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page 3 of free ideas for team exercises and activities - for team-building, training, employee motivation, learning and development, recruitment, and other group activities
This is page 3 of teambuilding games and group activities.
To skip the introduction - go straight to the games and activities.
This is the third page of team activities on the Businessballs website. New ideas are added regularly, newest first. This third page of group games and activities extends:
- page 1 of team building games and activities (includes listing of all exercises), and
- page 2 of team building activities
- and the guide and tips for planning and running team-building and group activities (including selecting, adapting and reviewing games and exercises)
The exercises on these pages are for many types of group work - adaptable for most ages, levels, and group size - and can help meet aims of:
- training and teaching
- conferences and seminars
- staff motivation
- personal and team development, especially mutual awareness
- introductions and scene-setting at meetings, etc
- ice-breakers and energisers, relaxation, tension release, breaks and diversions
- assessment centres/centers
- recruitment, notably group selection
- and other group work, themed or otherwise
These exercises are typically supported by and linked to relevant free materials available free from the Businessballs website.
How you run group activities is crucial for their effectiveness, so please read the guide and tips for planning and running team- building and group activities.
Also helpful and relevant to group work are the tips, theory and guidance for:
- planning and running workshops
- running meetings
- experiential learning
- quizballs quizzes for learning and fun
All group exercises and ideas on the Businessballs website are free to download and use, and can generally be adapted easily to suit your own situations.
Games and exercises help:
- stimulate the brain
- engage all senses - which is often essential and better than merely sitting and listening, and reading powerpoint slides
- improve the impact and retention of training and development
- and increase engagement and enjoyment,
...so consider these needs and outcomes when selecting, adapting and delivering team activities.
be safe and fair...
Ensure that when running group activities you consider safety risks, ethics, and issues of equality.
Also consider whether the activities are appropriate for the team members and the situation. See the notes on checking that games or team activities are appropriate for your situation.
Team-building games and activities should always be fair to group participants.
If you've not done so already please see the guidelines and tips for planning and running team building activities.
free team building games - warm-ups, quick games and exercises, ice-breakers, exercises and activities
These free team building games and exercises generally last less than one hour, and can usually be adapted easily to create longer or shorter activities.
Most of these ideas can also be adapted for large or small groups.
Plan and practise activities before using them.
Note that activities usually take longer than you imagine and plan.
Logistics, facilitation and how you split small groups into individuals/pairs/three (whatever) and large groups into smaller teams, can significantly influence how the exercises work and the experience for all.
See the team building activities guidelines for tips and techniques.
This is page 3 of the free team building activities and games ideas on this website.
kitchen gadget icebreaker (icebreaker, introductions, personality, team roles, self-perceptions)
For a fun icebreaker, ask people to introduce themselves individually, in turn, as a kitchen gadget (or kitchen-drawer item) which represents their own personality and strengths.
Guide participants to naming their chosen gadget/item and then offering (no more than three) brief points as to their (the gadget's/item's) main purpose, strengths, characteristics, etc., which should be a representation of him/herself (at work or home or in life generally, which may be determined by the facilitator depending on wider aims).
The exercise is for groups of any age or size, subject to splitting large groups into self-facilitating subgroups.
Alternatively, for a single large group and very quick review, (and potentially for a very large conference group), reveal the chosen gadgets collectively with a 'straw poll' of people's chosen kitchen gadgets (ask people to hold up their hands when you call out the different gadgets), to arrive at numbers/percentage mix for the whole audience (and then potentially invite suggestions as to how this reflects the character of the organization/grouping). You can also offer a prize to anyone correctly predicting the most popular (1st,2nd,3rd) gadgets chosen by the group (entries on slips of paper, passed to the facilitator, and checked later).
For individual explanations beware of extended presentation/discussion time, which can take a lot longer than you imagine, so for group sizes of about 7 people or more, consider giving a firm and brief time limit for each person's explanation.
