Company culture is critically important for employers and employees alike -- yet the prospect of business-led team-building exercises can be a bit chilling for some. The longer one's career, the better the chance that they've endured a particularly cheesy or mirthless afternoon of "mandatory fun" at some point along the way.
Taking a break from the daily routine can pay big dividends, whether it comes in the form of departmental offsites or company-wide activity days. To be clear, team-building exercises won't magically fix a toxic workplace, or create a sense of culture from scratch. But when done correctly, they can work wonders in strengthening existing bonds, and encouraging serendipitous collaboration between people/teams that don't typically work together.
Assuming your team tends to be a competitive bunch, here are a few fun group activities to try.
To start, consider recruiting some volunteer referees and judges to make sure the competition stays fair, and that the teams understand the various rules. Divide the teams in a way that deliberately breaks up any departmental or personal cliques -- it's always fun to pit top executives against each other, of course -- but also consider ensuring that very new employees have at least one familiar face on their teams.
The toy car race
A timed engineering challenge is a great way to test a team's grace and creativity under pressure. There are lots of variants to this activity, but an easy one to pull off is to distribute a small amount of materials -- e.g. rubber bands, straws, a paper towel tube -- to each team and instruct them to build a ramp for a toy car.
The team that gets their car to go the furthest distance from the starting point is the big winner.
Pro tip: make sure every team gets the exact same kind of car -- or even have one official "judge's car" that is used on every ramp, in the name of fairness.
The stock photo challenge
The organizers of the 2nd annual "Workpop Olympics" -- a day-long competition / team-building activity -- decided they were tired of sifting through cheesy stock photography and instead commissioned their colleagues to try creating unique imagery that corresponded to some key phrases in the hiring and HR technology world: candidate experience, mobile-friendly, AI, user adoption, workflow, and more.
Photos were judged on three criteria: whether they were creative, whether they'd pop out of a crowded social media feed, and whether they actually seemed connected to the assigned word.
This unique exercise definitely produced unique results -- and while not all of the photos will be in circulation on Shutterstock or Getty Images any time soon, the event produced a lot of laughs and some impressive outside-the-box thinking.
The sales pitch
If a team had to take out an advertisement or make a commercial to sell their services, what would they say? This exercise encourages teammates to get to know one another outside of job descriptions, as hidden talents and crazy life experiences rise to the surface. It's important that the pitches stay authentic; players won't learn as much about their colleagues if their pitch is that they're all experienced slayers of White Walkers.
The maze (or minefield)
After flexing their muscle with feats of ingenuity, creativity and performance, it's time for the teams to show how well they can focus and follow someone else's lead.
Tape out a grid on the floor; depending on your space and your available time, you can adjust the size of the grid accordingly. Have the teams line up in single-file on one side of the grid, and then proceed to attempt to walk through the grid, one square at a time. The catch: the grid is strewn with invisible bombs, seen only by the judges. If a bomb is activated, the player goes to the back of the line. No coaching is allowed; each player must make it through on the strength of memory.
Pro tip: while it can be fun to time this exercise, and thus add some pressure, this may result in teams just quickly rushing through the course, heedless of making mistakes. If they're instead scored on how many bombs they trigger as a team, they'll approach the game more carefully.
Lip sync for glory
Lip sync battles have perhaps jumped the shark a bit, but it's hard to argue against the comedic value of seeing coworkers leave their hearts on their stage after a passionate albeit silent rendition of a song close to their hearts. Of course, devious event organizers may allow rival teams to assign songs to one another, upping the difficultly. Make sure someone has a camera ready.