Tag Archives: team bonding

How to Use Team Building Activities in the Classroom

team building activities for students

This week’s post is dedicated to teachers everywhere. You are a hard-working bunch, and I admire what you do and the dedication you bring day in and day out. I have a lot of gratitude and respect for educators. I consider myself an educator; although, not in the traditional sense.

Here are some suggestions on how to use different kinds of team building exercises in the classroom. I’ll also include some specific names and ideas of activities you can use, as well as some links where you can go to find more detailed instructions.

Most team building activities are designed to be done in smaller groups (10-12), but there are always ways to modify them. I would encourage if at all possible to do these outside. Allow your students a chance to take a break from the classroom and enjoy a change of scenery.

Set Your Goals

Before doing any kind of team building activity, I always recommend setting goals. This will help you be very focused and intentional about the activity and its purpose. Questions to ask when settings goals for these exercises should include:

  • What is the purpose of this activity?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What do you want the end result to be?
  • How will your team (or class) be different when they’re done?

It’s important to be intentional about these activities from the beginning. Although you can do activities just for fun, I find that the more purposeful you are, the better the activity will go, the more the students will get out of it, and the more effective they will be in the long run. It does take a bit more time on the front and back end (because you also want to make sure you debrief the activities, including icebreaker activities [link]).


Icebreakers are great activities to use for your classroom. There are all kinds of icebreaker exercises that you can use. They are good for having your students get to know each other (and you) better. They are fun and high energy, so be aware that they might get your students engaged but some will also be loud and spirited.

Depending on your goals, there are different categories of icebreakers that you can use. There are problem-solving icebreakers, get to know you games, and more. Check out a few problem-solving activities here. [link]

Icebreaker Ideas
Group Juggle 

Groups of students form circles of 12-15 each and attempt to toss a number of objects around the circle without dropping them.  There are a few helpful suggestions:

  • Say the name of the person you are tossing to before tossing
  • Toss across the circle (don’t just hand it to someone next to you)
  • Underhand tosses only
  • Everyone gets it once, except the person who started.  The game starts and ends with him/her.

Name Samurai

Using a foam sword, students sit in a circle with legs extended. The “samurai” stands in the middle trying to tag the people speaking. Someone in the circle starts by saying their name and then “to [another person’s name], so it would sound like, “Jeff to Amy”, “Amy to Molly”, “Molly to Braden”, etc. The player who gets tagged while speaking then becomes the Samurai. Great activity for learning names!

Man – Gun – Bear

Think the full-body version of rock-paper-scissors. Divide the group into pairs (perfect for a large group). The pairs start back to back and after the facilitator counts to 3, they jump around assuming one of the 3 characters (man, gun or bear). Karate man beats the gun-slinger, gun-slinger beats the bear, and the bear beats the karate man, and if you tie, both die! Play until there’s one winner.

Team Initiatives

Team initiatives are great for getting groups of students working together to achieve a common goal. You can focus on leadership, communication, problem solving, and more. These challenges can vary from short 10-15 minutes problems or longer (30-45 minutes or more) exercises that require some planning.

Marshmallows & Knives

Using the large marshmallows and knives (like you would find in your school cafeteria), teams must figure out a way to keep the knives off the table using only the materials given (just those 2 items). This is another great problem-solving and brainstorming challenge!

Tallest Tower

Using strands of dry spaghetti, small marshmallow, and a roll of tape, teams must create the tallest free-standing tower possible in 10 minutes. For an extra challenge, give all the teams less time. {You can also do this with a roll of aluminum foil and see how high they can go).

Hula Hoop Hut Relay

Teams use 6 hula hoops to create a “hut” and then all team members must pass through the hoops without letting the hut fall down. Want to make it more challenging? Require each team member to start through a different opening or have the team member passing through be blindfolded!

team building exercises for students


(photo courtesty of Flickr, Create-Learning, no changes made)

Helium stick

Teams figure out how to lower a lightweight dowel rod with just their forefingers. The crazy thing is – it wants to go up instead of down! Great for communication and leadership!

