If you’ve ever been to an orientation for college or work, or really anything else, you know things like ice-breakers and teamwork games can be cheesy at best. The games are so embarrassing you can’t concentrate on anything but how to preserve your dignity; duck-duck-goose or musical chairs would almost be preferable. But if times have changed and you’re on the other side of the game—that is, if it’s your turn to generate the nature of the games—take a gander at some of the ideas below. Some follow the mode of simple-yet-satisfying, but others are less games than they are adventures. For the latter, yes, they require more time and money than your average team-builder. But if you think having your team discuss the hypothetical procedure for saving a sinking ship is a stroke of genius, then maybe you’ve gotten lazy since receiving that promotion. Get them out into the world, or at least thinking about it. In a rush? You can always build a team in one day, if need be. Either way, share an adventure. Build a lasting experience and in indestructible team.
Learning the Ropes
A ropes course kills about fifty birds with one stone: it’s fun, exhilarating, mentally and physically challenging, and focuses on both personal and team development. Ropes courses are available anywhere, too. Urban courses resemble what you might have seen on Fear Factor or other adventure-reality shows. They have been built in cities purely for the purposes of providing an informative adult playground. Personally, I would take a field trip and explore a ropes course in a forest or other outdoor setting; this will heighten the enthusiasm, as there’s nothing like Mother Nature to help your team find their inner productivity Zen.
If you’re worried about safety, there are varying levels of difficulty from which to choose. Some ropes courses are only a few feet off the ground, while still requiring the same degree of team unity. But if you’re the team manager of Daredevils, Inc., you can opt for a “high course,” in which elements can rise as much as 150 feet off the ground. In either scenario, ropes courses focus on building trust, cooperation, decision making, goal setting, and positive risk taking, among others; team members will help each other overcome physical and mental limitations, and will emerge with a true sense of team accomplishment and shared adventure. Boosting the bottom line will be a cakewalk after a ropes course.
The Human Knot
I admit, this one’s a little cheesy, but it really works and it’s guaranteed fun. Plus, you can do it from the comfort of your own office. The game is just like it sounds: your team will create a human knot, which they will then be charged with untangling. To begin, have you team stand in a circle, reasonably close together. Everyone should use their right hand to grab the right hand of the team member opposite them in the circle. Then do the same thing with left hands, except each person must grab a different person’s left hand. Be the boss and do a quick double-check to ensure that no two people are holding each other’s left and right hands, or the game won’t work. Ease frustration in advance and get savvy to company culture for small businesses.
Stipulations: untangle the knot without breaking the chain. If the chain breaks, they must start over. This is much harder than it sounds, and expect to spend a solid 30 to 40 minutes. Without communication, humor, patience and teamwork, your human knot will remain tangled forever. What I like about this game is the close physical proximity required. Teammates will be breathing down each other’s necks, climbing over each other, etc. This will take their comfort levels to new heights, and make a cubicle feel like a corner office.
When Nature Calls
Graduate students at Dartmouth College can opt for a refreshing take on orientation: a hike to the top of the 4000’ Mount Moosilauke. While a strenuous, all day hike will do the trick, I might suggest taking it to the next level with an overnight camp. I did this with my eighth grade class in middle school, so there’s no doubt a group of grown professionals can handle it.
As far as expense goes, this trip will be relatively affordable; camping is often free, so all you will need is food, drink, hiking gear (if team members can’t combine forces for adequate supplies, renting is surprisingly cheap) and gas for the drive. It goes without saying, but ideal weather is worth the wait. Team building can be structured around preparing camp: building a fire, cooking (check out these recipes for easy meals that you can totally make over a camp fire), pitching the tent, etc., not to mention helping each other on the hike in. The experience as a whole will build a tremendous amount of team spirit, and doubtless funny stories about the misadventures along the way will provide a lasting memorial.
Row Your Boat
Short and sweet. Build a “rope boat,” a roped enclosure in the shape of a boat that is much too small for the number of participants. The idea if for everyone to try to fit inside the boundary long enough to sing “Row, row, row your boat…” The attempts will be hilarious, but beneath it will lie the need for teamwork. Whether this results in hoisting team members overhead or balancing them at crazy angles, this game illustrates the mechanics of collaboration and the fun to be had along the way.
When all else fails, fall. This is a classic from childhood. One person falls backward, and the other catches them under the arms. It’s fun, mildly frightening, and you’ll want to kiss your savior on the lips when your head doesn’t smack the floor. Of course, be logical about it. Don’t make the 90-pound yoga instructor catch the ex-NFL lineman.
If all these ideas are falling flat because your team is scattered across the globe, take the modern approach to managing and influencing your virtual team.