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Free Team Building Games: Introduction

Guide and Tips

How to use team-building games, group activities - ideas and theory for employee motivation, training and development

Here are techniques, theory and ideas for designing and using your own team building games, exercises and activities, and tips for using the many free team and group activites and ideas on this website.

Team building games, exercises and activities help build teams, develop employee motivation, improve communications and are fun - for corporate organizations, groups, children's development and even kids parties. Team building games, exercises, activities and quizzes also warm up meetings, improve training, and liven up conferences.

These free team building games ideas and rules will help you design and use games and exercises for training sessions, meetings, workshops, seminars or conferences, for adults, young people and children, in work, education or for clubs and social activities. Team building games, exercises and activities can also enhance business projects, giving specific business outputs and organizational benefits. We cannot accept responsibility for any liability which arises from the use of any of these free team building ideas or games - please see the disclaimer notice below. Always ensure that you have proper insurance in place for all team building games activities, and take extra care when working with younger people, children and organising kids party games.


Great teamwork makes things happen more than anything else in organizations. The diagram representing McGregor's X-Y Theory helps illustrate how and why empowered teams get the best results. Empowering people is more about attitude and behaviour towards staff than processes and tools. Teamwork is fostered by respecting, encouraging, enthusing, caring for people, not exploiting or dictating to them.

At the heart of this approach is love and spirituality which helps bring mutual respect, compassion, and humanity to work. People working for each other in teams is powerful force, more than skills, processes, policies. More than annual appraisals, management-by-objectives, the 'suits' from head office; more than anything. Teams usually become great teams when they decide to do it for themselves - not because someone says so. Something inspires them maybe, but ultimately the team decides. It's a team thing. It has to be. The team says: 'Okay. We can bloody well make a difference. We will be the best at what we do. We'll look out for each other and succeed - for us - for the team. And we'll make sure we enjoy ourselves while we're doing it'. And then the team starts to move mountains.

Using and Planning Team-Building Activities

People are best motivated if you can involve them in designing and deciding the activities - ask them. Secondly you will gain most organisational benefit if the activities are geared towards developing people's own potential - find out what they will enjoy doing and learning. Games can be trite or patronising for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff - again ask them. When you ask people commonly you'll have several suggestions which can be put together as a collection of experiences that people attend or participate in on a rotating basis during the day or the team-building event. Perhaps you have people among your employees who themselves have special expertise or interests which they'd enjoy sharing with others; great team activities can be built around many hobbies and special interests. If you are planning a whole day of team-building activities bear in mind that a whole day of 'games' is a waste of having everyone together for a whole day. Find ways to provide a mix of activities that appeal and help people achieve and learn - maybe build in exercises focusing on one or two real work challenges or opportunities, using a workshop approach. Perhaps involve a few employees in planning the day (under your guidance or not according to the appropriate level of delegated authority ) - it will be good for their own development and will lighten your load. See also the guide to facilitating experiential learning activities .

Exercises and Events for Developing Ethical Organisations

Team-building exercises and activities also provide a wonderful opportunity to bring to life the increasing awareness and interest in 'ethical organisations' . These modern ethical business ideas and concepts of sustainability, 'Fairtrade', corporate social responsibility, the 'triple bottom line', love, compassion, humanity and spirituality , etc., are still not well defined or understood: people are unclear what it all means for them individually and for the organization as a whole, even though most people are instinctively attracted to the principles. Team-exercises and discussions help bring clarity and context to idealistic concepts like ethics and social responsibility far more effectively than reading the theory, or trying to assimilate some airy-fairy new mission statement dreamed up by someone at head office and handed down as an edict. Fundamental change has to come from within, with support from above sure, but successful change is ultimately successful because people 'own' it and see it as their change , not something handed down. See, for example, the Triple Bottom Line exercise .

Ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc. Age discrimination is a potential risk given certain groups and activities, and particularly so because Age Discrimination is quite a recent area of legislation. Team-building facilitators should be familiar with Employment Age Regulations and wider issues of Equality Law and its protections against discrimination for reasons of race, gender, disability, etc. While this is UK and European legislation, the principles are applicable to planning and running team-building exercises anywhere in the world, being consistent with the ethical concepts.

Corporate events and social responsibility

Also consider the effects of team building and corporate events in terms of effects on employees' families and people's broader life needs. It is easy to become very narrowly focused on the organization and the community within it, without thinking of the families and social needs outside. Alcohol is another increasing area of risk for organizers of team building and conference events.

An employer's duty of care (and potential liability) at corporate events traditionally was fulfilled by ensuring no-one tripped over the electrical cable for the overhead projector. Nowadays organizations have a deeper wider responsibility, which is progressively reflected in law. Alcohol and discrimination are big issues obviously, but arguably a bigger responsibility for employers is to the families and social well-being of employees, which impacts directly onto society as a whole.

Today's well-led and ethically-managed corporations understand that divisive treatment of employees' partners and families undermines loyalty and motivation of employees, and creates additional unnecessary stresses for workers in close loving caring relationships, especially for young families, which have evolved a strong sensitivity to such pressures.

If you read about Erik Erikson's Life Stages Theory you will understand why parents of young children especially are not helped by this sort of work pressure. Thwarting or obstructing people's instincts - evolved over millennia - to be with and take care of their partners and young families is extremely destructive. Employers who have a blatant antipathy for these crucial life needs of their people are therefore socially irresponsible.

Inevitably strong work commitments put pressure on employees' families and partners. This is particularly so in big modern corporations where travel and lengthy absence from home is unavoidable in key roles. Modern ethical socially responsible organizations should be doing whatever they can to minimize these effects, not make them worse.

Where possible employers should reward partners and families for their support and loyalty, rather than alienate them by creating selfish staff-only events.

Laws are not yet clearly defined about the employer's liabilities arising from such situations, however there are clear principles (e.g., related to stress, duty of care, social responsibility, etc) which demand responsibility and anticipation from employers in this area.

Moreover, fostering a healthy work and home life balance tends to make organizations run smoother and less problematically, notably in areas of grievance and counseling, stress and conflict, disputes and litigation, recruitment and staff retention, succession planning, company reputation and image.

Risks and dangers of socially irresponsible events and activities

I was prompted to add this item because I received a question about the implications of running a staff-only dinner dance at a conference event.

If you are considering a staff-only social event - especially at night, involving alcohol, dancing, overnight accommodation - or you are wondering generally where to draw the line between working relationships and intimacy, or between fun and irresponsible risk, these observations might help you decide.

Implications and risks of organizing socially irresponsible events concern chiefly:

  1. Romantic/sexual relations between staff, whether extra-marital or not.
  2. Stresses on partners and families, and thereby on staff too, if partners are excluded from intimate social events.
  3. Problems, accidents, incidents arising from alcohol.
  4. Impacts on performance, management distraction, and staff retention arising from the above.
  5. Risks of litigation and bad publicity arising from any of the above.

The risks of running a socially irresponsible corporate event are emphasised if you consider a scenario containing the following elements. Do not run an event containing these elements. This is a negative example for the purposes of illustrating risk and responsibility:

  1. Evening dinner and dance or disco.
  2. Dressing up - especially black tie, long dresses (and whatever the women will be wearing - no, seriously..)
  3. A bar, or other access to alcohol (the more freely available then the more risk).
  4. Overnight accommodation.
  5. Heady atmosphere of achievement, motivation, team-working, relationship-building and general showing off (many conference events contain these features, especially those aiming to motivate, reward, entertain, etc., and especially events for staff involved in sales, management and the more extroverted people-oriented roles within organizations).
  6. Scheduled on the last night of the event (sense of climax, relief, tension release, "...Tomorrow it all ends and back to normal...", etc.)
  7. Partners excluded (for whatever reason - either because the CEO is a thrice married and divorced dirty old man, or because the event necessarily brings delegates together from a wide geographical area, which prevents partners attending due to logistics and costs).

