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3 Wacky Team-Building Exercises That Might Work

You've tried the ropes course, but what about a hula hoop-off? Some off-the-wall ideas that companies claim yield results.
COLLABORATORS Pamela Kruger
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Back in October, Ilan Mochari wrote about an odd “marshmallow tower” exercise. Teams of four are given 18 minutes to create the tallest possible freestanding structure using spaghetti, tape, string and one marshmallow. (Oh, and the marshmallow has to be on the top.)

The game yields enough interesting insights about collaboration that it’s been used within Fortune 50 companies — and was the subject of this Ted talk.

That got The Build Network wondering: What other off-the-wall team-building exercises might be worth trying?

Stage hula hoop-offs

At Kimpton Hotels’ annual general-manager meeting, the new managers are called to the front of the room for a hula hoop competition. “We play the music to ‘Wipe Out,’” explains Niki Leondakis, Kimpton President and COO. “Five people at a time hoop, and then there’s a winner.” Then the champ has a “hoop-off” with last year’s champion.  “For leaders, the ability to laugh at yourself is key, so we use hula hoops to demonstrate that,” she explains.

Takeaway: Use the silliness to send a message about company values.

Stage a “post-it” war.

Sounds silly, right? But a  highly-paid consultant didn’t dream up this activity; it was the inspiration of employees. Last fall, some employ­ees at  a French computer gaming company, Ubisoft, used Post-it Notes to cre­ate a gigantic image from the 1980s classic “Space Invaders” on the window. Within days, employ­ees from other com­pa­nies fol­lowed suit, trying to outdo the others. A few spoil sports prohibited employees from creating huge murals in the offices, but Ubisoft embraced it as a team-building activity.

Kelly Phillips, an e-learning consultant and blogger, suggests “organizing an internal contest around the art” and “encourage cross-functional teams so that employees get to work with people they don’t interact with during their normal days.” Once the awards are handed out, she write, “everyone gets back to work with smiles instead of grumbles.”

Takeaway: When you see your employees having spontaneous and creative fun, don’t squelch it. Use it as an opportunity to build comraderie.

Give everyone a day off

It’s not exactly a day off–so much as a day off site with whomever you choose. Mike Tannenbaum, New York Jets’ general manager and executive vice president, instituted a professional improvement day, giving Jets employees one day a year to “learn from anyone you want,” whether that’s a police officer or Howard Stern (Tannenbaum’s assistant spent the day with the radio host.)

Then over a “barbecue lunch,” staffers share what they learned and ideas that they think could help the Jets’ organization. “It’s been a home run with the staff, great for morale,” says Tannenbaum.

Take your team 200 feet underground

David Hornik of August Capital, a Silicon Valley VC firm, has been blogging about start ups and the importance of culture for years. When it comes to team building exercises, he has probably seen it all, from Kart racing tracks and disco bowling to the standard, catch-your-colleague, trust-building exercise. But even he was surprised when, in 2004, he was invited to go spelunking with a group of VC backers and the executive team of Splunk Technology. After the successful outing, he wrote, “There is no question that rappelling deep into a cave and crawling around its bowels with lighted helmets has brought the Splunk team closer together. It won’t guarantee that they build a better platform for managing IT infrastructure but it will help the team to work together, united around that goal.”

Takeaway: An intense experience just might lead to intense results.

Use an app for team-building

Of course, new technology is bringing a whole new dimension to team-building. A company called Goosechase created an app for scavenger hunts, which they claim brings a “fun mobile culture to the workplace.” Last year, the company ran a team-building exercise for BlackBerry, which had 1500 employees around the world competing in real-time. Some of the “Super-Missions”: Shaving the BlackBerry logo in your hair and kissing a lobster.

What do you think? Would any of these exercises work for your team?

THE PLUS

Looking for alternatives to formal team-building exercises? You wouldn't be the only one. A Vodafone UK survey of workers found most unimpressed with team building activities; only 26% thought more team building activities would help the company.

In the Harvard Business Review article "Team Building without Time Wasting," Marshall Goldsmith, the management consultant, suggests a very simple process can improve collaboration. Each team member is asked to rate "How well are we doing?" vs. "How well do we need to be doing?" in terms of teamwork. Then team members have three-minute, one-on-one meetings with each other, asking for suggestions of two positive changes that they could make to improve the team's functioning.

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3 Wacky Team-Building Exercises That Might Work

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