and returns
- The next leg involves the first member plus a second team member. They must go to the pylon and back while keeping a noodle held between their bodies lengthwise.
- No hands are allowed to keep the noodle in place.
- Each additional leg adds a member and a noodle so that you have a chain of members that are moving with noodles held between their bodies. (Again, no hands are allowed.)
Obviously, as the length of the chain of team members grows, so does the complexity.
This activity is a lot of fun, but is can also lead to some productive learning and discussion.
- Pylons or similar markers for you start and finish lines
- Half-length swimming pool noodles
- Be concerned with groups trying to run to fast, creating a hazardous situatio
- You can control group speed with a couple of additional rules if necessary
- Walking fast is allowed. Running is not allowed.
- You may not lift your feet from the floor/ground. (This forces team members to slide their feet, preventing running.)
- Make sure your area is free of tripping hazards.
Teamwork is required
- How did you organize?
- How did teamwork evolve as you continued the exercise?
- How was teamwork important to success?
Competition, both positive and negative, is a great processing topic
- Describe the sense of competitiveness that occurred.
- When is competition important in our work?
- Does competition ever hurt our effort at work? Describe how
Learning skills together is a great processing possibility
- How did you learn together as a team?
- When, in your real work, is learning together important?
- How can you enhance learning within your team?
Cooperation and support for each other
- How were your levels of cooperation as you went?
- How do you build and nurtured cooperation and support in your team?
Communication and developing a successful process
- Describe your communication processes.
- How did success in communication help you to create a successful process in the relay?
- What kinds of communication challenges to you face as a team at work?
This is a fun, yet powerful activity. It can be done indoors or out.
January 2010 -- The Human Knot
Six to ten people can participate in each group. Eight is a great number. The level of difficulty goes up considerably as group size increases. We often will do the exercise with six in each circle, then follow it with eight in each circle. This allows you to facilitate regarding how complexity on a team tends to increase with group size.
Have the members of each group form a loose circle, more or less shoulder to shoulder. Have each person raise their right hand. Instruct them to reach across and grab one person's hand. Make sure not to grab the person's hand on either side of you.
Next, have them reach their left hand up in the air and again grab one person's hand. They should not grab the person on either side, or the same person they already have.
Now they will be in a big knot! Explain that the challenge is to untangle into one circle, with no crossed arms, without letting go of hands. (Sometimes you may end up with two interlocking circles or two separate circles.) Remind them to be careful when stepping over arms, especially for contact between knees and noses. Then, step back and watch them work.
If after awhile little progress has been made, offer to give them one re-grip. Often times this clears up the problem and they continue with renewed enthusiasm. Pay attention to the attitude of the group and use your judgment when giving re-grips. When the team accomplishes the task, celebration abounds!
- Lead the group in some stretches for the upper body before this initiative.
- Do not allow "inter-digitation" (when fingers are intertwined)- Be extra careful when someone is stepping over the arms of other people. A knee can easily crunch a nose.
- The facilitator should follow the movement, spotting when anyone is moving and anticipating the team's moves.
- Allow anyone to change their grip if they are uncomfortable, but not to gain an advantage.
- Problem solving skills
- Ask how they tackled the problem.
- How did the problem solving evolve as they tried different ideas?
- Are there real-life problems where you must experiment and try many potential solutions? Examples?
- Team celebration
- Ask the group about how it felt when they met with success.
- Do they take time to celebrate real work accomplishments in their day-to-day workplace?
- "Accomplishing what looked like the impossible"
- When you face a challenge or problem that at first seems "impossible," what is important for team success?
- What are some examples of this in your group's experience together? Explain.
- Ask them to describe how leadership took shape in the group for this exercise.
- What worked well in regards to leadership? Explain.
- What seemed to hinder progress? Explain.
- Team size, and how complexity can increase as group size goes up.
- If you do this exercise as suggested, beginning with group size of six, then following with an interation including more people, ask the team members to describe the differences in complexity as the size of the group increased.
- When working with larger teams, or multiple teams, what are keys to success?
This is a powerful activity. It can be done indoors or out. It requires no equipment, which gives facilitators a lot of flexibility regarding where and when they can lead this exercise with a group.
This is a wonderful classic experiential team building initiative that can be done just about anywhere and with any number of people. Have the rope joined at the ends with a simple knot and lay it on the ground. Organize the team into a loose circle around the rope. Inform them that they will be blindfolded for the exercise. Give each person a bandana for that purpose.
Once they have their blindfolds in place ask them to hold their hands out so that you can hand them the rope. Request that each person hold the rope loosely with both hands. Next, instruct the team to form some shape. For example, ask them to form a right triangle, without letting go of the rope. Other shapes will work, too. Creating a square is a pretty good challenge. If you want a simpler task, simply ask them to produce a triangle. One of the more difficult forms is an equilateral triangle.
Team members are allowed to slide their hands along the rope as they shift positions, but they are not allowed to hand the rope back and forth, or to take up a different position on the rope. Once they have what they think is a pretty nice looking triangle, ask them to lay it on the ground and remove their blindfolds to view their masterpiece.
- 40 ft. rope (groups up to 15 members) - Use a good quality, soft nylon rope, approximately 1/2 “ diameter. A longer rope is necessary for large groups
- Bandanna/blindfold for each participant
- Moving with blindfolds should always be done carefully
- Nobody should pull the rope quickly as it could cause rope burns
- Set this up in an area that is free of obstacles
- If there is a team member who is uncomfortable being blindfolded, you can still let them participate. Just have them work in silence.
- The importance of adequate information when working on projects.
- Ask them about how they began their process.
- Did they assess the information at hand?
- Did they clarify the understanding among the team about the goal of the exercise and the constraints?
- How did leadership emerge on the team?
- Did the team allow leadership to shift as other members had ideas?
- Decision making
- What was the decision making process like?
- Describe the level to which all team members were involved.
- At the start of the activity, how might you describe the communication within the team?
- How did the communication progress as the activity got underway?
- What helped the flow of ideas and information?
- Were there examples of things that were not effective in the communications? Explain
Best of luck with this great activity!