by Sarah J.F. Braley | June 01, 2015

Whether attendees are colleagues or strangers, simple team-building exercises can foster collaboration and fuel creative energy that sets the stage for more effective gatherings.

Following are some easy, low-cost activities for small groups.

Charity Wheelchair-Build
Time needed: 2-3 hours

Rob Fletcher, founder of Quixote Consulting in Erving, Mass., is a fan of activities that create something for charity. "We do a lot of work partnering with multiple-sclerosis organizations, building wheelchairs for people with the disease," he says. Each team is presented with a set of challenges, such as questions about their work, people in the company, or questions based on meeting's content, to reinforce learning. For each correct answer, the team earns one part to build their wheelchair. To foster collaboration, teams are encouraged to share tools and information with each other.

"When there's a charity component like this, the event is not just about the team building itself, and people just don't get as competitive as they do under other circumstances," Fletcher notes. "Instead, they focus more on sharing information and helping each other out."

A group of 100 people should be able to construct about 25 wheelchairs during the activity.

Time needed: 2-3 hours

In the meadow at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt., sits an elegant outdoor stage, ideal for group performances. The 96-room lodge, which features 4,000 square feet of meeting space, often hosts a cappella singing competitions, where groups of up to 30 pick a leader, choose a song from the Sound of Music, rehearse on the stage for an hour, and then perform in front of a panel of judges for laughs and nominal prizes.  

This event can be woven into any meeting, with any musical genre. For instance, rehearsals might be scheduled throughout the day, followed by an evening of performances (and cocktails).

Picture This
Time needed: 45-60 minutes

This exercise, led by Quixote Consulting, gets people to connect and test their brain power; it can be a competition or just an hour of fun.

To begin, a facilitator distributes one picture to each participant, who may not show it the others. When placed in the proper order, the pictures tell a story. Participants describe their pictures to one another, which inevitably leads to the formation of small groups whose images seem similar or sequential. Gradually a pattern emerges until the group is ready to place all the pictures face down in sequential order. The facilitator reveals the results and tells participants how close they came to solving the challenge.

As an example, images of the planet Mars, Earth, a bird's-eye view of a city, a crowd of frightened people, explosions and cheering crowds could be assembled to spell out an attack from-Mars that was thwarted.

"The groups have a certain amount of time to complete the project," says Quixote's Rob Fletcher. "If you give too much information, you take up too much time. Everyone's voice needs to be heard, and there needs to be clear leadership to guide how everyone interacts. There is a wealth of information the participants can find out about each other. When no leader is delineated, who steps up? Will they keep their eyes on the end result, or will they get caught up in the details?"

Team Pursuit
Time needed: 1-3 hours


A creative app powers
the Team Pursuit challenge.

American Outback Adventures & Events recently launched this activity, in which groups solve tasks in four categories (mental, physical, skill and mystery) using their smartphones. The goal is to challenge minds while also encouraging the participants to move around and get to know each other.

Team Pursuit can be run with one of American Outback's event coordinators, or the activity can be self-hosted (cost: $450), in which the company provides everything the host needs to run the event, including the American Outback Adventures & Events App.

Fifteen challenges in each of the four categories are presented on the app. Each team submits photo, video and text responses. The correct answers earn points for the team, and points are tracked in the app.

Following are examples of each type of challenge:

Mental. You throw away the outside and cook the inside, then eat the outside and throw away the inside. What is it? (Answer: An ear of corn.)

Physical. Devise a unique handshake and submit a video of at least two people performing it.

Skill. Build a structure at least six feet tall out of anything in the room. Submit a photo with your teammates hiding behind the structure.

Mystery. Who in the room has traveled more than 100 miles to see a music festival? Take a photo of this person jamming out to the music, with his/her name in the caption space.