Team Building Exercises For New Groups

by Richard Highsmith

When a group is created, the members must build trust among themselves. A facilitator can move this process along through a variety of team building exercises. The intention of the “games” is to get the new group members to loosen up, get to know each other and begin to create trusting relationships.

Fun is key to the success of these exercises. Don’t use the entire list. Pick a couple you are comfortable with and mix them in with a more formal indoctrination. Once each game is completed a facilitated discussion should be held about what was learned and how it applies to the workplace.

Modeling Clay– Select three players to demonstrate. One is a lump of clay (crouched over in a ball). Behind her is a second player who is the model, who assumes a pose. The `clay` should not see the pose. The third player is the artist, who will model the clay after the model. The artist does not touch the clay, is unable to speak and is not allowed to fully demonstrate the completed pose to the clay. Through non-verbal communication the clay is directed in to the pose. When done, let the model inspect the artwork and see how closely the clay resembles the model pose.

Air Traffic Controller – One player is blindfolded. The blindfoldee becomes a pilot flying a plane lost in the fog. The “Air Traffic Controller,” must remain in his/her “Tower.” (standing on a chair, which lends visibility). The pilot only has a limited amount of remaining fuel left (allow one to three minutes) to safely land and arrive at the Tower. The floor of the room is littered with small barriers (cups, reams of paper, chairs, tables). The airplane is also allowed two “near misses”-limited contact with any obstacle. The third brush or a direct hit or stepping on something directly causes a “crash”. The pilot may step around, over or under the obstacles. The airplane can only fly forward, however it can turn in any direction. The directions must be given from the pilot’s point of view.

Family Portraits– Players ‘build’ a family portrait. Ask a group of four or five players to create a…

  • Family of lawyers Family of shared physical traits
  • Family of Rock Stars
  • Family of dogs, lions, tadpoles
  • Family of garden tools


In addition to the pose for the portrait the players must demonstrate who is the head of the family and who is least influential. Who gets along with whom, who is the least liked of the family, and so on. Players need to watch each other closely to discover these traits.

Group Environment – This exercise has the group build an imaginary environment. The first player enters a ‘space’ through a ‘door,’ and interacts with something (imaginary) in the room. He/she then leaves the space, through the same or another door. Everything ‘created’ in the imaginary environment remains with no changes in their characteristics. Another player enters the same space, and places a mimed object in that space, either by physically placing the object (pushing, carrying, or wheeling it in or by just ‘using’ it, for example by laying her coat over a chair). As this second player leaves the room, another enters. Each player observes the existing order, i.e. don’t walk through a chair or wall. Players can and possibly should use all objects placed by previous players. Continue until every player has added to the mimed room.

Machines – The leader names a real or invented machine. The players create the machine with every player becoming a part of the machine. The machine must work and make noise. Variations: Tell the players the machine runs wildly, until it explodes. Or the power’s out and the machine slowly grinds to a halt.

Seven Scenes – Give a big task, such as ‘The creation, assembly and announcement of a new type of car,’ or ‘Building a clubhouse for Boy Scouts.’ The players get one minute (only) to prepare seven scenes in which the given task needs to be completed. After one minute there is no more discussion, they just play the seven scenes. Set a timer for the preparation and see if the players can formulate a plan. Regardless of their progress after one minute they must begin the scenes without further discussion. Quarrels and debates will slow them down. This is an excellent game to teach group storytelling and improve the groups ability to accept usable ideas quickly.

One Word Story – This exercise trains group narrative. The players sit or stand in a circle. Instructions are, “We are going to tell a story one word at a time. Each player provides one word of a sentence.” This is more difficult than it sounds. A warm up exercise is having the group tell a familiar fairytale. Summarize the practice story before they start. After the practice ask for suggestions for a person and situation… like a pride of lions flying to New York for a family reunion at the Bronx Zoo. At the conclusion of the story ask the group if they can see/understand the reasons why their story worked or why they did not.

Yes Lets – Pick a group activity, like throwing a birthday party or organizing a rummage sale. One player starts, saying “Let’s…” filling in what she wants to do. Then she starts actually doing what she said she wanted to do. A second player jumps in, saying “Let’s…” and then does something else, to advance the group activity. Both players say “Yes, let’s do that” and start doing whatever suggested. A third player jumps in, suggesting what to do, and again all players loudly agree to do it, and actually do it. Continue till everyone has suggested something. This is an excellent warm-up exercise, and great introduction to accepting new ideas from others.

To minimize any discomfort participants may feel emphasize the purpose is to enjoy the games. There are no winners or losers. If you have members of your group who are still reticent to play, begin with some of the two or three player games. By creating a fun, non-judging atmosphere, most employees will join in the amusing activities and learn a little about each other.

About the author

Richard Highsmith, [email protected], is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at [] or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.