Icebreaker and Team Building Resources

Teampedia is a collection of team building activities and icebreaker ideas.  It’s a great collection that is searchable by activity name and category.  You can also add team building activities here if you know one that’s not in the database.


Playmeo is also a collection of team building activities, icebreakers, group games, and more.  The difference is that many of the activities also have a video to accompany them, and they also offer a monthly or yearly subscription that allows you to access ALL of their activities, videos, and awesomeness!

www.playmeo.com (affiliate link)


What team building activity will you use with your students?  What other team building activities have you used?  Let me know in the comments below. 

7 Team Building Lessons I Learned from White Water Rafting

Group retreat events - river rafting

Last week, while on vacation, I went on a whitewater rafting adventure with some of my family.  We were on a Class IV (advanced) section of the Clear Creek river outside of Idaho Springs, Colorado.  The company we went with was Liquid Descent, and our guide was Alan (he was awesome!)

It was a great thrill and a rush of adrenaline.  We got through the whole half-day without anyone falling out and having a blast. Here are the team building lessons I learned from our experience.

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Team Building Lessons I Learned from a Family Kayak Adventure

Team building kayak family adventure

Last week, I went on a kayaking trip with my family and some of my wife’s extended family. We rented kayaks and SUP’s (Stand Up Paddleboards for the newbies reading this) 🙂 at a local marina in the town where we were staying.

We went on a 2-hour jaunt on a lake outside of Breckenridge, Colorado. The water was a bit chilly but it was a fun trip. Here are some team building observations and lessons I gathered from our adventure.

You can’t paddle for everyone.

When you are in separate boats, it is impossible to paddle for other people.  You have to do the work yourself in order to make your boat move.  You are in control of what is directly around you and can’t control other people’s boats.

In business, leaders often try to tell people what to do and how to do their jobs. It’s frustrating for employees when their bosses micromanage every detail of their work. In short, it’s an issue of trust and control.

What if I jumped on someone else’s paddle board because they weren’t paddling the exact way that I would? The results would be disastrous, potentially ending with both of us getting soaked.

Freedom + coaching = great excitement.

My son is 7. He started out on a paddle board but we quickly realized that wasn’t the best option for him, so we switched him to a kayak. He wasn’t thrilled with getting off the SUP, but he finally agreed.

He started out tethered to another boat, but quickly wanted to be more independent. Since I have been before and am a strong paddler, I decided to stick by him and let him go on his own. He did a great job, and was super excited to be free and “flying solo”. I continued to coach here and there, but also tried to give him lots of encouragement.  [I was rather impressed since this was the first time he had ever been kayaking.]

When we’re working with teams, we need to give people freedom to do their jobs, while also standing by them and being willing to coach as necessary (with lots of encouragement as well).  According to Inc.com, one of the top things employees desire is autonomy.

What would have happened if I had not let my son boat on his own?  More than likely, no one would have had a lot of fun.  What was the worst that could have happened by letting him boat on his own?  He could have fallen out (doubtful, though, but he was also wearing a life jacket), and I would have had to go rescue him.  It was the best decision at the time, and one in which he excelled.

What would be the worst that would happen by allowing your employees more autonomy?

Set a vision for the end result.

On our adventure, no one was designated as the leader, but we got to our destination anyway. We didn’t have an agenda and weren’t really concerned with going too far, so no agenda or direction was no big deal.

However, with a team of people, it is necessary to set a direction and vision, and keep it in front of your team. The likelihood of not giving direction and an end result and everyone ending up at the same destination is virtually impossible.

Communicate roles and expectations.

Alongside of a clear vision, everyone needs to know their roles and expectations.  I knew my role was to stay by my son and assist if he needed help.  With the items we rented, we had to share and switch off so everyone would have the opportunity to try different things.  Our expectations were also to have fun and be back within 2 hours (since this is the amount of time we rented our boats for).

In the world of work, communication is critical.  People need to know what their role is in the team, along with the expectations that accompany their specific role.  When these things break down, people are left feeling as if they’re in the dark and unimportant.

