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team building blocks

7 Unique Team Building Ideas for Managers

Written by
Nicole McDermott
Nicole McDermott

The terms “team-building" and “icebreaker” don’t exactly sound enticing. In fact, many of us shudder at the thought of trust falls and name games. 😆

The good news? We’re here to tell you that team-building has come a long way.

If you’re a people manager, it’s not only helpful to prioritize team-building—it’s crucial. The value of team-building surpasses the joy of a free lunch or the opportunity to get a quick break from the daily grind. By organizing meaningful, enjoyable team-building activities, you can positively impact employee morale, productivity, retention, and more—not just in the moment, but in a real, lasting way.

Keep reading to learn more about the merit of team-building plus unique, creative ways you can help your team better connect as a cohesive unit. 👏

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The value of incorporating team-building into your management style

Teamwork makes the dream work, right? But when your team feels disjointed, disengaged, and dissatisfied, your organization may face a significant dip in performance and retention. That’s why managers prioritizing team-building should be a top priority. In fact, according to a recent manager survey we conducted, managers are most interested in learning more about team-building, with 50% of respondents rating it as the top topic of managerial interest. 🤓

While HR and people ops teams often handled team-building in the corporate workplaces of yore, the onus isn’t just on HR to help your employees bond and stay engaged. It’s up to managers, too. When you lead by example and make team-building a priority, you show your team just how much your connection to them and to one another means.

So what can you expect when you regularly bake team-building into your work life? Studies show that team-building exercises can improve team performancereduce turnover, and foster creativity. What’s more, research on open, collaborative workstyles found that among high-achieving teams, 55% have a culture of sharing who they are and what’s going on outside of work, and 72% exhibit mutual respect between teammates two natural byproducts of successful team-building work.

Workplace team-building tips

Before you devise a fully-fleshed team-building events calendar, it’s important to zoom out and address the big picture: why are you focused on team building right now, and are you addressing various employees’ needs? Keep these, and other important pointers in mind.

  • Nail down your intentions: According to the American Psychological Association, team-building interventions aim to improve how teams work together by strengthening interpersonal relationships, clarifying roles, and developing group problem-solving skills. Decide if a given team-building activity will help you meet those goals (or any others you may have) or if you’re looking to treat your team to a light, fun diversion that doesn’t have to check any specific boxes.
  • Include an element of choice: 2019 study found that when team-building exercises were mandatory or too intrusive, participants deemed the activity a waste of time. For that reason, consider making some of your team-building activities optional and give team members choice in the activities you do together.  
  • Leave some breathing room: After a successful team-building session, it can be tempting to fill up your team calendar with more in order to keep riding the team-bonding wave. Instead, you may want to consider a monthly cadence. (A survey of 1,000 full-time employees found that the majority of respondents preferred monthly team-bonding activities over weekly or quarterly.)
  • Let each individual’s strengths shine: No two people share the exact same strengths and weaknesses. That’s why it’s especially important to vary the types of team-building activities you organize so each team member has a chance to demonstrate their own unique talents.  
  • Keep inclusivity top of mind: Sure, it’s helpful to create opportunities for each team member to shine. But even more important when it comes to team-building exercises? Inclusivity. Think about the diverse makeup of your team. Before you land on your next team-building event, consider if and how everyone on your team can participate depending on where they work from, ages and interests, and accessibility concerns (keep any necessary ADA accommodations in mind).

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7 unique team-building ideas

Team-building doesn’t have to feel awkward, painful, or downright dull. Here are some creative in-person, hybrid, and remote team-building ideas.

  • Tailored trivia: Rather than alienate certain people with a trivia theme that doesn’t match everyone’s interests or knowledge-base, give your team the option to choose from several different themes like the 90s, Oscars, Harry Potter, or spooky movies.
  • Virtual murder mystery: This on-the-edge-of-your-seat, remote-friendly activity splits participants into teams who are tasked to examine clues, review case files, and work together in order to successfully solve a mock case.
  • Social shuffle: Forget the awkward, unstructured Zoom happy hour. This Zoom-friendly activity helps your team get to know each other—and you —better as they face a series of themed challenges.
  • Charity scavenger hunt: With this event, you can merge two of the best cornerstones of team-building: volunteer work and scavenger hunts. By partnering with scavenger hunt maven, Let’s Roam, you can host a fun, heart-pumping scavenger hunt that raises money for a great cause.
  • Stranded on a mountain: While this team-building game sounds less than alluring, it’s a fun way to explore each individual’s imagination. The idea: You’ve all been stranded on a forested, snow-covered mountain and your goal is to survive as a group until you can be rescued.
  • Cooking, baking, or mixology class: Nothing brings people together like collectively whipping up a tasty treat. Whether done virtually or in person, cooking a seasonal meal, baking and decorating cookies or crafting specialty cocktails (or mocktails) is a great way to bond over a joint interest. You can select a recipe of your own or work with a platform like Ten Spot which will help organize the right class for you and your team. The Bonusly team made homemade tacos for Cinco De Mayo with Rockoly and it guac’d our world. 😜
  • LEGO building challenge: A little back-to-basics play and healthy competition can leave your team feeling fired up and reinvigorated. You accomplish just that with a friendly tower-building challenge! Design your own parameters or work with a company like Bricks McGee to create the perfect in-person or virtual LEGO team-building workshop.

The takeaway

Sure, team-building activities can help managers build a high-performing, highly-engaged department. But they’re so much more than that. Intentionally carving out time to connect team members with each other on a human level in meaningful, fun, and creative ways can boost employee morale, retention, and satisfaction.

Want more great engagement tips? Check out this resource! 

retention checklist for managers

Originally published on May 23, 2022 → Last updated May 23, 2022

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Nicole McDermott

Nicole McDermott has worked in the creative content space for the last decade as a writer, editor, and director. Her work has been featured on TIME Healthland, Prevention, Shape, USA Today, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, Lifehacker, Health, DailyBurn, Petco, The Daily Beast, Openfit, and Sleep Number, among others. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, son, and dog. She's a big fan of wine, hiking, reality television, and crocheting.

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