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Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes

Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes

4.4 10
by Brian Cole Miller

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Every group can benefit from team-building exercises. But sometimes it’s not practical to embark on a full-scale training initiative. Now, supervisors, managers, and team leaders have 50 team-building activities to choose from, all of which can be implemented with no special facilities, big expense, or previous training


Every group can benefit from team-building exercises. But sometimes it’s not practical to embark on a full-scale training initiative. Now, supervisors, managers, and team leaders have 50 team-building activities to choose from, all of which can be implemented with no special facilities, big expense, or previous training experience. Readers will find engaging exercises for:

• Building new teams and helping teams with new members

• Dealing with change and its effects: anger, fear, frustration, and more

• Recognizing individual efforts and team accomplishments

• Finding creative ways to work together and solve problems

• Increasing and improving communication

• Leveraging diversity and individual differences to meet team goals

• Keeping competition healthy and productive within the team

Instructions and tips for follow-up and variations are included for each activity, and an additional chapter provides valuable advice for working through unexpected difficulties in team-building.

Editorial Reviews

Training Media Review
an excellent primer on how to conduct and debrief his well-designed activities.
The Facilitator
I recommend Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers because the activities are fun, challenging, and are easily implemented. These activites are a simple way to build teams by engaging participants in learning about themselves and their team players.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range:
17 Years

Read an Excerpt


50 Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes


Copyright © 2004 Brian Cole Miller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-7201-9

Chapter One

How to Run a Successful Team-Building Activity

Step 1. Before: Select an activity that's good for your team.

The best team-building activity can become the worst team-building experience when there is no clear objective. Why spend the time, effort, and money on an activity if you can't identify the business reason or team benefit you expect as a result? If all you want is to have some fun and kill some time, play a parlor game and enjoy. But if you want to improve your team's effectiveness, you need to select an activity that will give you your desired results!

Start with a clear objective in mind. What, specifically, do you want your team to learn or accomplish? Think about it. Your goal should be:

* Attainable by your team.

* Relevant and applicable to where they are as a team right now.

* Something that will be reinforced long after this activity.

Plan on this activity being one of many small steps your team will start taking now. Remember, an effective team is built primarily on trust. Trust, and thus team-building, can rarely be accomplished in one giant leap.

Match your goal to the activity in this book that will best help you get the results you want. If there is more than one good match, do one activity now and another one at a later date.

A NOTE ON COMPETITION: Competition can be a good thing. It can excite, energize, and challenge people to participate better. Do not assume that competition naturally brings out the best in everyone, though. It can also deflate, discourage, and create unnecessary lingering conflict. As the final judge in competitive activities, you risk becoming "the bad guy" as well. So only you can say how competitive you want your team-building activity to be. The most important thing is to be deliberate in your decision, so you can justify it with a clear objective if necessary. Consider:

* The current level of competition within the team.

* The emotional health of the participants in dealing with defeat.

* How intimidating or intimidated the participants are.

* Your ability to diffuse real conflict among the team members.

Step 2. Before: Prepare for your team-building activity.

You want to make sure you are ready for everyone to have a great learning experience. Fifteen minutes of planning and preparation ahead of time may not guarantee success, but it will certainly help you prevent disaster. Your activity will be most effective if you go into it feeling competent and confident.

Read through the entire activity several times. Make sure you are clear on what is to happen and when, why, and how. Visualize that activity happening successfully.

Obtain all necessary materials. Check the materials to make sure they will work well for the activity. For example, see that the dates on the pennies are legible, test the markers for any that have dried out, make sure there are no cards missing from the deck, and so forth. Assume nothing! Always have a few extras on hand, just in case.

Practice what you are going to say when you start the activity with your team. The best way to do this is to explain the activity to a friend or colleague. If he or she doesn't understand you, figure out a way to explain things more clearly until he or she does.

If the activity requires you to have a role (card dealer, judge, moderator, etc.), practice your comments or actions. This will help you feel less nervous during the activity. It will also free your mind to focus on more important things (the participants' reactions, the participants' learning, your own observations, etc.) during the activity.

Set up the room. Make sure the tables, chairs, flipcharts, and/or other items are placed so that they contribute to the activity's success. A classroom style row of chairs is usually the least conducive to team-building activities. Better choices include a large circle, a "U" shape, or small table groups (several individuals gathered around each table). Any specific setup information required for an activity is noted within that activity.

If the activity's rules or steps are lengthy, write them ahead of time, and post them on the wall so everyone can see them throughout the activity.

Anticipate potential problems. Visualize the activity with your team, in your location. Ask yourself what could go wrong. Take action to prevent those problems from occurring and/or plan the corrective actions you can take if they do occur. The most common problems and how to avoid or deal with them are discussed in the next chapter.

Step 3. During: Explain the activity to the team.

A 1-minute introduction can make all the difference in setting your team up for success! People engage better when they know why they are doing something. They also participate better when they understand all the rules up front, and when they are clear on exactly what is expected of them.

Set the mood. Welcome the team with enthusiasm and optimism. Team-building is fun! Convey this right away. You don't have to be a cheerleader; even a smile or a warm comment will let your team know they are in for a great time.

