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5 Tips for Team Building Activities that Aren't Cringe-Worthy

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"We need some fun team building activities." "Do you have any games that will help them stop bickering?" "I wish there were some team exercises that everyone would participate in fully." 

I heard all three of these requests just last week...Each came from a manager who was frustrated by a lack of team unity. Each manager was hoping for a magic bullet activity that would delight and transform the team.

I wish it were that easy!

Team building activities aren't a magic bullet. They can be highly effective in breaking down barriers and starting productive conversations. But even the best team building activities won't stand alone. Use these five tips to get the maximum yield from the activities you use in your team building efforts.

Be sure the team building activities you choose are relevant to the group's needs.

Don't put the cart before the horse. Not every fun activity fits for every group. Start by assessing what the group needs. Whatever they're working on will help you determine the activities that are the best fit.

Define your learning objectives before deciding on your team building activities.

You need to know the group's needs first. Second, you need to determine what outcomes are feasible for the time period and challenges you have to work with. Once you've defined the learning objectives, pick activities that move you closer to the objectives in incremental but obvious ways.

Consider the abilities and interests of team members in selecting team building activities.

Different groups with identical needs will respond differently to the same activities. An executive group compromised of people with decades of corporate experience won't respond to a trust fall or a hula hoop circle the same way a group of interns will. Groups who have more experience are more likely to be seasoned with the usual standby activities. They may not be as willing to get loose and vulnerable with each other either. Take all these variables into account. Additionally, be considerate of the individuals in the group. Highly physical challenges aren't suitable for everyone. Even if you say it's okay to opt out, imagine how that feels to the person isolated on the sidelines.

Debrief immediately after the activity to make the points stick.

Once you select and conduct highly relevant, all-in, on-target activities, pause to get the group talking about what just happened. What did they discover? How does this apply in their day-to-day workplace interactions? What are some lessons learned or some a-ha call-outs they can share with each other? After you facilitate this discussion, make the point you intended to make. Say it loud and clear so the learning objective is underscored.

Don't forget: team building activities are supposed to be fun.

Avoid cumbersome, overly competitive, and complex activities. They won't be fun if they feel too much like work. They won't be fun if they become the source of conflict. And they won't be fun if no one knows what they're supposed to be doing. The objective isn't to stump the group or bring them down. Keep the activities light enough to generate some humor, openness and camaraderie.

If you follow these five guidelines, your team building activities will be more effective. You'll get higher levels of engagement and longer-term impact as takeaways are remembered and shared beyond the fun-and-games time.

The CONNECT2Win Blog has been discontinued. The CONNECT2Lead Blog continues, and you'll find free and affordable resources for team on People First Leadership Academy