You can vary this exercise to be based on any situation which contains a lot of different tools, provided everyone in the group understands and relates to the situation/tools, for example:
- tools in a workshop (potentially for a specific trade)
- gardening gadgets/tools
- computer programs/apps
- and any other activity which uses a wide range of tools which could represent people's capabilities and personality.
The exercise is fun and very quick and easy to facilitate, but it's also a useful and interesting activity because self-perceptions can alter and clarify greatly when explored from a radically different perspective (such as imagining oneself as a kitchen gadget).
The exercise can be varied by asking people to write their answers on a piece of paper, blind to the group, and then asking the group to guess who owns each answer (gadget and explanation).
The exercise can also be expanded and oriented for many different personal development/training purposes beyond an icebreaker/introductions, for example (and these are supporting materials also):
future career direction (or business start-up)
organizational models exercise (teambuilding, teamwork, working relationships, networks and systems)
This is a simple and sophisticated modelling/modeling exercise, using very basic materials, for understanding and improving work structures of all sorts.
Group size: Any size, subject to splitting large groups into self-facilitating teams. Teams of three are usually optimal for speed and simplicity where several models are to be created. Groups bigger than five people typically require close facilitation if trying to agree a single model, (explained more below).
Duration: Briefing 5mins. Activity 15-30mins depending on complexity of organization/model. Review 10mins plus 5mins per team/model. These timings are minimums and can be extended easily for more complexity and depth of debate/learning/workshop.
Preparation: A basic minimal approach requires zero preparation of materials.
The idea of this activity is for the group to create a model of their (or a relevant) organization using 'bits and pieces' from their pockets, bags, cases, etc. The organization(s) can be anything which fits the purpose of the training/group session, for example a business or service organization, a sales network, or a supply bid, or a school.
The use of random bits and pieces such as keys, combs, phones, tissues, etc., challenge and liberate people to think creatively and incisively about how an organization is structured and operating, including the crucial relationships/communications between working parts. Using visual tactile symbolic things enables a level of thinking and expression that's impossible with conventional language.
Models of complex work/business organizational situations should ideally include symbolization of non-physical aspects (e.g., communications, workflow, responsibility/authority, etc) especially relationships between units within the model. Paper (torn, folded, cut, drawn on, etc) may be used to show these factors.
The sourcing of 'bits and pieces' can be extended to office stationery and other small items which are available in the venue, or potentially outside too (stones, twigs, leaves, etc).
N.B. Limit the time to source 'bits and pieces', or this will take longer than the exercise itself... Optionally prepare a box of 'bits and pieces' beforehand (which is described in the unrelated 'this is me' exercise below this).
This 'bits and pieces' version requires no preparation/materials, and offers greater creative potential.
For example, to make it very quick and creative indeed, limit the bits and pieces to the items which people have in their pockets.
The activity is for groups of any size, and depending on the situation and purpose can be run as one whole group, or a number of smaller teams. Teams can work on models of the same organization (for comparative/mutual understanding purposes), or of different organizations, or 'in theory' vs 'in reality', or any other approach that suits the situation. The organization(s) to be modelled depends on the facilitator's aims, and the group's interests/needs.
This activity would fit very well within an organizational development workshop, where a group is expected to analyse a systemic structure/organization, and identify improvements which they'd agree at the workshop and implement after the group sessions.
Other types of organizational structures which can be modelled are for example:
- a number of related/interconnected work departments
- supplier/customer relationships
- marketing/sales networks and 'routes to market' or sales channels
- manufacturing/production/distribution/logistics structures and processes
- supply chains
- new business start-ups (business models, strategies, etc)
- stakeholder analysis/development
- mixed agency/contractors supply arrangements
- international management/distribution systems
- computerized systems and web/online development
- project management and product development
- and institutions such as schools, colleges, associations, etc.
Time limits are at the discretion of the facilitator, although note that this activity can grow to become highly engaging, complex and time-consuming. Therefore facilitators should be very clear about aims and limits before briefing the group/teams.
