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Trainers’ tips: ‘Alternative’ team building exercises


A recent post which caused a stir in the community has also thrown up some great resources. Jane requested ideas for an alternative team building day, and here is what the community said...

The question:

"I have been asked to source a team building day, but not the kind that has you lighting fires in the woods, drumming or archery. My boss thinks these are a bit 'woolly' and isn't convinced they would add real value. Specifically he wants something that focuses on personality profiles and group dynamics, with the notion that the better the team understands each other, the better they'll work together. Anyone got any pointers?"



Lucy suggested a "whose line is it anyway" style gameshow/ quiz to get personalities flowing, with whole team elements, smaller group parts and solo slots as per the television show.

Give SDI a try

Derek recommended trying Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) which is a fantastic tool for identifying what motivates people and how this affects how we communicate. "I rate it above some of the other profiling tools you can use for teambuilding events because you can map the whole team on to a visual triangle so you can immediately identify the differences between the team. SDI also argues that an individual's profile changes when they are in conflict with someone which is a real added insight," he says.

Oldie but goodie...

Rus swears by the following as it seems to work for his delegates: "Before the event get them each to do a Belbin team roles questionnaire...they can do this as they arrive if you want to keep it "on-the-day"
1. Get them to do one of the "ranking survival exercises"; NASA, Desert survival, Lost At Sea.  Video* it.
2 Debrief the survival exercise.
3. Introduce the team roles theory
4. Get them to score their team roles questionnaires.
5. Watch and analyse the video looking for examples of the team roles behaviours.
6. Discuss the team roles profile of the team and what this may mean in the real world and therefore what actions does the team need to take to succeed.
*if video isn't an option you need to observe and make notes"

Team building ideas

Roseanne thinks that the team building events that focus on helping people understand themselves and others and where they compliment and conflict as well are good. "I would also recommend Belbin Team Roles as a fantastic tool. It is easily understood and explained and I find people grasp it quickly. Behaviours that link to the roles are easily spotted and commented on either by an observer or by using video playback. The Belbin profiles can be completed online and the reports are very accurate. Meredith Belbin also has some interesting information around what constitutes a team as well. An alternative would be Myers Briggs MBTI although individuals types are best identified through a one to one session before the team building event."
An additional suggestions was to visit which has a great deal of team building information and games on it.

Be careful if considering Belbin and other such tools

A word of caution on specifically Belbin from Andrew Gibbons: "Unless you have paid your appropriate licenses and so on Belbin's lawyers will come after you with very sharp teeth. So, even an innocent, well intentioned use may get you into serious bother."

The Apprentice

Angela had some additional options for team building that don't involve "walking on hot coals" etc.  "My instinct would be to go for something based on "The Apprentice". It can be designed for one or more teams, have your "Nick and Margaret" observers and if possible video for feedback.  Two days is preferable so that you can do your diagnostics (eg MBTI) and set the scene, then the exercise(s) and then ensure you have a full half day for feedback/reflection and action planning (this is the bit that most people miss out and is the most valuable for making improvements and gaining commitment to change).  You could also schedule a half day follow up say six weeks after to see what has changed."

Team building with a difference

Nick says "Whatever type of event you end up choosing, there are some good suggestions in the thread already like SDI, you may still end up with a "woolly" result unless you have a clear outcome for the event. I am not sure about the drumming but I have seen excellent team events using various elements of woodland activities and have experienced some very poor sessions based on personality types. 
A  few good questions to ask as you commission for the event:
1. What will every attendee do differently after the event?
2. What will every attendee see differently after the event?
3. What will every attendee say differently after the event?
4. What actions will they take to maintain momentum to change from the event? 
5. What experiences do the attendees need to have for them to identify the changes they need to make?"

Creative team building

Alec says: "Sometimes, team building can be put over as a bit of a jolly and that should not always be the case.

For my business, we have held team build events in real live television studios where managers developed their own in-house five-minute video. We have also taken over a recording studio and made a brilliant single with one group - nobody could play an instrument. We have worked with the Wildlife Trust and ran team days working on copicing, doormouse hunts, munchjack deer counts or building educational areas. I would also urge you to look at community based team building projects - clearing a piece of land, painting a community building room, working with students with learning difficulties etc. Finally, do think of a project involving The Princes Trust as well."

A different day

Cathy offers an alternative view of the alternative team building day: "I organised an awayday (well away afternoon) for staff, board and volunteers recently -  Breaking away from our usual buffet and games format. We didn't do anything directly work related.  We went for a really lovely two course lunch at a local restaurant. (Who provided menus etc in advance - and name /place cards according to a pre-provided seating plan drawn up to make sure everyone was on a table with people they didn't usuqally work with. (This cost £10 per head for 2 courses, vegetables and a drink - wine/tea/coffee/soft drink) Then we went to our local independent cinema and watched a really interesting archive film about our city. (This cost £100). Then we talked to each other some more.

97% of those attending said it was the best event of this type they'd been on and they learnt more about their colleagues and their work - and their interests outside work etc. than on any other awayday.
So for around £600 - we had a fantastic event - that's still reflected in the much better inter-team working that's developed since then. My advice is - forget all the usual stuff and give people an opportunity to relate to each other in a relaxed environment.  (A really good lunch helps too)."


Moon survival

"Two questionnaires/exercises worth considering are the Team Effectivenes Survey (TES) and the NASA Moon Survival Task," says Colin. "The TES enables team members to profile themselves and their colleagues in terms of The Johari Window model, i.e. openness and willingness to listen and encourage a two-way flow of information, suggestions feelings and reactions. It gives each person immediate feedback on how they are seen by their collegues in a non-threatening way. Also very useful if you use The Johari Window in other parts of your interpersonal skills training or coaching.
"The NASA Moon Survival TAsk is a group exercise in concensus building and problem solving. It mesures the quality of group decisions versus individual's solutions, team member's styles and the effect individuals have on the group and vice-versa. It's also fun to take part in and can be made competitive one grouo against another.
Both exercises are available through Chartwell Learning & Development: or

View the original thread here.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to add them to this thread.

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