Ten Tried-and-True Team Building and Trust Building Techniques


The point of having a good synergistic team is so that when times are tough, the team really pulls together and are able to pull themselves out of tremendous challenging situations. Other reasons for having team and trust building activities as a regular part of your meetings and or organizational culture initiatives include:

    1. – People will enjoy coming to work because they feel valued and appreciated
    1. – Projects get done more expediently
    1. – Creativity abounds when the solutions are not apparent
    1. – It is much less work for you, the leader, because people are not complaining about each other but rather are supporting one another
    1. – Work feels like fun rather than a chore. Passion abounds

Here are ten ways we’ve “borrowed and begged” from other colleagues or created ourselves to help your creative juices start flowing, whether you are the outside or inside facilitator or a leader that needs to be more vigilant about creating conditions for great teams.

Here’s one I created:

Show and Tell

Purpose: Help other team members understand what motivates each person (i.e., their passion) on the team. Others can then appreciate and talk to them about this passion if not confidential.
Audience Size: Ideally 3-15
Time: 15-45 minutes
Props: A beautiful table to put people’s objects for showing. A circle of chairs provides the right level of closeness for hearing and seeing.
mosaicScript: Have everyone bring in something from their home or personal life that they are willing to share as a special item that gives them energy, passion or joy. Have each person do a show and tell of their object or photo. Ask them to share why this item is of such significance to them. Ask everyone to respectfully listen and then appreciate them after their sharing. If helpful, you can ask everyone to keep the sharing as a confidential piece of information, i.e., take it as just something that they use to get to know each other better and to learn what motivates this person. The photo of the mosaic here is an example of something I would share with the group because I love working with color and shape. It is like putting together a beautiful puzzle for me – and a mystery about what eventually results.

Balloon Juggle and Sort

Purpose: Teaches the concept collaboration versus competition
Audience Size: Ideally at least 10 but could do with hundreds
Time: 10 to 20 minutes depending on length of the. debrief
Props: Easily inflatable larger Balloons
Script: Challenge participants to keep all balloons (1+ per person) in the air. This gets the group moving and cooperating. Once they are getting good at it, make it harder by adding in more balloons or placing restrictions e.g., no hands allowed to keep balloons up. Ask participants to keep juggling the balloons, but to sort them into colors (works best with large groups). Source: unknown from internet

Metaphoric Sculpture

Purpose: Provides a creative way to generate insights into a problem, or synthesize learning on a complex concept
Audience Size: Ideally at least 5 but could be done with 100 or more
Time: 10 to 25 minutes depending on how many small groups do the activity
Props: Toys, colorful cloths, tables to set up the sculptures
metaphoric-sculptureScript: Invite each small group of 3-6 persons to choose up to ten objects from the prop table. Ask that each group also choose at least one colored cloth. Give then five minutes to “sculpt” a topic e.g., their vision for a brighter organizational future; or the obstacles the group faces in moving forward; or the possible solutions to a problem they face. Hint: It is often more revealing to tell them to sculpt in silence without knowing what they are sculpting. Then have them explain to the other small groups how their sculpture shows the solutions to the problem or the vision of the future etc. Source: me (Barbara MacKay)

Frisbee Toss

Purpose: Gets people playing together, having fun and releases tension after. e.g., looking at issues
Audience Size: Ideally 10 to hundreds
Time: 3 to 5 minutes
Props: Ideally about 1.5 times the number of Nerf Frisbees as there are participants. There’s sites online that sell the soft discs.
Script: Have at least one Nerf Frisbee per person. More is great. Have different colors. Put on lively music. Demonstrate the game first so people can see that being hit by a Nerf Frisbee does not hurt. Invite anyone to stand on the sidelines if they would rather watch. Ask the group to start throwing the Frisbees to one another. If they hit someone, they must say the person’s name and say “sorry”. You can also tell them that every “hit” is worth a point but hits to a head means a loss of a point. Encourage people to keep picking up the Frisbees that land on the floor and throw them again. After two minutes, turn the music down and say, “Toys away after play” or something to signify in a lighthearted way it is time to settle back to work. Ask if anyone remembered to count points. NO one does. 🙂 Once people are settled, I will often say: “Recall in your mind seeing all those Frisbees flying around. This is typical of what goes on in organizations. There are all these ideas or issues flying around. Some you catch. Some you drop, some get lost, and some get picked up again with new vigor. This is a good reminder that we cannot do it all, or do it right all the time.” Source: adapted by me from Robert Sweetgall, pers. comm www.CreativeWalking.com