Explain what the activity is. Give a very brief overview of what you have planned, so the team can start getting interested and excited.

Explain why you are doing this particular activity. Share with the team what you hope to accomplish in the next 15 minutes. The more they see purpose to the activity, the more likely they will participate and learn what you want them to learn. For a few of the activities in this book, however, you would ruin their impact by sharing the objective up front. In those cases, tell them there is an objective that will become clear to them in a few minutes. Make sure that objective is called out during the Debrief (the discussion that is held immediately after the activity).

Explain the activity's rules or steps. Don't be afraid to read from this book, use notes, or even have them posted on the wall. Speak slowly, and pause after each one. Remember, they haven't had time to read and reread the activity like you have. It's usually easier to explain the activity all at once before responding to any questions from the team.

Have the team move through the activity's steps as you explain them. For example, if the first step of an activity is to divide the group into smaller teams, have them actually do that before you tell them the next step.

A NOTE ON TEAM SIZE: Most activities will not be ruined if smaller groups are not exactly the same size. If the correct size is critical, the odd participant or two could be assigned the role of "Observer." The Observer role is to quietly watch the others participate. During the Debrief, the Observer shares his or her unique observations.

A NOTE ON PAIRING UP: When an activity requires the participants to pair up, use your own participation to even things out. Participate if the number is odd; observe if it is even.

Distribute the materials after you've fully explained the activity. Otherwise, you risk people getting distracted by them and missing key points. Distribute the materials before the explanation only if you have found that the materials help people understand things better.

Step 4. During: Check for understanding before beginning.

People often hesitate to ask for help when they are confused. You can clarify misunderstandings with patience and some simple review questions. You can keep competition from getting out of hand by laying down a few ground rules, but they must be agreed upon up front.

Make sure your team understands the activity. Asking "Do you understand?" is the least effective way to check this (who wants to answer "No" in front of the group?). "Do you have any questions?" is a little better. "What questions do you have?" is even better.

However, the best way to check their understanding is to ask questions that force the team to review the steps or rules of the activity. For example, "How many minutes do you have to complete this?" or "What happens if one of your balloons pops?"

When the activity will result in one or more winners, make sure everyone is clear on what criteria will be used to determine who wins. Then, ask a review question such as "How exactly does someone win?" If ties need to be broken, explain how that will be done.

Declare up front that you are the final judge on all disagreements about who wins. You don't want the team to argue about who won and lose sight of the real purpose of the activity.

When you are confident everyone understands the activity and is ready to go, ask one last time, "What remaining questions do you have before we start?"

Step 5. During: Run the activity.

Letting the team go through the activity, and possibly even fail, may be difficult for you to let happen. Remember, the activity is a low-risk alternative to letting the participants learn from failures on the job! People learn and retain better when they experience lessons, rather than when they just hear them. Sit back, observe, and let your team experience.

Once they begin the activity, see that they are following the steps or rules. You want them to at least get started down the path to success. Hold off on correction for just a moment, though. They may check themselves. If not, gently bring them back to task.

Encourage and support them all. Especially thank anyone who goes first in an activity. Being first is a scary situation for many. It takes courage to go first and risk embarrassment or failure.

Make yourself available to clarify steps or redirect the team. If appropriate, walk around quietly and watch for opportunities to help the team succeed. Be careful not to do their task for them, though.

Throughout the activity, watch for things you will want to bring up later during the Debrief. It is OK to jot down a note or two to remember.

If the activity is timed, watch the clock, and give a "time check" occasionally. For example, "Time check: you have 2 minutes left."

Don't stop the activity unless it really runs amuck. Otherwise, let it run its course. There will be plenty of opportunity to comment on lessons learned during the Debrief.

Step 6. During: Debrief the activity.

The Debrief is the most critical part of the team-building activity. It is the time when effective questions will guide the participants to link what they experienced in the activity with their behavior on the job. If this step is skipped or glossed over, most of the impact of the activity will be lost in a matter of days. If you do the Debrief well, the lessons learned during the activity will stay with the team indefinitely.

Ask the questions outlined in this book immediately. For most questions, there is no right or wrong answer. Allow all answers to be OK. Try not to evaluate or critique any answer; just nod and accept each one as you listen to it. The questions for each activity should lead the team to the conclusions you want them to reach without you having to spell it out for them.

It is fine to read the questions from this book or to use notes. Stop talking, silently read the question, look back at the team, and then ask the question. The few seconds of silence while you read are less noticeable and less offensive to the group than if you read the question aloud while looking at it. Also, making eye contact while you ask the question is more likely to result in responses than if you do it the other way.

Another way to ask the questions is to write them on index cards beforehand. Pass the index cards out, and ask the participants to take turns reading the questions and soliciting responses.

Try not to call on anyone by name unless you have to. Be comfortable with the silence. Once you have asked a question, stop talking and slowly count to 10 in your head. The silence may feel like an eternity to you, but it feels just as long to the group. Eventually someone will answer! Remember, they have never heard the question before, so it may take a few seconds to formulate a response.