You do not need to be a professor of social anthropology to guess that the above circumstances are unlikely to be a useful corporate defence against any of the following problems which could arise, directly, indirectly, or ironically if actually nothing whatever to do with the event itself - try telling that to the offended party afterwards...

  1. Extra-marital liaisons of various sorts between various people away from home, whether serial philanderers, or momentarily weak in the face of temptation.
  2. Seductions or more serious sexual behaviours resulting in a victim or complaint of some sort.
  3. Abuse of power/authority/bar-tab by a senior staff member, resulting in scandal when a junior victim subsequently emerges, and says it all happened because they got drunk downing umpteen free sambucas with the directors and then got taken advantage of.
  4. Someone deciding to drive away on the night three or four times over the legal limit and getting arrested or causing an accident.
  5. Damage to person or property, or violence resulting from too much alcohol.

You could probably add to this list. There is no limit to human ingenuity when behaving irresponsibly under the influence of drink and any other stimulants of emotion or substance. A socially responsible employer should be able to demonstrate they have been duly careful and diligent in minimizing such risks when organizing any work events.

Excluding partners from events...

Executives, managers and employees of successful organizations hopefully love their work. They live and breathe it, which is great - but what about the partners and families? Do they love the organization? Sometimes not. Overly demanding work is a threat to family life - and thereby to society. And just because a few staff members and crusty old directors can't wait to get away from their spouses (a feeling no doubt reciprocated by the spouses), doesn't mean that all employees feel the same way. The vast majority do not.

Staging intense social staff-only events can be upsetting to employees' partners and families.

A modern ethical employer's duty of care and social responsibility extsnds to the families of its employees.

Divorce, separation and family conflicts and breakdowns are directly linked with many social ills. Socially responsible ethical employers should be doing all they can to reduce these causal factors - not to make them worse.

Remind yourself of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs if you are in doubt about the acute stress which arises when anyone is threatened at the level of family, loving relationships, home, etc. Consider the stresses and difficulties caused to employees' partners excluded from such occasions, and the effects which inevitably rebound on the employees, and cascade to children. These are truly basic needs and an organization which jeopardises these factors is irresponsible in the extreme.

Starting the team building process

If you are a manager, supervisor or team leader, and are wondering how to select a team-building activity, an easy and effective way to begin the process is to simply ask the team what sort of activity they would prefer. For example - do they want to play games, or would the team prefer to use an activity that focuses on a work issue, or work skills, in the way that workshops can do. Asking a team what they want to is particularly relevant if the team is mature and/or contains mature team members. Younger inexperienced teams will need more guidance and perhaps a list of possibilities to choose from.

Involving the team in deciding what activities to use is empowering and participative, and will help to lighten your management load.

Refer to, explain and remember the POB acronym , which is a great mnemonic (memory aid) to reinforce the need for all team members to be involved and engaged in teamwork - teams work best when everyone contributes - which means no passengers. It's the team leader's, or manager's, or facilitator's responsibility to structure and help teams to ensure that all team members have the opportunity and incentive to contribute and participate in team activities, and ultimately the team's success.

It is helpful to use and refer to these models when using, planning, designing, and evaluating team building activities or games:

Kirkpatrick's learning evaluation model

Bloom's Taxonomy of learning domains

See also the Team-Building Activities Evaluation Form and Outcomes Notes (Excel file).

Introducing team members to Kirkpatrick's and Bloom's concepts can also help them to develop a clearer understanding of their own needs, and their preferred methods of training and development - individually and for the team.

