Taking on leadership roles as a teenager can sometimes be daunting, and yet with the right support can be very rewarding. This set of team building activities is specifically aimed at developing youth leadership.
One of the key things that the instructor needs to do is to provide support and guidance as necessary throughout. Remember, a new leader needs to work things out for themselves through experience, however sometimes they will need a few nudges in the right direction. There is no point watching them fail, because that will only make them despondent. It takes quite a lot of determination to recover from making a right mess of things, and only if you have the insight as to how to make it right the next time.
Key Youth Leadership Skills
The key skills that these youth leadership team building activities will teach include:
- Compassionate Leadership – Understanding the needs of the team and its members;
- Communicating Vision – Ensuring that all of the team understand where the leader is taking them;
- Expectations – Is it command and follow, or are team members allowed to use their initiative?
- Roles and Responsibilities – The leader must make sure that everyone in the team understands what to do and how they can contribute to team success;
- Respect – A good leader will always show team members respect and inspire them through leading by example
Make sure you read the after action review tips at the end of this guide for giving valuable feedback to your trainee young leader.
Once you have read this guide, you might also want to read my more general team building activities for teens including the popular team building activities for teenage athletes.
If you are planning your team building activities for outdoors or summer camps, I’ve compiled 40 of my best outdoor team building activities in one post for you.
Or you can find many more ideas in the full team building activities list containing worksheets for all of the team building activities to make it easy for you.
Recommended Team Building Activities for Developing Youth Leadership
The real benefit of teen team building activities is providing youth with those essential life skills of problem solving, working as a team, understanding others, and youth leadership.
Blindfold Sheep and Shepherd
This is a very simple team building activity that can be approached in two ways to examine the different challenges of leadership for teenagers.
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The first version is to blindfold all of the team apart from the team leader, who is the shepherd. The task is for the shepherd to use their voice to direct all of the sheep from where they are randomly standing around the hall/field into a defined pen. The pen can be marked out on the ground with tape, string or rope.
The team leader will quickly realise how precise they need to be with their commands, making sure the right person understands them and carries them out.
The second version involves the same task, but this time the shepherd is blindfolded and the sheep can all see. Now the team leader has to make sure they get feedback from each sheep as to where they are and how to get to the pen. The rule has to be in place that the sheep can only move in the way that the shepherd tells them to. No being helpful by moving other than by the exact command given.
After running both versions, the team should discuss what they observed about how easy it was to complete the task, what actions or communications helped, and what the youth leader had to do to make sure it worked.
Capture the Flag
This team building activity is one of the easiest to run. Plus it will wear out the energetic ones whilst those who don’t feel up to running around can adopt different roles within the game.
Capture the flag involves placing two flags at a distance from each other within a defined play area. Each team starts from their game base where their flag is and try to capture the flag from their opponents and return it to their base. The first team to get the enemy flag to their base wins, regardless of whether they still have their own flag. Very quick and easy to setup. Even more fun at night.
To make sure that this team building activity focuses on developing youth leadership, each team must have a leader. Before each game begins, the team leader must set out their game strategy for the rest of the team. The team must stick to the strategy and follow any commands given by the team leader.
After each game, review with the teams what worked in the way of leadership. Did the strategy work? How did the team leader adapt the strategy during the game? How did they communicate intent with each team member (effectively, respectfully)? Was the youth leader aware of what their team was doing throughout the game?
The team builds a chariot and then races across a course. The course can be as long as you like. I have raced cross country over several miles before.
The chariot can have wheels, or be dragged like a wooden frame.
Sedan Chair Racing
Sedan chair racing is the same principle as the chariot race, but the team have to carry the sedan chair off the ground with their rider sitting on it. A lot more tiring.
One way to get the team to work together is to send them on a sailing day. Using a fully qualified skipper to direct things, the skipper should support the young leader in directing the team and getting them to work as a crew. They will not only learn how to work together, but also learn a new skill.
Soap Box Cart Gravity Racing
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.
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 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 sweets in the can.
Blindfold tent pitching
This is straightforward, but is prone to lots of cheating and peeking.
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.
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.
Human Marble Run
Give each teenager in the team a length of gutter or drainpipe. The team has to convey a tennis ball or golf ball from one place to another by rolling the ball from one piece of gutter to the next. Make it interesting by making the team get the ball to traverse an obstacle course or to go up and down stairs. Not as easy as it sounds.
The Search Party
This team building activity is a great way for teens to learn and understand what is involved with organising a search party. You could even get the real emergency services involved for the practice and education.
Two people are to act as the missing persons and wait at a known location in the woods. Everyone else is given a rough location of where they might be and they then have to form a search party to find them. To make it harder, you can have the rule that the missing people do not answer to any rescuers’ calls. Or do it at night. You will need to have a clear signal that the missing people must respond to in case the rescuers cannot find them.
A favourite amongst teens for team building. 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.” No need to say any more.
Use any projectile to hit a target. Water, paint or flour bombs are the best. The team has to build their contraption for launching their ammo. See which team can fire it the furthest, or get closest to a target. You can also have a battle firing at each other. Eye protection is advised. Get building those trebuchets, catapults, water bombs slings and ballistas.
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.
Bridge Building and other river crossings
Create a virtual river using two long pieces of rope. Give the teams equipment to make a bridge. If you are feeling adventurous, do it over a real stream or river.
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.
This is one of the most popular trust building activities for youth groups. Set up a fence made of rope with large squares. This can either be ready made or you can use several pieces of rope to make a spider’s web sort of arrangement. The team then have to get every teen through the electric fence without touching the ropes. Lots of trust required.
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.
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
Group plank skiing
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.
The Importance of After Action Review for Team Building Activities for Youth Leadership
It is vital for successful development of youth leadership for the instructor or teacher to keenly observe what the team leader does throughout the team building activity. Notice how the team leader works out what to do; do they do it themselves or with team input?
What does the team leader do when they don’t know how to solve the task? Do they bluff it? Do they seek the expertise of the team? Do they know what the skills of their team are?
How does the team leader respond to team members who don’t engage with the task? Are they encouraging? Do they make each individual feel a valued member of the team?
If these team building activities don’t meet your needs, you can find many more ideas in the full team building activities list containing worksheets for all of the team building activities to make it easy for you.
You can also use the recommended team building activities books below.