When roles and expectations are defined clearly, people can excel at their specific function and also know when things need to be adjusted.  When leaders set specific objectives and boundaries for those, they also have a way to determine when people are not meeting goals and have leverage for those not meeting expectations.

What roles and expectations do you need to set or clarify with your team?  How will you evaluate and adjust those?

Have you ever been kayaking or boating with a group?  What leadership principles can you learn from such an adventure?



5 Simple Relationship Building Exercises that Your Team Needs Now. #5 is Powerful!

Relationship building team exercises

Whether you have a new team, new team members, or an established team, trust is one of the most critical and fundamental issues you need to establish within the group.  It is one of the critical skills that top teams possess. Relationship building exercises can help to establish trust by helping your team get to know one another and build on the relationships that are already there.

These 5 simple exercises can be used by themselves or you can imbed these exercises in part of a larger event or team building day to work on building trust or increasing trust with your team.

1.  The Question Ball

Take a medium-sized beach ball and write 10-12 questions on it.  Form a circle with your team and the leader will pass the ball to someone.  When the person catches it, they must answer the question closest to their right thumb (no pivoting the ball if you don’t like the question!)  Pass the ball around the circle until everyone has answered at least one question.  Feel free to repeat!

Sample questions:

  • What is your favorite place to eat?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • Where do you like to go for vacation?
  • What is your favorite book/author?
  • What’s the most unique thing in your office

Here’s a list of 25 Questions from a recent article in Inc. Magazine that I saw recently you can use for this game.

2. M&M Game

Divide your team into groups of 4-5.  Pass a bag of M&M’s around each group and tell each person to “take as much as you need.”  That’s all you will tell them.  If they ask, just repeat the instruction.

Once everyone has gotten some M&M’s, tell them they will go around the circle and tell the other members of the group one unique thing about themselves for every M&M they took.

Have group members continue until all M&M’s are gone.  Switch up the groups and do it again.

3.  Passing Trains

This activity requires a little bit of preparation.  You need to prepare envelopes that have the following questions in them, and the number of envelopes should equal half of your group size.  (i.e., if you have a group of 20 people, you need 10 envelopes that include all of the questions.)

  • What’s the strangest talent you have?
  • What is your strangest fear or phobia?
  • What are 3 things still left on your bucket list? OR
  • What are 2 things that you have crossed off your bucket list?
  • Choose a movie title for the story of your life.
  • If there was a movie about your life, what actor would you want to play you?

Here’s a post that has a list of 45 Questions from LifeHack that you can use to pull more or different questions in to this exercise.

Set up 2 rows of chairs.  The rows of chairs should be side by side facing in opposite directions so that when people sit in the they will be sitting in rows – half of the team all facing one direction (one behind the other – not side by side) in a row and the other half facing the opposite way in a row (picture trains passing by each other with the caboose of one at the engine of the other.)

Give one row a set of envelopes.  This group will stay put and ask the questions.  The other group will move forward one chair (the person in the very first chair will move to the back at the end of each round.)

Each round lasts 2 minutes and the group with the questions can ask as many questions as possible in the allotted time.  Once the round is over, the row of moving people move forward one and time starts over.

The activity is over when the people who are moving end up at the same spot that they started.  Now, have the group share interesting facts that they learned about each other during the activity.  If you have time, you can switch and have the people who moved asked the questions and get the other side to move.

4.  Pair-Share

Pair your group members up and have them sit face-to-face.  Have them pick a Person “A” and a Person “B”.  When you tell them to begin, Person A will start and have 60 seconds to answer a question.  During the 60 seconds, Person B should just sit and listen.

At the end of the 60 seconds, Person B will summarize what they heard Person A share.  Then, Person B will spend 60 seconds answering the same question and Person A will just listen.  At the end, Person A will spend 30 seconds reflecting back what they heard Person b share.

Have the pairs switch and go another round.  Do as many rounds as you have time for.

Potential questions:

What is one of your most significant accomplishments?

