Team-building activity for 240 adults at work?
May 21, 2014 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan a team building activity for 240 people who don't like team building. Budget = $3000 - $5000. Location = hotel conference rooms or convention center-type location.

I need to plan a team building activity for a total of 240 people at work who will come from several sites/countries, but mostly from the US. The 240-group can/will be broken up into however many smaller groups are needed for the activity. Most of these people dislike team building activities and dislike forced networking/socialization. The "teams" doing this activity will only be formed for this activity and will not be actual working teams in the future, so we don't necessarily need to build trust within that group - we mostly need to focus on networking, since many of the people will have never met each other face to face prior to this event.

Last year the event involved each group building something together from parts and then donating it to charity. It went over fairly well, but there were still people who didn't like having to build things.

I know we can't please everyone, so I am trying to think of a way to come up with giving people 2 options to choose from - maybe a "building" activity and a "networking" activity?

The best idea we have right now is Trivia, which we feel would go over pretty well, but wouldn't allow people to get to know each other at all, since they would immediately get down to answering trivia questions. The worst idea we have (to give an example of what people dislike) is some sort of "speed dating" where you describe what you do at work and how long you've been with the company, etc. I imagine people would hate this, even though it has the networking aspect that we want.

Do you guys have any ideas for non-cheesy team building activities for adults who are forced to participate in team building activities every year?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you guys have any ideas for non-cheesy team building activities for adults who are forced to participate in team building activities every year?

Yes. Here are three ideas:
  1. Give all employees $20 and buy out a bar for the night. Invite employees to said bar.
  2. Give all employees $20 and tell them to do something fun.
  3. Donate all the money to a local non-controversial charity.
Nobody likes "team building" or gets anything out of it, especially when nobody will never again meet the people they are, erm, "building". There is no such thing as a "non-cheesy" team building activity. Instead, focus on what people actually want to do - which is, in almost all cases, nothing related to your work.
posted by saeculorum at 10:21 AM on May 21, 2014 [25 favorites]

Team Diplomacy (7 teams of 7 in each game) would be a lot of fun and would get people out of their shells. For the people who wouldn't want to do that, maybe the "build something to give away to charity" could be their other option?

If Diplomacy sounds like too much, you might explore the genre of co-operative board games, or games for large groups of people (Two Rooms and a Boom sounds like fun).
posted by jbickers at 10:24 AM on May 21, 2014

I'm assuming the budget is for the event only, not the travel and lodging.

My thought is a Dave and Busters place or bowling, pool or some other innocuous, indoor sport event.

Bowling is fun because you form teams, but you're playing for yourself and you can give all SORTS of goofy awards for it. (Lowest score, most gutter balls, etc.)

I'd start off with giving each person their own special bowling socks. (this is to prevent anyone from having to remember to bring socks and to keep anyone's bare feet from touching bowling shoes.)

A nice buffet and beer and wine, you chit chat, you bowl, you roll your eyes and complain.

It's all good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

For the love of God don't do a team-building exercise. Just treat people like adults.
posted by jjmoney at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

[Folks, please try and focus on concrete suggestions. It's okay to not like team building exercises, but the question is not "do you like team building exercises" so please work with the asker.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:39 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea of buying out a bar or other social venue for the night, followed by unstructured socializing.
posted by Jairus at 10:44 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I see there is some resistance to team building activities, and I understand why..but done right they don't have to be painful. I use team building techniques in my line of work and they can be really effective at building a cohesive team.

Instead of spending a day in a conference room, why don't you provide a day of community service instead? It's a great team building activity, brings positive recognition to your org. in your community and folks feel like their time is valued. Work with a non-profit org that is familiar with coordinating large groups of volunteers. Something like Habitat for Humanity or the habitat restoration group in your local parks department. Spend the day doing demo work, or pulling invasive weeds in your local park, and use the $$ to provide a sweet catered lunch to your staff and the volunteer coordinators you are working with.

