What is Different About Team Building for Adults?
Team Building activities for adults differs from other forms of team building activities due to the types of characters that you will encounter.
Team building activities for kids should aim to develop a sense of working together. To get primary school age children to also understand and develop leadership skills can be quite challenging. I find that you get the best results by focussing on how to work together.
Team building for teens, secondary school and elementary school children is a lot of fun. They are very receptive to new ideas, love a challenge, and yet haven’t had the vast experience of life that an adult has. This means that problem solving has to be done by applying logic more than by using past experiences. Also, I find that today’s teenagers are so used to being provided with instant gratification and fed with computer games that their imagination can be somewhat stifled. Telling a good story usually gets their brains stimulated. Rather than getting them to use a plank of wood and some crates to get from one place to another, spin them a tall tale of adventure where they have to use the equipment to escape a terrible fate.
Adults are a completely different ball game. Stuck in an office or full time job, perhaps unemployed, and taking on a lot of responsibilities in life tends to dampen some people’s spirits. Adults also think they know better than anyone else. Oh yes, and everyone has a huge amount of personal baggage that drives their behaviour. You have to quite cunning to get team building activities for adults to work well. So, to help you out, I am going to share my experiences and expertise in having worked out the hard way how to create and run successful team building for adults.
When Should Team Building be used with Adults?
Team building activities for adults are used to address specific problems. The main reasons include:
- For conveying and sharing a common vision across teams
- Direction setting
- Shared understanding
- Building relationships across technical specialists in different teams
- When external influences affect team motivation, such as a drop in sales, increased competition or customer problems. This can be addressed using the two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory)
- New teams. Creating, forming and getting new teams to gel.
- Addressing teamwork skills such as communication, leadership, motivation, coordination, vision, ideas, problem solving, system thinking.
Ideas for Team Building Activities for Adults
So you know what your purpose is for running your team building session, but what team building activities will help you to develop your teamwork skills?
Drone Flight Formations
This is a great new team building activity that I have developed for adults, which works particularly well for tech companies. The initial outlay of cost will soon give you a huge return on investment.
The team has four small quadcopter drones such as the KiiToys® Nano Size Quadcopter. The team building activity will take up the entire morning.
You start the day by allowing the team 30 minutes to learn how to fly their quadcopters. You then run and team development discussion talking about observations made during the shared learning experience. Did they work together or teach each other? Did they struggle on independently?
The next session involves the team developing a flying display. They have to perform 3 given manouvres plus anything else they want to show. These could include a circle, vertical stack, or flips.
After the session, bring the team back to the discussion area to talk about how they developed their ideas, worked as a team, and how leadership developed.
Next you have the display, followed by an after action review. Did it go well? What would they do better next time?
How far can you throw a raw egg to a partner who successfully catches it?
Create an assault course or obstacle course and get the teams to race over it. You can be as imaginative as you want.
The brilliant thing about obstacle courses is that you can tailor them to your team. If you have an ultrafit team, you might want to suggest that they enter for an obstacle course race such as Tough Mudder. If you are focussing on trust, you could try blindfolding the entire team apart from the leader who shouts out directions to guide the team across the room around scattered chairs.
Get the Canister from Toxic Area
This is a popular team building challenge. Set up a can inside a taped off area. Give the team some equipment to retrieve the can without touching the ground inside the area. One variation I have done on a residential course is to attach an ammo box up a tall tree containing supper for the team. They have to use climbing gear to climb up the tree, retrieve the box and return without dropping it inside the area. Inside the box can be anything you want that they can cook over an open fire. We had two chickens in ours. We plucked and prepared them while others in the team made the fire. Lovely.
If you aren’t that adventurous, you can just put chocolate in the can.
You need proper climbing gear for this one. Rig a safety line and pulley high above the place where you will be stacking your crates. The stacker has to stack the crates into a tower as tall as they can, whilst balancing on the top. They need to wear a climbing harness, and helmet, with someone belaying them from the ground.