Brain Gym

Purpose: Gets people into a positive mind state and gives them a short break without them leaving the room
Audience Size: One to hundreds
Time: 3 minutes
Props: Energizing music and enough volume for your audience. Large enough space for people to move.
Script: You will need lively music with 4/4 beat if possible. I use Shania Twain’s, “Don’t be Stupid – Ya Know I Love You” or “Come on Over” on CD of the same title. For a video demonstration of this technique, see my YouTube:

Source: Dr. Karla Hannaford, Nueroscientist Pers. Comm

Scavenger Hunt

Purpose: Quickly lets others know little known information about each team member and helps people connect through finding out about common life experiences.
Audience Size: 10-100’s
Time: The length of this game varies depending on how many people are present and how many items there are on the list, plus the difficulty of the items. Typically, assume about 10 minutes
Props: Advance preparation of drawing up the list on handouts to be distributed
Script: The goal is for participants to find at least one person in the room (or the community) who fits each criterion on the list; they then write that person’s name next to that item. Here are some ideas for list items: someone who has been to Australia; someone who speaks at least 2 languages besides English; someone who has more than 3 siblings; someone whose parents still live in the house where that person grew up; someone who has a pet besides a cat or dog; possibilities abound! Source: Tree Bressen’s website (see below)*

Who’s at the Table?

Purpose: Connecting people to each other through commonalities and helping each other discover their uniqueness
group1Audience Size: 9-100’s
Time: 10-15 minutes
Props: A piece of paper and pen for each small group
Script: Split into groups of 3-5 people (pick a number depending on how many people are present and how much time you have-smaller groups for less time). The goal is for each group to find one thing they have in common, and one thing they are all different on. Then if you have time, the groups can take turns announcing to the whole assembly what they discovered. Source: Tree Bressen’s website (see below)*

If This Person Was a…

Purpose: Unique, humorous and visual way of getting to know team members
Audience Size: 5-50+
Time: 10-15 minutes
Props:None needed
Script: This game relies on people in the group knowing each other. Someone volunteers to think of a person in the group, and to answer questions about them. The rest of the group is trying to guess who has been selected. The questions take forms using nouns such as, “If this person were a house, what kind of house would they be?” or “If this person were a pair of shoes, what kind of shoes would they be?” And so on. Once the person is guessed, a new volunteer selects a new person. Source: Tree Bressen’s website (see below)*

Growing Up Pictures

Purpose: Fun, quick way of helping people appreciate both differences and similarities between people on the team.
Audience Size: Ideally 5-20
Time: 20-30 minutes
Props: Paper, pens, variety of color markers for drawing, flipchart
Script: Ask everyone to draw a picture of themselves growing up. Then ask: “Do you think that the other people in the room drew pictures that look like yours?” They’ll say no. Then have them shout out things they think are the same about the pictures (flip chart). Then have them shout out things they think are different. Then ask, “What do you notice when you compare these two lists?” Source: Tree Bressen’s website (see below)*

Magic Carpet

Purpose: Kinesthetic problem-solving showing the team they can solve seemingly impossible problems through creativity
Audience Size: 5-50+
Time: 10-25 minutes depending on size of group
Props: Bath sized towel for each group of 5-6 people. Note this will likely work better with a younger, able-bodied group
Script: Take a towel or something that is barely large enough for the whole group to stand on together. The task is then to turn the towel over, without anyone stepping off of it. Debrief with up to 3-4 of the teams with the following questions: In a nutshell, what was the given task? How did some of you react to this task (i.e, internally, what were the phrases you were saying to yourself?) What were some of the solutions proposed by team members? What id you try? Ultimately what helped unlock the secret to this problem? What was the team work involved that led to success? What would you do differently? Source: Tree Bressen’s website (see below)*

*Courtesy of Tree Bressen (with a few additions from me), Tree Group, http://treegroup.info/


Many other great exercises from Tree Bressen, including Moving Around exercises, Verbal exercises and more Bonding & Trust Building exercises. http://treegroup.info/

My colleague, Loh Teck Kwang has created a Facebook group that he describes, “aims to create a collaborative community that is generous and supportive of one another’s professional development. We would like to invite you to join the community, have fun, interact with one another, share your knowledge, and keep the space conducive for learning.” Visit the group here, https://www.facebook.com/groups/249873211756076/.

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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