Consider also that the larger the group is, then the more the group will learn about each other's views and the structural problems and potential improvements while the activity is happening (i.e., before the review). This is because generally group size is inversely proportionate to group agreement (Large groups tend to find it more difficult to reach agreement than small teams.) So having one big group working on one big model requires more facilitative help during the activity, than having a few pairs or threes working on different models, which will generate relatively more learning in the review stage.
The major aim/outcome of this activity is to enable thinking, discussion and improved mutual understanding of how the organization (or more than one organization, or a sales network, etc) is structured, including its communications, relationships, processes, responsibilities, and decision-making.
Significantly the activity enables a radically new view of things:
- how structures and connections should/could be
- how they actually are
- what needs fixing
- how to fix it, etc etc
Where two or more teams are creating different models there is an opportunity for teams to guess the meaning of the other team's model.
Whatever, ensure adequate opportunity is given for models to be explained and discussed.
Learning materials which can relate to this activity include:
the 'tea and coffee memory game' (information retention, information communication, information organization and structure, for communicating, teaching, presentation, etc)
This is a simple quick and easy exercise that people will enjoy, and which also demonstrates the importance of structuring and organizing information to maximize the effectiveness of communications. It's mildly competitive too, which increases engagement and fun.
The activity is for groups of about eight people - minimum five, maximum a dozen. Split larger groups into self-facilitating teams.
Materials required - pens and paper.
Preparation - zero (other than understanding and planning it).
Duration - about 30 seconds plus a review of 2-5 minutes as a quick activity, or 10-15 minutes review/discussion for more depth.
Instruction to group -
(Tell the group...) Listen to and remember what each person says.
Take it in turns to say what you'd like to drink: (tea, coffee, with or without milk, with how many sugars or without, or water, still or sparking).
When you've heard everyone's drink requests, (individually) write them down on a piece of paper, as correctly as you can recall them, including who wants what, rather than just a list of the choices.
We will then see who remembered the drinks order most accurately.
1. Who remembered the most accurately? (Review what people have written. Congratulate/reward the winner.)
2. Ask the group to consider/discuss what helped or hindered their own memorizing process.
3. Ask the group what sort of system/structure would help memorization of these drinks orders? Extend this to the importance of structuring information of all sorts - especially random unstructured details - to help people access, absorb, retain and use it. The principle is widely applicable, widely ignored, and therefore a major opportunity to improve the effectiveness of communications, including to oneself.
4. To extend the activity/review to more depth - Ask the group what sort of structured systems of information and communications can improve our ability to absorb and retain information better.
5. Ask people listen to this list (call it out): "Ash, Dance, Pool, Oak, Wine, Jive, Football, Beer, Wood, Drink, Darts, Waltz, Game, Latin, Juice, Willow" - and then see how well people individually can recall and write the list. Don't revisit the correct list - just indicate how well people have remembered.
Then ask people to listen to this (call it out - it's the same words, but organized into a memorable structure): "Here are four categories, each with a heading and three items in each: 1st category is Game: Football, Pool, Darts - 2nd category is Drink: Beer, Wine, Juice - 3rd category is Wood: Oak, Ash, Willow - 4th category is Dance: Latin, Jive, Waltz" - and then see how well people can remember the categories and three items in each. There should be a major improvement.
Finally show this table for 30 seconds and ask people to memorize it:
Ask people to (individually) reproduce the table. There should be a further major improvement, and perhaps 100% correct retention among all delegates.
Partly this is due to familiarity, but mainly it is due to structure.
This further demonstrates the significance of organizing information into a structure which aids communication and retention.
This principle applies very widely - to the communication of every sort of information - but is very commonly ignored. Communications of all sorts are often chaotic and not organized or structured at all.
The lesson is: The way we structure and organize information is critical to the ease with which people respond and use it.
- To increase the competitive/fun aspect you can introduce biscuits and pastries to possible choices.
- And if there is a tie for the winner then have a play-off in which the tied winners have to memorize people's favourite meals, or holidays, or impressionist artists, whatever.
- Re-run the exercise using a structure to organize the information (i.e., people's refreshment choices) according to consistent terms or perhaps a simple coding system.