The team have to pass the crates up to the stacker. Takes guts and teamwork.
Bucket on a rope water obstacle course
Get a very long piece of rope or string and weave it across a series of obstacles. Up trees, through bushes, across mud, over walls. Then, feed one end of the string through the handle of a bucket that is full of water. The team then has to get the bucket of water to the other end of the piece of string without spilling any water. Good teamwork is needed to pass the bucket up and over high obstacles.
The team has to work together to navigate a course finding markers along the way. They have to keep together. The fastest team wins.
The team can make go karts, or just go somewhere and race proper go karts. They work as a team to see who is fastest.
Using a GPS, you can find hidden caches all over the world using the geocaching.com website. A hitech treasure hunt.
One way to get the team to work together is to send them on a sailing day. The skipper will teach them how to work as a crew, and they will not only learn how to work together, but also learn a new skill.
A soap box cart originates from the good old days when kids used to get a wooden soap box crate, stick some pram wheels on and race them down hills. Get you teams to design and build their soap box carts and race them down a hill.
Now Get Out Of That Challenges
Now Get Out of That was a UK TV programme where teams had to navigate to a given location. There they would be given a puzzle or challenge to solve. Successful completion would give the teams the clue to the next location.
The team challenges included river crossings and getting a cassette recorder to work when the power wires were too short (use the earth lead to extend the others). The sort of tasks teens will love are things like working out how to boil some water using only a sheet of paper and a candle. They have to fold up the paper to make a container. The water soaks into the paper a bit, but this is countered by the flame. It doesn’t burn the paper if they are careful.
Swamp or River Crossing
Create a swamp, and then the teams have to cross it without going in it. They can be provided with a variety of useful and unhelpful equipment. Planks and bricks are commonly used. You can also get the teams to make a bridge.
The Great Egg Race – Invention to solve a problem
Give the teams a problem where they have to build something to solve it. It could be a device to carry an egg the furthest over a course, or a rocket/parachute that can bring an egg back safely to earth.
Scavenger Hunts and Treasure Hunts
Give your teams a list of items or tasks they have to complete in the time given. To make your teens think, make the description of the items cryptic. A picture of Thomas Jefferson ($5 bill), or a portrait of the Queen (a stamp or money).
If completing tasks such as visiting places, they can take a picture to prove they were there.
Monopoly Runs are a race around a virtual Monopoly board. This is easy if you are in London. The team has to visit all of the places named on the Monopoly board as quickly as possible.
If you aren’t in London, you can create your own board with place names of where you are.
This trust building game involves a member of the team being blindfolded and guided by voice around an obstacle course. If more than one team goes at once, this adds lots of confusion as the people who are blindfolded are not sure if the instructions are for them or not.
Get the team to build something. Anything. Just the act of cooperative work improves their team work. This is a great way to support troubled teens, as they will often work well when given physical tasks where they can see the results of their labour. Community projects may be ideal.
Lego structure copy
Make a Lego structure out of different coloured bricks and place it in the next room. Each team is given a set of bricks to build an exact copy of the Lego structure. The rules are that only one person from each team is allowed to go and have a look at the structure. When they come back to their team, they cannot touch the bricks, but they can tell the others how to build their copy. Anybody from the team can go and have a look, but only one at a time. Once another person comes back from having a look, the previous person can then touch their bricks to help build.
What you don’t tell the teams is that you have swapped one brick from each of their supplies with another team. This means that they cannot complete their copy unless they get the correct brick from another team. Of course, the other teams will not be willing to give away their bricks until they know which ones they have spare. Negotiation comes into play.
One amazing thing I once saw was when I did this team building activity with ten teams. Some of the teams grouped together and all worked on completing one model. They could then copy the model within the room as they had a copy in front of them. All I had said is that there was a prize for every team that completes their copy of the model. It is not a race, but most teams usually want to be first and don’t help the greater group.