Who is someone who has made a big impact on your life?

if you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

Here’s another list of 50 Questions that you could choose from for this activity.

5.  The Greatness I See in You…

This is an incredibly powerful activity; however, I wouldn’t just jump into this one without at least doing 2 or 3 other activities beforehand.  It can be a highly emotional activity and can also be a barrier-breaker in teams.

Have your group form a “U” with their chairs and leave space for someone to stand at the end.  Team members will take turns standing in the open part of the U and allow team members to compliment them using one word to complete the sentence, “The greatness I see in you is boldness.”

Participants go as they think of an encouraging word.  Team members can go more than once in complimenting their team mates.  Give each team member ample time to be encouraged in the circle.  Usually 1-2 minutes is enough.  Just be sure that you allow equitable time for all team members.

(A great thing to do for people is to have someone write down all the responses on a piece of paper and save it for a rainy day.)

What other activities have you done to get to know your team mates?  What’s worked for you?  Let me know in the comments below and share if this has been helpful to you!  Thanks!

Image credit Bigstock Photo, Wavebreak Media Ltd

How to Choose the Best Team Building Activities, Part 3

Young adults camping

In the previous two weeks, we have discussed the process for choosing team building activities for your team and how to go about it the best way.  When many people consider these kinds of activities, there is little thought that goes into the process of choosing these kinds of exercises.

Activities are chosen based on whether or not they seem like fun or if they group will “like” the activity.  This is the wrong way to choose these events, especially if you want to move your team forward and really challenge them to work together better, communicate more effectively, and increase the team’s productivity.

Throughout Part 1 and Part 2, I hope that you see the benefit in taking time and being intentional when it comes to choosing the best team building activities for your team.  In part one of this series, we talked about the different kinds of team building exercises that exist and how each of them are typically used.

In part two, we discussed evaluating your team, looking at their strengths and weaknesses before doing anything, and then setting goals for your team based on their strong areas and areas that need work.  There are specific 

Step #3: Choose Appropriate Activities

Now that you have an understanding of the different types of team challenges you can choose from, and how to think about those activities in light of your team goals, now you can begin to choose the appropriate activities for your day(s).

This will take a little bit of research and some time.  You want to choose the activity (or activities) that will best bring out the issue you want to work on.

Example #1

Your team needs to work on communication issues.  They communicate well with their own groups, but when it comes to communicating between teams, that’s where the breakdown occurs.  You want to teach your team that communication is critical and there are multiple paths of communication.

You tweak an activity so that the group cannot talk while completing it and must remain silent during the entire challenge.  They have to come up with alternative ways to communicate to complete the activity.

Example #2

You have a couple of strong personalities on your team that are keeping other people from taking on leadership roles.  These quieter team mates may try to step up, but typically get run over.

You know they have good ideas and want to encourage them to step up more and also convince the outspoken leaders that they are not the only ones with great ideas and leadership capabilities.  You tweak an activity that puts a “handicap” on the outspoken team members so that others will be forced to lead out.

Step #4: Outline the Event

After you have evaluated your team, set your goals, and selected your activities, you want to outline the event.  The best way to use these kinds of experiential activities is in a way that builds on each other.  Icebreaker activities are usually done first, building your way up to more difficult team and individual challenges.  Problem-solving and survival scenarios can be used as breaks from some of the more intense team challenges.

It’s always better to plan too many activities than too few.  If some of the activities go shorter than expected, then you have more to pull from, and if some run long, then you can save the ones not used for another time.  This is not the time to run out of things to do!  It’s better to keep the momentum going and the group engaged.

Plan for plenty of time for each activity.  You probably want to schedule at least 20-30 minutes for each icebreaker activity, 30-45 minutes for group initiatives, and 45-60 minutes for more intense team challenges.

You also want to plan plenty of time to debrief and process each activity after the team has completed them.  Depending on the activity and desired area of focus (communication, problem-solving, leadership skills, etc.), you may want to take longer to debrief and hone in on those specific problem areas.