A particularly interesting reference theory is Nudge Theory ... A major tendency in all people is to prefer information/propositions which are easy to absorb, which depends on the structuring and organization of information. Additionally familiarity and repetition, which are also demonstrated in this activity, are major aspects of Nudge Theory.
'this is me' / 'box of bits and pieces' self-expression activity (icebreaker, mutual awareness, introductions, creativity, identifying passions and personal/hidden strengths)
This is an extremely flexible and easy-to-run exercise, for any group, any age, any level.
The purpose of the exercise is to enable very free self-expression of each delegate's true self, dreams, passions, strengths, personality, situation, etc., (according to facilitator direction) enabling potential discussion/development afterwards according to overall session aims.
Mainly this activity can be used for:
- A quick personal introductions session for training/conference groups, or
- A longer exercise to start/extend exploration of mutual awareness, personal aims, life/career priorities, etc.
The activity approach is that there are no right or wrong answers. Everyone has value and meaning.
Briefly, the exercise enables each delegate to create a metaphorical or symbolic representation of him/herself ('this is me...') using various random 'bits and pieces', or from symbolic things written/drawn on cards by the delegates.
This highly creative representational approach to self-expression/introduction is far more liberating, stimulating and engaging than verbal methods such as conventional verbal self-introduction, or interviewing each other, which are commonly used in group introductions.
The exercise minimum duration is 5 minutes including brief review, assuming the preparation is done by the facilitator (Option 1). Add at least 5 minutes if the preparation is to be done by the delegates (Option 2). The activity expands naturally to greater duration (easily to 30 mins) if more thinking and discussion/review time is encouraged by the facilitator.
As an introductions icebreaker - If using the activity as an introductions icebreaker (instead of the conventional around-the-table verbal self-introductions) then control timings tightly and limit the purpose to a simple introduction of each person's self, so a total time for the group is 5-10 mins max.
As a bigger exercise - If using the activity to explore issues of mutual awareness, strengths, life-aims, Johari Window, or personality, etc., then allow more time for the creative stage (5 mins at least) and an average of at least 2 mins per person for the review/discussion (plus 5 mins if Option 2 preparation). In this 'bigger exercise' situation it's important not to cut people off if they begin to release tensions and want to expose important feelings and thoughts, etc. This gives a total time of at least 20-25 minutes for a group of eight people.
Option 1 - The facilitator must prepare a big box of 'bits and pieces' from which each delegate can select/assemble/combine a creative symbolic representation of him/herself. What the facilitator puts into the box can be very random indeed, for example:
- magazines with lots of pictures
- pairs of scissors
- nuts and bolts, and other small mechanical components
- small children's toys (especially models, tools, and symbolic items)
- playing cards
- junk from the kitchen drawer
- pebbles, fir cones, conkers, and other 'natural' things
- rummage sale bric-a-brac
- modelling clay
- paper, pens, pencils
- sticky tape, string, stapler, fixings
- takeaway menus
- cloth, ribbon
- small electrical components
- other random symbolic things
This list is not fixed or complete - it's just examples. Resist guessing what the delegates will find interesting - be as random and adventurous as you can be in compiling the box contents. Remember - and emphasise - that the exercise is symbolic. To avoid a rugby scrum spread contents of the box of bits on a table to make it easier for people to look and select.
Option 2 - Alternatively (less dynamic, but virtually zero preparation for facilitator) this method does not require a prepared 'box of bits and pieces'. Instead ask the delegates to draw or write 5-10 things on separate pieces of card (or paper) - about postcard size - and these cards, put into a central pool, or ideally tacked to a wall, or spread on the floor/table, will collectively equate to the 'box of bits and pieces'. Ensure cards can be clearly understood. Make available extra blank cards and pens for delegates who need them in the next creative representational stage. In prompting delegates what to draw/write, describe these things as: "symbols of what's important in life", or similar. This option 2 of the exercise produces a slightly different activity compared with Option 1, but in essence the process and methods and possible outcomes are the same.