Follow the plans
Give each team a set of plans that tell them how to do or build something. A prize is given for every team that completes the task in the time limit.
What you don’t tell them is that you have not given them a full set of instructions. Take one page from each set of instructions and put it into the instruction for another team. So team A may have pages 1, 2, 4 and 5; Team B may have pages 1, 2, 3 and 5. The teams will need to work this out to finish the task. Sometimes they will improvise and work out what the missing instructions might be.
If you live in NYC or San Francisco, there are some great theatre improvisation sessions that you can go to. The team building sessions get everyone working together, having fun, and even performing some comedy. A great laugh.
If you are not so fortunate, give the teams a silly phrase on a piece of paper. The teams then have to create a short play that includes that sentence. The other teams in the audience have to guess what the sentence was.
Learn a new sport
Just have a look at the full outdoor activities list to discover a new sport they all might like to try. Sharing the learning experience is a great way to get a team to bond.
There are an ever increasing number of places that you can go to have a chocolate making experience. This can be a great team building activity for team bonding in a low threat environment.
A favourite for team building, although you need to consider who will be taking part. Can they swim? Do you really want to put them through the risk of getting wet and muddy? If you do, then give them lots of poles, ropes and large barrels to lash together to form a raft. Then have a race or get them to cross a river.
Egg Tower Construction
Yes it’s the “build a tower using drinking straws and tape to support an egg.” This is good if the team leader ensures that everyone in the team is involved. What usually happens is that one or two team members dominate the activity leaving everyone else to watch. No need to say any more.
The levitating Stick
This team building activity involves the team getting into two rows facing each other. Everyone holds out their index finger and you place a lightweight cane or stick so that it rests on everyone’s fingers. The team then have to lower the stick to the ground whilst keeping their fingers in contact with the stick.
What happens is that someone will usually apply more pressure on the stick and it will go up a bit. Someone else realises that their finger is not longer touching the stick so they raise their finger. The stick then ends up magically levitating up into the air as everyone lifts their fingers.
It takes coordination to get the stick to the ground.
Find an assault course that has a ten foot wall in it. The team has to get everyone over the wall. It takes planning, as the strongest person who can lift the other up onto the wall may not be the best person that everyone else has to then pull up the wall.
Water Barrel Swap
Tie a pulley to a tree branch and pass a rope through it. Tie a barrel to each end of the rope. Fill one barrel with water. Then fence off an area around the barrels. The challenge is to swap positions of the barrels without anyone touching the floor inside the fenced off area, or touch the barrels.
Untie the Circle
Everyone stands in a circle facing inwards. You get everyone to cross their arms and hold the hands of the person standing next to them. The challenge is to uncross everyone’s hands without anyone letting go. This takes coordination from everyone. The trick is for the first person to uncross their arms by putting one arm over their head. Then going in one direction around the circle everyone else uncrosses their arms. Easy. Practice first.
Circle Lap Sit
Get everyone into a circle. Everyone then turns to face the person to their left. They all then sit on the lap of the person behind. If done at the same time, everyone ends up sitting on a lap self supporting. If not, people fall on the floor.
Dragon Boat Racing
Get the team working together to paddle a dragon boat in a race. Rowing is another idea.
Canal Lock Navigation
Guide a canal boat through a lock
Get the teams to use technology to solve a puzzle or challenge.
Group plank skiing
This should only be done with teams who don’t mind having a laugh. You need two planks with loops of rope attached to them. The team stands with a foot on each plank holding the rope. They then have to walk the plank skis to the end of the room or field. This requires coordination and teamwork to lift the plank.
Send your teens white water rafting. They need to listen to the instructor and work together to paddle in the right direction.
Paintball can be a great way to get teams to work together. They will need to formulate plans, adapt them during the game, and work together to win. If you don’t give any guidance, it will often end up as a general free for all.
If these ideas aren’t enough for you, I have more ideas for outdoor team building activities.