There are multiple ways to debrief a group, and that is a post we’ll save for another time.  There are creative ways to process an experience, as well as traditional ways.  If you want to go the more traditional route and need some ideas for debriefing questions, here are a few debrief questions you can ask:

As you went through completing the activity, what are some things that worked for your group?

What didn’t work?

What is something you would change if you could go back and do it over again?

What did you learn about your team mates or yourself during this activity?

What communication strategies did you concentrate on throughout this challenge?

Did everyone feel that your ideas were heard and acknowledged?

I hope this gives you an idea about the time and effort it takes to truly make a team building event be all that it can be.  Whether it’s a partial-day or multi-day event, use these suggestions to choose the best activities for your team and help grow them to the next level.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

What other suggestions do you have for choosing team building activities?  What has worked for you and your team in the past? 

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 2

Authenticity and relationships

Last Thursday, we talked about the definition of authentic leadership, as well as looked at why some leaders shy away from authenticity in Part 1. Today, I want to talk about authenticity as a leadership tool, and why it is so powerful.

The Power of Authenticity

What is the power behind authenticity?  What are the results of a leader who is authentic and works to build his authenticity?  Here are several key by-products of a leader pursuing authenticity.

“To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.”   E. E. Cummings

Authenticity creates trust

Trust is a key component in any team.  Millennials tend to trust leaders who are authentic over leaders who are not.  The younger generation is very adept at telling the difference between the two kinds of leaders.  They are quick to discern the false from the true.

People who keep their thoughts, feelings, and personal lives close to their vest are hard to get to know, at best, and, at worst, can be intimidating.  These kinds of attitudes don’t build trust, and worst-case scenario can breed an atmosphere akin to walking on eggshells.

Authenticity gives others permission

Being authentic gives others permission to be authentic as well.  As the leader goes, so goes the team. When the leader gives off an air of authenticity, you are likely to find a team who is more authentic as well.


This is an area that is “caught” be example more then “taught”.  As others see you being authentic, they feel the freedom to do the same.  People (I  believe) naturally want to be free to be themselves.  Authenticity produces trust (above) and also prevents walls from building up among team members and serves to break down walls that have already been raised, which is the next by-product of being authentic.

Authenticity breaks down walls

When you are genuine and allow others to be genuine around you, it creates an environment that a.) prevents barriers from forming between you and team members, and b.) begins to break down walls that were there to begin with.

Authentic leadership strives to keep the channels of communication open between leadership and team members and among team members themselves.  People know and feel the level of authenticity and acceptance in a team and typically adjust their level of openness accordingly.

Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, and it’s also what gives us access to connecting with other people in a meaningful and genuine way.   – Mike Robbins

Now that we’ve discovered the “why” behind a lack of authenticity from leaders and the power of being authentic as a leader, let’s turn to some ways that you can be more authentic as a leader.  These are things that will take practice and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone but well worth the effort.

Next week, we will finish this series on Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool in the third and final post in this series.


Image credit: Bigstock Photo, kbuntu


How to Choose the Best Team Building Activities, Part 2

ropes course and team building activities

This post is the second in a series.  To read the first post, click here. Team building activities can be a great way to increase your team’s effectiveness, motivation, communication and vision.  When used the right way, many goals can be accomplished and issues worked on that can move a team from being dysfunctional to highly effective.

In the first post, I defined the different types of team building activities, which will help give you a basic understanding of the different types of team challenges that are available to use.  In this post, we will look at the best way to choose these activities, as well as a way to schedule them so that you get maximum impact for your time. Here is the process you can use for choosing team building activities for your team.

Each step in the process is important and should be completed thoroughly.  As always, if you have questions on any part of the process, send me an email, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

Step #1: Evaluate your team

Before making a plan or choosing anything, you need to stop and evaluate your team.  Here are some questions to ask during this step:

  • What are the strengths of your group and how do you want to capitalize on those?
  • What are the weaknesses of your team and how do you want to readjust them?
  • What issues does your team have that you want to work on?