Watch for heads nodding, smiles, and other indications that they agree with what is being said by others. Not everyone has to respond to every question for the entire group to learn. If you see reactions that suggest disagreement, ask, "Does anyone disagree?" or "What about an opposing view?" Call on the one disagreeing only as a last resort.

Repeat or quickly summarize each response offered.

If anyone gives an off-the-wall response or one that is just plain wrong, ask the group how they feel about it rather than correcting someone. This technique will keep it "safe" for all participants to continue answering questions without fear of a reprimand from you.

Even if the activity did not go quite as well as planned, most participants probably learned something. No matter what happened, you can always ask if the group has ever seen anything like this happen back on the job. Ask what can be learned from this experience. The answers may include what can be improved for future team-building activities!

Step 7. After: Reinforce the learning back on the job.

With your help, the activity can continue teaching the participants long after it is over. Reminding participants of the activity and keeping the lessons learned alive will extend its impact. Keep your team focused on behaviors that support the kind of team you are trying to build.

Display anything the team created for the activity back in the workplace. Each time they see that sculpture, flipchart, or cardboard structure, they will be reminded of what they did, how it made them feel, and what it taught them.

If any new terms or special words came up during the activity, use them frequently. Like the visual items mentioned above, these words will prompt a recall of what happened and what they learned.

Refer to the activity and the lessons learned often when you are coaching, giving feedback, or conducting staff meetings. Look for examples of people exhibiting good team behavior related to the activity, and call it out for them and others to see.

If the activity was a huge success, you may want to repeat it soon.

Plan follow-up activities that will reinforce, emphasize, and build upon what was learned this time.

Watch for examples of how the participants used what was learned in the activity and got better results. If you can quantify how their actions are benefiting the organization, call it out for them and others as evidence of success.

Ask participants in your next staff meeting to share what impact the activity has had on them. If you are in remote locations, use e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, and so forth to keep the learning alive.

Chapter Two

What Could Go Wrong in a Team-Building Activity

The team-building activities in this book are easy to conduct in most situations. They have been used successfully with hundreds of other groups just like yours. Follow the instructions carefully, and you will be successful, too!

If you have never run such activities before, it is natural to be concerned about what could go wrong. Below are the most common fears and problems managers face in running an activity. Channel the energy your concerns generate into positive actions to avoid problems and/or effectively deal with them if they do happen!

What if ... One or more people don't want to participate?

What you'll see ...

* Rolling eyes.

* Lack of eye contact with you, or other negative body language.

* Negative comments about the activity or teambuilding in general.

* Direct comments that they do not want to participate.

* Direct refusal to participate.

* Participants dragging their feet on getting started.

* Suggestions for an alternate activity ("Why don't we just ...").


Excerpted from QUICK TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES FOR BUSY MANAGERS by BRIAN COLE MILLER Copyright © 2004 by Brian Cole Miller. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Brian Cole MILLER is the owner of Working Solutions, a management and training consultant firm whose clients include Nationwide Insurance, Mailboxes Etc., and Burger King. He is former director of training and development at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this in the hopes of getting new ideas. It's ok but not very "new". The ideas are generally already utilized already by HR or Training professionals anyways. You can probably google at least 50% of the exercises on the internet for free.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Awesome! What more can I say about this book? I was thoroughly impressed with the quick, easy way the book was set up. I am a new VP of HR in my company of 50 employees. I am not a trained HR guy, so I was looking for something to help me. It was recommended, by a friend, to get this book. Boy, am I ever glad I did! This book not only gives you ideas on activities, but possible things that could go wrong during an activity and how to plan for them. I felt confident and relaxed as I gave my first team building activity using the suggestions given by Mr. Miller. Let me tell you, if I am having success with this, anyone with any amount of HR experience can. This best thing is that the activities are quick and easy to learn! Thank you Mr. Miller!!! Adam Cope
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tried this out prior to my detachment deploying to Iraq. This book was instrumental in helping each other learn about each other, learn to work together, and overall build enthusiasm. Key to it is as the manager/leader you have to be enthusiastic and believe it will work. My team had so much fun they looked forward to them more and more. They all are quick and easy, just a matter of having the resources.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally, someone understands the busy manager who is not into the touchy-feely stuff that HR types seem so fond of. THis no nonsense approach to teambuilding activities works for me. Not only does the book tell how (all in bulletted format!) to prepare for and run an activity, but also (again, all bullets) tells how to avoid common problems and pitfalls. THEN, you get 50 activities that are fun, fast, and most importantly: effective. I've used several, and they have all been hits with my staff. PLUS, we all learned something together. Thank you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is perfect for any manager who needs a great activity fast. From an icebreaker to a quickie morale booster, the exercises in the book are easy to conduct and have just the right tone to them. My team appreciates the no-fluff approach to these activities and so do I!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book. The instructions are concise and mostly in quick-to-follow bulleted format. The activities are fun, without being too 'out there.' The tips for avoiding or handling difficulties are practical and real. A must for any manager too busy to put too much time into teambuilding but wants to do it all the same! I'm giving a copy to each of the managers that report to me.