Team Building Exercises in the Workplace

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To ensure that a workplace is a trusting, functional and cooperative environment, managers and trainers sometimes utilize team-building exercises to illustrate certain key lessons and nudge workers into more collaborative relationships. Most of these exercises can be performed in just a few minutes without the need for expensive or unusual equipment.


As described in Brian Cole Miller's book, "More Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 New Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes," the exercise called "Tablecloth" challenges participants to work as a team to overturn a tablecloth using only their feet. To initiate this exercise, you'll need one tablecloth, preferably one that has a different pattern on one side than on the other, and a group large enough to be divided into teams of six to 12 people. Clear plenty of room, then have the staff lie on the floor, flat on their backs, forming a circle with their feet in the middle. When everyone has taken their place, have them raise their feet, then drape the tablecloth over their feet. Instruct them to work together in order to flip the tablecloth completely over without dropping it. If they drop it, have them assume the starting position and put the tablecloth back as in the beginning. Give them about five minutes for this exercise. This is a good way to encourage cooperation, creative problem solving and camaraderie.

Puzzled Thumbs

In Brian Cole Miller's first team-building guide, "Quick Team Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes," an exercise called "Puzzled Thumbs" encourages participants to effectively deal with change in the midst of a challenge. For this exercise, you'll need one children's jigsaw puzzle for each group of two to four participants. Ideally, the puzzle should be 15 to 25 pieces. You'll also need a stopwatch. Give each team one puzzle and have them separate all the pieces and scatter them face-up on the table. Time them as they assemble their puzzles, then have them scatter the pieces and start over, challenging them to beat their initial times. Challenge them once more to get an even better time, then tell them that for their next attempts, they're forbidden to use their thumbs. Watch them closely, and add a one-minute penalty each time they use a thumb. Again, challenge them to two more rounds, striving for better time each round. This exercise can help prime staff for unpredictability, encourage creative problem-solving and discourage resistance to change.

Yurt Circle

An exercise called "Yurt Circle," described in Harrison Snow's book, "Indoor/Outdoor Team Building Games for Trainers: Powerful Activities From the World of Adventure-Based Team-Building & Ropes Courses," is a bit more physical. For this exercise, participants should stand in a large circle, with each person almost an arm's-length apart. Have everyone hold hands, then designate each person as either an "in" or an "out" in alternating fashion as you point to each person in order. Then, when you give the command, instruct all the "ins" to lean into the center of the circle, while all of the "outs" lean backward toward the outside of the circle. In order to maintain the circle and for everyone to keep their balance, participants must closely match the extent to which the others lean. Naturally, some will be more adventurous, leaning farther, and others will be more cautious. This exercise helps illustrate these personality types within the group, build trust among the participants and underscore the importance of teamwork.