Team Building Tasks Or Team Building Exercises?

Team building tasks can be considered different from team building exercises in certain essential aspects. They are not the same. When team building involves giving the team a task to complete, something meaningful that must involve all team members, and that has a deadline, it differs significantly from an exercise that is little more than just a game.

Games can be challenging. They can require a considerable amount of problem solving that can involve every member of the team. Once the problem has been solved there will usually be jubilation and it will appear that the team has bonded and learned from the exercise. This may be so to some extent, but the true value will not be as great as when team building tasks are employed.

Consider for a moment a fire exercise performed by trainee firemen. It could take any number of forms, but imagine that a small team of three firemen are tasked to shut off a valve located at the base of a fire wall.

The fire wall is a large steel wall with a number of nozzles on it. Inflammable fuel flows from the nozzles and is ignited. The effect is a literal wall of flame at least ten feet deep. Turning off the valve to shut off the fuel and kill the fire is no easy task!

The team of trainee firemen are not playing games. They advance on the fire wall with a hose set to spray water in a wide umbrella fan pattern. One team member leads the hose; another is immediately behind helping to keep the protective hose spray pattern steady – their safety depends on it. The third team member is at the rear, pulling in the excess hose to make progress easier.

In this way they literally walk through the solid wall of fire, protected by the spray pattern of the hose. Once they arrive at the wall the valve can be located and shut off. This kills the flow of fuel to the nozzles and the fire immediately goes out. Mission accomplished.

What happens here is that the team is given a task. They may also be given a deadline to accomplish that task. They are completely dependent on each other doing exactly what they are supposed to do, or the task will not be accomplished. Even more to the point in this example, they could all sustain serious injury if any team member fails.

There is no suggestion here that team building tasks should involve potentially dangerous fire fighting. However, the example illustrates that a military-like approach where a definite task must be accomplished has better team building qualities than an exercise that really has little beginning, middle or end to it.

Team building tasks have a definite purpose. There is a definite goal that must be accomplished. The goal should be difficult to achieve, but not so difficult that it becomes almost impossible. The fire fighting task illustrated earlier appears very difficult and is very frightening for first time trainees, but it is actually not as difficult as it first seems, and not really as dangerous either. However, it certainly has the effect of quickly building a strong team!

Top 5 Minute Team Building Exercises

Successful businesses bring together the talents of individual employees. Group activities are one way to accomplish this goal, and have fun at the same time. Here are the best exercises for improving teamwork in 5 minutes or less.

One-word Story Writing

This activity is appropriate for groups of 20 or less. Only a pen and paper are needed. The team leader writes the words “Once upon a time” on a piece of paper, and passes it around the room. Each member of the group adds a single word of their own choosing, and a story is created. Allow time for each member to have an opportunity to add several words. At the end of the exercise, the team leader reads the story out loud for all to hear. The purpose of the exercise is to promote collaboration and recognize individual creativity.

Best and Worst Bosses

This is one of the most popular 5 minute team building exercises of all time (among employees). It is appropriate for groups of any size and requires no materials. The team leader goes first, and describes a favorite and a least favorite boss at a previous job. Each member of the group then does the same. First-time employees can describe college professors or high school teachers instead. The purpose of the exercise is to promote group discussion of noteworthy leadership traits.

Number Circles

This exercise works well with large groups. It requires only a stopwatch and an open area. The team leader assembles everyone into small groups of 5 to 10 people. The people in each group hold hands standing in a circle, with everyone facing outward. Each circle takes a turn counting out loud from 1 to 50, with each person saying a number in sequence, moving around the circle in a clockwise direction. The team leader times how long it takes each circle to count to 50 in this fashion, and the fastest circle wins. This activity emphasizes victory by collective effort.

No-look Diagrams

Here is an activity for groups of any size. It requires pens and paper, and a simple stick-figure diagram of a common object (house, car, apple, etc.). A member of the group is selected to come to the front, and that person is given the diagram to look at without the others seeing. The rest of the group places the tip of their pens in the middle of a piece of paper in front of them, and is asked to close their eyes. Without lifting pen from paper, they must draw according to the verbal directions of the person up front, in an effort to copy the image. The purpose is to improve communication.

Newspaper Towers

This is a variation on one of the classic 5 minute team building exercises known as paper towers. It is appropriate for groups of up to 50 people. It requires newspaper and several rolls of tape. Smaller groups of 5 or so people are formed, and each receives a single sheet from the newspaper (the original game used regular copy paper), and tape. The goal is to see which group can build the tallest tower using only the piece of newspaper and the tape. The purpose of the exercise is to promote group creativity and problem solving.

These exercises are designed to encourage collaboration in achieving the goals of the business. Team leaders should take care to respect individual sensitivities while conducting the exercises. Done correctly, they are an excellent way to reinforce the value of teamwork.