Team building games and activity tips

And here are some tips for more conventional team building activities:

  • Practise the team building exercise yourself first to check that it works, check timings, materials, and to ensure you have all the answers. Anticipation and planning are vital.
  • Make sure all team building games instructions are clear and complete - essential for keeping control and credibility.
  • Become proficient yourself first with any team building games or equipment that you use.
  • Always have spare materials and equipment to allow for more people, breakages and the inevitable requests for freebie items ("Can I take a couple home for my kids?...")
  • Take extra care when organising teambuilding activities and games for young people, especially kids activities and children's party games.
  • Attaching a theme to team-building activities helps make the exercises more memorable - see the free motivational posters for ideas and examples

Quick games and exercises for warm-ups - tips

First of all - use your imagination - you can simplify, adapt, shorten and lengthen most games and exercises. To turn a long complex game into a quick activity or warm-up, scale down the materials, shorten the time allowed, and make the exercise easier. Most of the games on the free games page can also be used for children's education and development, and for kids party games - adapt them to suit. The number of members per team affects activity time and complexity - teams of four or more need a leader and tend to take longer than a pair or team of three. Increasing or reducing team size, and introducing or removing the team-leader requirement, are simple ideas for increasing or reducing game complexity and exercise duration.

Whatever you choose, as the facilitator, practice it yourself first so you anticipate all the possible confusions, and so that you have a good idea of how best to do it (you'll generally be asked by the delegates after the exercise). Think carefully about team sizes - pairs or teams of three are best for short 'construction' exercises, unless you want a leadership element in the game. Without a leader, too many team members causes non-participation and chaos, so avoid this (unless the purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate why teams need leadership).

For a quick game any newspaper construction exercises in pairs is good - if people have done the exercise before add an extra challenge aspect to make it different (maybe give each team a banana to support on top of the construction and/or limit the team to just 2 or three sheets of paper, or ban the use of sticky tape) - whatever, if you have a slot of 20 mins, allow 10 minutes for the exercise so as not to rush the introductory explanation or the review. Remember your tape measure, and practice the activity yourself to try to come up with an ideal solution for when they ask at the review.

Alternatively pick three or four lateral thinking puzzles and split the group into two teams. Use quizzes too. Larger teams are fine for quizzes because teamworking is less crucial. Giving a tight deadline will encourage the teams to share out the puzzles, which emphasises leadership, communication and use of skills and resources.

Think about the points that the exercise are illustrating so you can review afterwards sensibly.

Tips for working with syndicate groups for team building or training

Team building games and training exercises work better using syndicate groups, or teams. This is particularly so if you want a competitive element, which is very effective in building teams and team spirit. Working with syndicates also encourages and enables more participation, activity and ideas, and managed well, it makes the trainer's or facilitator's job easier. Using syndicates in team building needs thought and planning - here are some pointers:

  • Think about what you are trying to achieve and structure the teams accordingly.
  • Always plan in advance how you intend to structure the syndicates.
  • Threes work best when you want everyone to be involved. pairs ensures everyone is involved, and generally work quicker than threes, but are less dynamic than threes.
  • Groups above threes will require a leader to emerge or people will be left out.
  • Groups of four or five are good for providing the opportunity for leaders to emerge.
  • Groups of six or more require quite competent leadership skills within the group.
  • Ensure clear instructions are given to each syndicate, and these are best given in writing as well.
  • More pressure is put on the team if only one set of instructions is given - less pressure results from giving each team member a copy of the task instructions.
  • The best number of team members to achieve a certain effect will vary according to each exercise or game or activity.
  • You can change or keep the make-up of the syndicates as you change exercises, depending on the precise team building and relationship aims.
  • Some people are not comfortable being in the same team or group as their subordinates or manager.
  • You have the option to nominate individuals to perform certain functions within the team, eg time-keeping, leading, scribe (recording), communicating, etc.
  • Ensure syndicates have necessary equipment and materials, depending on format - eg flip chart paper, pens, laptop, acetates.
  • Ensure suitable space and working area exists for the number and size of syndicates you plan to work with.

Training a team building trainer

These ideas concern training people (or learning for yourself) to become a great team building facilitator.

