You’ve been given the most daunting challenge in the company… It’s not raising profits 10% in the next year… It’s not cutting costs 30% in a quarter…. Your task is to plan the next office team building activity.

Team building activities can go over really well or very badly. The key thing is to find an activity that doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Two of the most important factors to consider when planning an activity are whether the participants are having fun and whether the activity has some relation to their working lives. If the activity is both enjoyable and relevant, your team members are much more likely to be engaged and to learn something.

Here are two team building activities that incorporate both fun and useful lessons.

Make your way to the marshmallow tower

In the Ted Talk, “Build a Tower, Build a Team,” Tom Wujec describes a team building activity that sounds like something a high school physics teacher would devise. A team of four people have 18 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure they can using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The structure must be able to support the marshmallow’s weight.

The activity allows participants’ to harness their creativity and use whatever engineering skills they have lurking in the background (unless they are engineers; then it should be a piece of cake!). It also offers important lessons on collaboration and strategic thinking.

Wujec noted that the best performers of this challenge were not CEOs or MBA graduates. They were kindergartners. Their older peers usually spent their time devising the “perfect” strategy, only to panic when it didn’t work at minute 17. In contrast, the kindergartners incorporated the marshmallow early and had time to make adjustments to the model if it stopped supporting the marshmallow’s weight.

The marshmallow tower activity emphasizes the importance of the process of creating and being flexible enough to change course during projects. Knowing the best way to execute ideas is a critical skill for employees. Selecting the best ideas that should be executed is equally important. Those ideas can be found through brainstorming and debate.

The debaters shall step up to the podium

Brainstorming is a classic technique to explore new ideas. Often, criticism during brainstorming sessions is discouraged, because it can create disagreements amongst the group and prevent team members from voicing new ideas for fear of being shot down. However, in a paper produced in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Charlan J. Nemeth found that criticism was beneficial in group discussions. Dr. Nemeth found that study participants who debated a topic came up with more potential solutions than those who brainstormed ideas without criticism.

Nemeth suggests that criticism encourages a greater diversity of thinking. Also, the encouragement to criticize, which is often socially unacceptable, may feel rather exciting and stimulate creative juices. Of course, real life does not always equal the conditions of a controlled study. Still, you can use teambuilding debates to get your employees accustomed to offering and receiving criticism.

Present your team with a problem and give them 20 minutes to come up with the best ideas to solve it. Encourage them to point out flaws in suggested ideas and to use criticism to reshape ideas and to create new ones. The problem could be a work related issue. Alternatively, you could choose a fun topic like creating a list of the top ten things to do in your city or what to put in a small time capsule to represent the present day. These ideas may not be relevant to your employees’ working lives, but if debate and criticism are new, then you’ll want to use topics that no one has a personal connection to – and that won’t bring up underlying tension. Starting small may be the best way to stimulate useful discussion.

At the end of the debate time, have team members present the group-determined ideas. In addition, ask participants to write down any ideas they didn’t share publicly. Discuss as a group whether criticism stimulated more ideas and better ideas than normal. If ideas were not shared publicly, talk about why people hesitated to express their thoughts.

By encouraging debate in a teambuilding activities, you can train your employees to think up more and better ideas. This can be a testing ground to determine whether criticism helps or hurts the production of ideas in your team, as group dynamics can vary. If debate does not work well for the individuals in your company, that gives you and the group helpful information of how not to shape brainstorming sessions. On the other hand, if it works well then you’ve got a great jumping-off point for future discussions!

Team building activities can be a great way to turn a group of people with different life experiences, different working roles, and different personalities into a cohesive unit. It all depends upon whether you can find activities that your employees will enjoy and learn from.

Are you looking to turn your employees into team players? Do you want more ideas for team building activities? Let’s get your team members working together seamlessly. Just contact us!

Photo Credit: © Karen & Uwe Annas –