Inclusive team building activities

Inclusive Team-Building Exercise Ideas

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Eli Sobel

An egg drop. The human knot. A scavenger hunt.

Am I describing an average day at summer camp? Maybe. But these kind of games aren’t just for kids. Activities like these are common among all sorts of environments and age groups because they allow groups of people to practice working together. Yes, we know that might sound weird, but collaboration is a skill that improves with practice, just like any other. Research agrees: studies have shown that when workplaces conduct team-building exercises, they yield positive results nearly 70% of the time. Team-building exercises produce especially good results when their leaders have positive attitudes and clear goals they’d like to meet.

Whether your workplace has experience with these kind of exercises or is only just considering introducing the idea, it’s important to remember that any activities you choose must meet the same standards of inclusivity as any other office practice. After all, a team-building activity that excludes a team member is unlikely to accomplish its goal, and its own hypocrisy might even undermine its message. In order to get the most out of any activities that your workplace conducts, it’s important to make an active effort to welcome every team member to the table.

Leading an inclusive event requires that you educate yourself about participants’ needs. A huge component of understanding your workplace’s needs comes from getting feedback from your coworkers and employees. There are many ways to establish open communication and constructive criticism as healthy norms in your workplace, such as through anonymous surveys, one-on-one conversations, and even open “office hours” with company leaders. In addition to evaluating the technical and logistical practices of your workplace, be sure to consider the company culture, also known as the “climate.” Does everyone feel safe, welcome, and included? If not, what can you do about it? Taking the time to assess how your workplace could be improved allows you to target those areas during exercises and professional development work. It’s no coincidence that companies that have high employee engagement and frequent performance feedback perform better than those that don’t.

That said, inclusivity goes beyond making sure that everyone’s concerns about the workplace get addressed. Those leading team-building exercises– and office activities of any kind– should remember to make sure that the activities themselves are inclusive of people of all identities and abilities. For example, this means making sure that everyone is able to move around the venue, participate in any physical activities, and use any relevant equipment safely and with ease. It means providing clear directions with both visual and auditory cues. It means not requiring people to be in physical contact with their coworkers or to stand in the spotlight if they’re not comfortable. This isn’t to say that physical activities are totally off limits– if you think your team can conduct an inclusive and productive game of the human knot or Flip It Over, go for it! Just be thoughtful in your execution.

In addition, mental problem-solving exercises can be both fun and meaningful, and when they’re led thoughtfully, they can encourage meaningful communication, prompt creativity and outside-the-box problem-solving, and boost employee morale. Here’s a small selection of team-building ideas from cake.hr:

  • Salt and Pepper: On notecards, write pairs of words that commonly go together ( e.g. salt and pepper, bread and butter, or cat and mouse), writing only one word on each card. Tape a word card to each participant’s back (or forehead!). Instruct participants to search for their partner by asking each other questions to try and figure out what’s on their card. Yes or no questions only!
  • Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower: Divide participants into teams and give each team masking tape, string, dry spaghetti, and a single marshmallow. Encourage teams to race to build the tallest tower they can, with the marshmallow resting on top. The tower has to be able to stand on its own for 5 seconds in order to win!
  • What’s in the Room: Pick several random objects in the room and assign each object to a pair of participants. Teams have just a few minutes to create a “marketing plan” to sell their object to the public, including a brand name, a logo, and a slogan. If your group is especially gregarious, have them play the game improv-style, giving partners an object and requiring them to sell it on the spot, as if they were in an infomercial. At the end, hold a vote to choose the best pitch.
  • A good, old-fashioned scavenger hunt. You know the drill!

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking, though of course the great wide web provides countless more suggestions to consider. With enough careful thought about what your office needs as well as what each employee needs, you’re sure to find just the right set of team-building exercises to meet your goals, while making sure everyone feels included the whole time.

Photo credit: iStock Photo