Creative representational stage - Ask delegates each to use whatever bits and pieces they want to create a symbolic representation of him/herself. Depending on the context/aims of the session, the facilitator can give guidance as to whether this representation is of 'self', 'dreams', 'strengths', 'challenges', - or whatever suits the group development purpose. This flexibility applies to using the activity for simple personal introductions or as a bigger exercise. Or the facilitator may choose to leave the nature of self-expression completely open to the delegates' interpretation.
Review - This next stage if for delegates to present themselves ("This is me") using their creative representations. Depending on your precise purpose of the activity, control timings tightly if the exercise is for a simple personal introductions session, or allow more time for explanations and discussion if there is a wider purpose. Consider that the nature of the exercise is liberating and may cause delegates to 'open up' more than happens in conventional verbal introductions. If serious issues emerge then make a note of them, make a time to return to them, and deal with them later, individually or in the group, as appropriate.
The method of presentation is flexible - most obviously it can be on a table-top, or by tacking cards to a wall. You can ask that people take turns to present/explain themselves/their representations to the group, or for very large groups encourage more casual walking around and discussing with each other what the representations mean.
There are no right or wrong answers. A perfectly acceptable representation would be merely to hold up a single nut or bolt, and say "I am an engineer." Alternatively if a delegate chooses to create a 3D model of Africa, or a street, a school, a zoo, a hobby, a holiday, a garden shed, or the Starship Enterprise (subject to available time and materials) then any of this is perfectly fine too. It's about liberating and sharing people's self-expression, followed by whatever suits your session aims.
Reference materials include:
- For a much bigger and more entertaining variation, include dressing-up clothes, wigs and props in the box of bits and pieces.
- Or similarly to increase scale and richness of the activity, include musical instruments in the box of bits and pieces.
- Issue each delegate with his/her own (different) box of bits and pieces and add a trading/swapping stage to the activity, in which delegates first have to trade/swap bits and pieces with other delegates to assemble the bits and pieces they want.
- You might find that people become quickly attached to their creations - they will become like an emblem or mascot. Allow them to keep them for the duration of the gathering if they wish, and for ever if they wish, and if materials/budgets permit. For this reason avoid any significant expense in assembling the box of bits and pieces. (I am not suggesting people should keep dressing-up clothes and musical instruments - just inexpensive bits and pieces creations..)
- The exercise can be repeated at the end of certain types of courses, particularly where people's self-images can change as a result of their learning and development experiences. This adds a substantial new dimension to the activity, and its value as a reflective process.
- Related to the above point, this exercise can be linked to the following 'life dreams negotiating' game, below.
'life dreams negotiating' game (motivation, personality differences, empathy, negotiating, debating, arguing a case, johari mutual awareness)
This flexible easy-to-run activity is ideally for groups/teams of about eight people, or you can easily adapt the exercise for different group numbers. Split large conference groups into self-facilitating teams of about eight. The exercise can be run with a group as small as four.
The activity purpose is -
- to explore life priorities, aims, needs, dreams, etc., (depending on the overall purpose of the course/meeting)
- to enable discovery, sharing, and evaluation of personal wishes/needs, and other people's wishes/needs
- to consider personal value systems alongside other people's value systems
- and to negotiate and agree compromises for collective values/wishes/needs, etc.
Duration guide - 30 minutes for 8 people. The facilitator can control this activity easily by stipulating times allowed for each stage, by which people have to make their decisions. There is no particular penalty for failing to reach agreement by the time allowed - the sense of wanting to achieve agreement is typically sufficient incentive (beside which, without agreement participants are effectively unable to progress to the next stage).
Preparation - Hardly anything is required - as a minimum you need just some blank cards, or stiff paper, postcard size or a bit bigger, and pens/pencils. Sufficient for each delegate to have 5-6 cards to write/draw on. Alternatively and additionally, to add an extra dimension and stimulate more senses, you can compile a big 'box of bits and pieces' (as in the 'this is me' exercise above) to represent very symbolically the things that people consider important in life (for example a lemon or potato could represents food or nature, a car key could represent cars or transport or mobility, and a house key could represent security or a home - people may attach/explain their own meanings to symbolic bits and pieces, and/or to hand-drawn images or words).