For example, you might have some strong leaders but they are not strong in listening to others.  You might have people that have great leadership potential but do not step up as often as you would like. Your team might communicate well, but they need help problem-solving and brainstorming.

Step #2: Set Your Goals

After you’ve evaluated your team and determined some of the issues you want to work on, it’s time to set goals for your team building event.  Whether it’s a half-day outing or a multi-day event, setting goals is an important step and something that should be done with careful consideration.

Based on the list that you developed above, flesh those out into goals that you want to accomplish for your team activities. Many team building activities can be tailored to focus on the specific issue your team needs to work on. Once you have evaluated your team and set your goals, you are now ready to begin choosing your activities for your outing.

In the next post, I will show you how to choose the best activities that will align with your goals, and also how to organize the activities for ultimate benefit. More about that in the next and final post: How to Choose the Best Team Building Activities, Part 3.

How to Choose the Best Team Building Activities, Part 1

High ropes course team building

You have a team retreat or event coming up and need to choose a few team building activities to get your group excited and working well together so you can be uber-productive during the retreat. The best team building exercises build on each other so that your team can accelerate its performance not only during the event but also in the weeks and years to come.

How do you choose which activities to run? Here are a few suggestions on choosing team building activities. We will discuss the different types of team building activities you will encounter (in this post) as well as how to choose the best ones for your team, and what resources are available online to help you.  

First, you need to understand the different kinds of activities that fall under the team building umbrella:


Icebreaker games accomplish what their name suggests. They help people feel more comfortable with each other and start breaking down walls. These activities are great if you have new team members or if your members are not that familiar with each other.

These serve as “get to know you” type activities and can be used not only in the beginning of a retreat, but they are great to sprinkle throughout the retreat as warm-ups to more intense activities.

Group Team Building Activities & Initiatives

These activities come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From exercises that are more indoor problem- solving challenges and survival simulations to the more active and outdoors, these activities use different elements to get your team working together, communicating more effectively, and can really provide an eye-opening glimpse into how your people actually work together.

For the well-trained facilitator, these events can show the leader how to proceed with the group and also what activities the group needs next (or more of).

Low Ropes Challenges

Depending on where you do your corporate retreat, these may or may not be feasible for your group. Most of the low ropes activities are designed to be facilitated by a trained instructor (someone who knows the in’s and out’s of this type of event) and are run on a specific course.

These include the spider web, junk yard, wobbly woozy, the black hole, and many more. These events usually take longer and you’ll need at least 1/2 a day to make these worth your while.  Though there are some portable elements, many of these are set up as a stationary course that can be worked through as a group.  There is no specific order, but varies upon the team and the group’s goals.  

High Ropes Course

A ropes course requires a trained facilitator; however, if you have the time (at least a half day, but a full day is recommended) it can be a good investment for your team. The types of activities a group would encounter on a high ropes course include the incline log, multi-vine traverse, trapeze jump, and a host of others.

These are some of the most intense (physically and emotionally) exercises a team and individuals can experience, but they are definitely worth the time and expense if a company is willing to invest in them.

Transformational Leadership Exercises

Transformation leadership exercises can be quite intense and can provide a team (or an individual) with some of the most incredible breakthrough’s and “a-ha” moments of any activity listed here. These events are mostly held indoors (but are also often paired with outside challenges).

These also require a facilitator familiar not only with how to set up and perform the activities, but also someone that is familiar with how to process the events afterwards.  For this type of group bonding activity, the debrief process is just as important (if not more so) than the actual activities.  

These exercises are not for the faint of heart. They are usually done on multi-day events where a team needs or wants to dig into specific issues that are holding a team back from being effective.

Depending on the group’s goals and the amount of time you want to spend on them, any of these activities can help launch a team to the next level. Set your goals before your next corporate gathering, and use the activities that will help you achieve your goals whether they are more of the fun, get-to-know-you games or the more intense transformational leadership exercises.

To continue reading part 2, click here.

What are your favorite team building activities?  What team building activity resources do you use?  Talk to me, Goose!  Use the comments below. 

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