The job of training managers and trainers how to run team building sessions is different from running a team-building session per se. It's important that delegates experience the effect of different types of team building, and also and the effect of the many variables which might apply (team numbers, mix, location etc); different types of games and exercises and their purpose (games, quizzes , competitions, warm-ups, exercises, workshops, etc), and the theory surrounding team building and designing team building activities (personality and psychometrics; leadership; communications; planning and preparation; follow-up; stress, fun and physical activity; etc).

How to become a great team builder

Becoming an expert in team building is a wonderful career speciality to pursue. The growing popularity of team building, and the recognition of structured, organized team building as a significant factor in the performance and well-being of individuals, teams and organizations, will fuel growth in demand for, and provision of, specialist team-building training. (If you can recommend any particularly good team-building design/facilitation training courses do let me know .)

Team building potentially includes a very wide variety of methodologies, techniques, theories and tools. And also values and philosophy. At the foundation of good team building are compassion and humanity - genuine care for others. This is what sustains and fuels people in organizations.

It follows then that to become a great team builder you should open yourself to philosophical ideas and values, as well as learn and experience as many methodologies and related techniques as you can, which together will combine to give you the character, skills and breadth for becoming an inspirational leader in team-building - and in the training of team building to others, be they trainers, managers, facilitators or team leaders.

Here are some examples of useful methodologies, concepts, etc., that can assist in planning and facilitating team building activities:

  • Teambuilding activities, especially with big groups, can become quite chaotic and difficult to control. Having some structure in place will reduce the risks of events becoming too loose, and aims/outcomes being undermined or ignored. To help you develop structure, see Kirkpatrick's learning evaluation model , and Bloom's Taxonomy of learning domains . Also see Tuckman's 'Forming Storming..' theory to appreciate how groups behave when they come together for the first time in new situations.
  • Train the trainer courses - many and various, from the inspirational to more theoretical - include lots of relevant learning about working with groups.
  • Explore facilitation and empathy concepts.
  • Understand personal change , and the challenges this can produce for people.
  • Look at stress and its causes and how to minimise it and reduce it .
  • Consider and talk about the growing importance of love and spirituality in organizations.
  • Explore and use motivational and communications methodologies such as NLP , and Transactional Analysis .
  • Psychometrics and personality are useful in understanding teams and group behaviours.
  • Outdoor survival, 'outward bound' courses, and personal challenge activities are also useful to experience and understand, in terms of what they offer people and how the process develops at a deep level.
  • And always remember the importance of fun, games and toys - for example juggling , plate-spinning, board games, tricks, puzzles, etc - use your imagination - school education suppliers and exhibitions can be a really useful source of ideas, providers and new products.

Whether you find a dedicated team building trainer/facilitation course or not try to access many of the above sorts of methodologies and concepts - and anything else that inspires and stimulates you - whenever the opportunity arises.

Team building variables

When planning and running team building activities, exercises, games, etc., certain variables have a significant influence on the way the activity works. When planning team building - or any group activity - think about and use these factors to suit the situation, logistics, team/group numbers, and the aims of the exercises.

  • Team mix (age, job type, department, gender, seniority, etc)
  • Team numbers (one to a hundred or more, pairs and threes, leadership issues)
  • Exercise briefing and instructions - how difficult you make the task, how full the instructions and clues are
  • Games or exercise duration
  • Competitions and prizes
  • Venue and logistics - room size and availability (for break-out sessions etc)
  • Materials provided or available
  • Stipulation of team member roles - eg., team leader, time-keeper, scribe (note-taker), reviewer/presenter
  • Scoring, and whether the exercise is part of an ongoing competition or team league

With a full day or more it's very useful to include something on personality types and how this affects teams, style of management required, learning styles (eg Kolb , VAK , etc). If you use psychometrics in your organization, if possible expose delegates to the testing and theory - it's interesting and a great basis for absorbing the issues. It also adds a bit of hard theory to the inevitable other soft content.

Ongoing competitions are excellent for team building, but If you are training the trainers don't run a competition through the whole day - mix up the teams from time to time to show how team dynamics can be changed and the effect of doing so. Also demonstrate how games take on a different meaning if numbers are changed (eg larger teams require leadership or there'll be passengers (see the POB team-building acronym ); and, you can play the same game with 3 and 6 people and it completely alters the conduct and outcomes).

