It is common knowledge that employees perform best when they feel welcome, involved and genuinely consider themselves part of the team. Adam Grant who is an organizational psychologist had a very informative speech about the differences between givers and takers in a workplace in a TED institute.

One crucial thing to take away from his speech is how much the productivity of a team is impacted by the ability to ask for and offer help to others. How well the employees know each other and how many common interests they’ve discovered dictates how eager they will be to cooperate. It is extremely beneficial in the long run to invest time and resources into team building exercises. Here are some of our favourites:

  1. Make the participants step out of their comfort zone and get to know one another, as well as reflect on their own lives.Pair them up with someone they don’t know well. Then you can either make them come up with an important moment in their life that they share with one another (no cop-outs like ‘we’ve both joined this company’!), a personal dream they’ve had since they were kids and have in common, or even the similarities in the dynamics of their immediate families.Accomplishing this task will not only make the pairs come up with important moments from their lives that they now have in common, they will have many more topics that would spark their interest for future conversations (they had to shuffle through some amount of information before they’ve found common ground, after all). Moreover, by sharing the results with the rest of the group, it might result in conversation starters between various individuals in the team.
  2. Break the ice by a creative use of personal space, the competitive spirit of employees and rapid exchange of nuggets of information.One fun exercise I love to run especially during recruitment days and for new teams is the sorting task. I would create a thick line on the ground (usually with tape) and split participants into a few groups of 5-10 members. I will first tell them to stand on their respective line in the order of height and then I will make the teams compete on who can sort themselves fastest without stepping away from the line on the ground (with prizes for the winning group, of course). You can start with something simple, like length of hair or eye colour (blue-green-brown). Then you go to tasks that make them quickly find out information about each other: order of month they were born in, the number of siblings the have or languages they speak. Eventually you can go as far as to make them line up in the order of most embarrassing thing that happened to them at work or most cheesy pickup line they’ve used on someone. The idea is to make it fun and engaging – let your imagination run wild.This exercise is great for breaking ice in a new team. In the initial task, the participants will let each other into their respective personal space which will make it easier for them to approach each other in the future. Then they learn how to communicate quickly and effectively, eventually allowing themselves to share personal, funny details of their personalities that are a great conversation starter after the exercise is over. Moreover, it lets the exercise coordinator distinguish the leaders, the cooperative individuals and the open people willing to invest themselves personally in the team.
  3. Make the participants discuss an important issue your company is trying to resolve or improve.Like in all games, you would start this exercise by randomly dividing the group into smaller teams. Then you would give each team a simple task: Individually come up with one word that most accurately describes X. The issue could be anything ranging from ‘how the last month at work has been?’, ‘what is the dynamic within the team/management?’, ‘the near future of the industry you’re at?’, etc. Come up with something current for your business! Then, you make each team decide on which of the words they’ve collectively come up with to use. That will spark a discussion between them that digs deep and touches on important issues. They will have to work towards a compromise and will often find that they’re agreeing on many matters, which will help with their relationship. Afterwards, you ask each team to share their word with the whole group and then you follow up with individual questions: What does your group’s word mean to you, specifically? Give everyone a chance to voice their opinions.This task is great at gathering insight from your whole team about certain topics. Additionally, it helps to create common interests and develop the horizons of the team about important for the industry issues.
  4. Make your employees realize how interesting their colleagues are. In a funny way.In case you don’t know what two truths one lie is, here’s a brief explanation. You ask participants to shuffle (so that the best of friends are not in the same pair). Then you give them a simple task. Tell the person next to you two truths about yourself and one lie. Then, the pairs introduce their partners to the group and explain which statement they think is the lie. It will often end with a surprised gasp by the audience and will certainly encourage people to talk to one another. The funnier the statements, the better!This exercise is great to allow people to step out of their comfort zones and present themselves as something more than just a face behind a desk. By showing a bit of wild personality, your team members will become much more approachable and interesting to other employees.
  5. Make them get to know each other quickly for a nice prizeHave you ever played bingo? Perfect. Now imagine instead of numbers, you have statements. For example: I don’t know anyone here. I know everybody here. I make jokes on every meeting. I like to work alone. I like to work as a team. I do butt clenches when I’m sitting behind the desk. I always bring my own lunch to work and many others that you can come up with and that are relevant. Now each person needs to fill out their bingo card with names of people on the meeting that the statement applies to. This involves some mingling, small talk and getting to know some simple facts about each other. The person to get to fill out their card first wins a prize for being the best networker in the room!This one is more focused on the fun aspect. However, by giving employees a reward for getting to know each other better, you will inspire them to do it more even after the activity.

 

Overall, having some exercises once in a while costs you nothing, but can drastically improve the performance of your employees. Make sure they consider each other friends to inspire them to share their knowledge, skills and talent, and you will have a team that cooperates like no other. If you can afford a full day dedicated solely for mingling and strengthening bonds, consider a staff day out. Although one of those may be costly and requires much more planning, it will definitely let the team appreciate each other more, as well as the company they work for.