The activity requires each delegate to choose three things that they consider most important in their lives, and then afterwards to discuss and negotiate with another person to agree a revised set of three things that satisfies their life-needs/wishes of the two people as a pairing.
Each pairing then repeats the process with another pairing, to agree a four-person set of three things.
And then the whole group (say of eight people) must discuss and agree a set of three things, which satisfies the entire group.
If you have a group of ten then you can ask people to work in threes alongside pairs. A group of nine could be split into 3 x 3, and then brought together as a whole. It's flexible provided you follow a basic joining together pattern in one or two steps, culminating in a whole group discussion/agreement.
Each 'thing' is represented by a card (postcard size or a bit bigger) carrying word or drawing, or by a physical item, like the ones used in the 'this is me' / 'box of bits and pieces' exercise above.
The exercise begins by people creating these cards - initially their individually chosen three things - or by selecting and attaching a meaning to three 'bits and pieces' from the box.
Explore issues and feelings arising during and after the activity, for example:
Ease/difficulty of selecting three things.
Ease/difficulty in agreeing compromises and understanding other people's selections.
How our feelings towards different things might have altered during the exercise.
Levels of cooperation and competitiveness experienced, witnessed.
What are common priorities/needs?
What are immovable needs, if there are any?
And lots of other issues which can arise depending on your surrounding purpose, and the nature of the group.
Reference materials -
Johari Window Theory (about developing mutual awareness and self-awareness)
Erikson's Life-Stage Theory (likely to be very significant and helpful, especially in a mixed ages group)
Career/direction (the exercise can help people understand and clarify personal priorities)
Negotiation - (Negotiation theory is mostly competitive/adversarial rather than cooperative. This exercise encourages mostly a cooperative approach to negotiation, which can be useful and powerful in adversarial situations.)
the "this pebble is..." exercise (creativity, relaxation, re-energizing, fun, self-expression)
This is a quick simple activity for small groups, or for larger groups if split into self-facilitating teams.
The purpose of the exercise is two-fold - first it will relax and re-energize people (especially if they've been sat around a table for a couple of hours or more) - secondly it will get people on their feet, outside in the fresh air, doing something radically different, being very creative, entailing self-expression and fun.
The underlying 'skill' purpose of the activity is to demonstrate and promote creativity.
Instruction to group -
Take a break outside in the fresh air for five minutes. Stretch your legs.
While you are outside find a pebble or small stone and think of a story or meaning for it.
As wild or zany or radical or simple or complex story/meaning as you wish.
- Ask people to (briefly) tell their stories/meanings about their pebbles/stones to the group. (There are no right or wrong answers - enjoy and marvel at what people can invent. And see how some people can quickly become very attached to a pebble... because it now has a meaning for them - they created the story/meaning - the ownership of something you create yourself is often a very powerful effect.)
- Optionally discuss how this activity is different to typical work tasks. (It's utterly creative - you are making something completely new and being 100% proactive, rather than processing something and being mostly reactive, as in typical work tasks).
- Creativity inevitably entails self-expression - this can make it hugely empowering and fun, even for serious work situations - did we see examples of self-expression in the stories and meanings that people created for their pebbles?
- Creativity - using the right side of our brains - is crucial for lots of work, but often neglected (many organizational cultures do not understand and value creativity, and many work situations can make us think that only designers and artists have to be creative).
- Creativity is extremely valuable in problem-solving, and using personal initiative, together with all aspects of organizational/people/business development.
- Creativity is a huge component of leadership. It enables leaders to innovate, pioneer, envision, solve challenges, make decisions, reconcile competing things, achieve cooperations, inspire, communicate, etc, etc. It's a capability that we can all improve.
Reference materials include -
See the team building activities guidelines for tips and techniques of working with groups.
- quizballs quizzes
- stories and analogies for training, public-speaking and writing
- inspirational and motivational quotes