Change and demonstrate gender and age mixes also - team mix is a crucial area of understanding.

Use a mixture of games to cover different logistical and environmental constraints - small room, large room, syndicate rooms, outdoors.

Include a mixture of games to develop different skills and aspects within team building - leadership, cooperation, communication, breaking down barriers, planning, time-management, etc.

Ask the delegates (in syndicates) to design their own games to meet specific scenarios. As well as the ideas, look at all the variables: clarity of instructions, timings, team numbers and mix, logistics, venue requirements, etc.

Outdoors, use traditional games like rounders, cricket, touch rugby, relay races, to demonstrate the big team dynamics, and the physical exercise effect - stress reduction, endorphins and neuro-transmitters, etc.

Also cover 'workshops' and how to plan and run them - practical sessions dealing with real business issues, with real content and real action-based outcomes, including the team-building effect - use a real business issue as an example. This would also require some pre-session preparation and coached and measurable follow-up, which are also extremely useful and under-used mechanisms.

Are the Exercises or Games Appropriate?

Before you decide to use any team building games with a group of people, think about whether the activities are appropriate for the team members and the situation.

The subjects on this website increasingly feature ideas for developing the whole person.

Think beyond providing traditional work skills development. Explore everything, and show your people that you have a broader view about development - they'll have lots of ideas of their own if you let them see it's okay to think that way. Team building games are just a part of a very wide mix of learning and and development experiences that you can explore and facilitate for your people - try anything. If it helps your people to feel good and be good, then it will help your organisation be good too.

Ensure that team-building activities comply with equality policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc. Notably, team-building facilitators should be familiar with the Employment Equality and Age Regulations , (UK and Europe, and increasingly elsewhere too). For example, a demanding physical activity might be great fun for fit young people, but if any of the team members are old or in any way disabled, then think again, because it wouldn't be fair, and it might even be unlawful. The same applies to any activities that discriminate against people on grounds of gender, race, etc.

Team-building games and activities have to agreeable and acceptable to team members, and the exercises have to be fair.

These free team building games and exercises generally last less than one hour, and can be adjusted to create longer team building activities, depending on the sort of team building, ice-breakers, training development activities required. Review and discussion are often useful and helpful after exercises which have raised relationship issues, or changed people's perceptions. Plan and practise all unknown aspects of the activities before using them. Logistics, facilitation and especially how you split the group into the numbers of team members per team are factors which have a big effect on how the exercises work and the experience for all.

Team Building and Happiness

Here's a simple easy tip for team-building, motivation, and creating happy atmosphere:

Buy a big basket. Buy lots of sweets or candy, lollipops too, wrapped preferably (for hygiene and maintenance reasons) and put them into the big basket. Put the big basket of sweets and lollipops on the table before people arrive for work, or the meeting, or the training session.

And then watch people smile. Sweets and lollipops break down barriers. They are a universal language for feeling good and being happy.

After a week or two of different sweets throw in some bubblegum. Also some bubblegum with collectible cards.

This gesture is not restricted to the training room; you can put baskets of sweets all over the place. Even in the reception and the board room; and even in the finance director's office.

You can ask the receptionist if she (or he) would be so kind as to make sure that the sweet basket is always filled to the brim (at the company's cost of course), and to make sure she (or he) always invites every single visitor to dip their hand in and take a big handful for their kids. And you'll see how wonderfully well people react to being treated in this way.

Go spread the word - put a big basket of sweets on your table.

When you've firmly established the practice of having baskets of sweets everywhere, you can move on to fresh cut flowers.........

A little bunch of fresh cut flowers in a vase, on a table. It's worth a million words.

(Next of course you'll need to appoint a flower monitor, which every right-minded person will want to be, so you can have one per floor, or one per day of the week, or one per department, whatever...)