Fresh air and self-paced physical labor (adjusted as needed for folks who have physical limitations) is a great way to build camaraderie.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 10:49 AM on May 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

How about a set list of volunteer activities that people could sign up ahead of time for that day - a couple of hours maybe. You could get a list of activities from whatever community is close to where you will be meeting - anything from cleaning up a public space to helping plant flowers in a nursing home to reading at a library. But after the activity - have a great big get together with food / drinks / and fun socializing stuff. Maybe have some folks taking pictures during the volunteer activity and have a large screen with the pictures being shown from a computer. That way everyone gets to talk about what they did and also get to know everyone a little better. You could always add other fun stuff but the volunteering would get everyone involved in some type of feel good activity while "teambuilding".
posted by MrsMGH at 10:56 AM on May 21, 2014

Bar or social event will be the most team buildy and networking encouraging events. Seriously. Just let people mingle and they will make friends and network. The promise of free food and liquor will often get even the most anti-team building activity person out.

If you insist upon it being something more, uh, team-ish, what about urban geocaching? Just warn people well in advance so that they dress appropriately and have appropriate footwear. And don't make it too intense or far or hard. Not everyone is an athlete.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:56 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Looks like Maude_the_Destroyer and I were on the same page - at the same time :)
posted by MrsMGH at 10:57 AM on May 21, 2014

I went to a 3-week summer workshop once, which had meals included, served in a big banquet hall/tent thing. One of the caveats to these meals was that twice each week, we were assigned seats at lunch instead of being able to pick our own, with the goal of making us network with the other people there (it was a mix of undergrads, grad students, professors, researchers, and high school teachers). I was dreading it leading up to the first "assigned" lunch, but it was surprisingly nice, and the forced mixing of the different levels of students/researchers/teachers got us into some really interesting discussions that wouldn't have happened had we all stayed within our own groups.

So my suggestion would be to use the budget to fund a nice meal, catered in to your location. Don't call it "team building", just let people know that for the first 15 minutes (or whatever time period you pick) of the meal they'll be assigned a seat. You could provide a sheet of questions to jump-start conversation (maybe some "big issue" ones related to the field these people are in or their work, and some other more trivia-type ones) at each table. For me, the key to enjoying the "forced socializing" lunches was that the "forced" part wasn't especially long - we had to at least sit where we were assigned, but if it was really unpleasant or I just needed some quiet time after finishing my food, no one pushed me to keep sitting there - in that aspect I felt treated like an adult. Most of the time I actually stayed longer at these lunches because of the interesting discussions!
posted by augustimagination at 11:00 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone who does a lot of work with non-profits and is generally gung-ho about encouraging people to participate in their communities, if I went to a company conference in god-knows-where after spending countless hours in airports and hotels and whatever else, and I was then expected to go knock down walls or pull weeds for the day I would totally lose my shit.
posted by Jairus at 11:00 AM on May 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

I was recently at a somewhat similar event, and the organizers opted to rent out a bowling alley that also had pretty damn good food. First half of the event, people who wanted to bowled, and everyone else mingled, ate, cheered on the bowlers. Second half, there were some organized game/activity/icebreaker things for those who enjoy such things, and again, everyone else could mingle, eat, drink, chat, cheer on the games. It was helpful and important that it was all in one big area, I think - being a mingler/benchwarmer, I was still able to cheer on the people doing the games, and that made it feel like it was all one big group event, even with component parts.

One thing I did hate was that for a couple of the games the basic deal was 'we need two teams of ten people for this game - and we're not gonna tell you what it is until you volunteer.' Any chance that I was going to join in on that one went away once that announcement was made. And for one game that involved more physical contact with other people than some participants were anticipating, it seemed clear to me that some people were really uncomfortable and wishing for a way to back out. So, maybe don't do that.

Choices, and knowing in advance what you're up for, and at least one choice being 'mingle, drink, eat, cheer on the teams doing other stuff' seems like as much of a winner as you're going to get for such an event.
posted by Stacey at 11:04 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do not play Diplomacy with people you have to work with. You have been warned.
posted by deathpanels at 11:17 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

adding to what deathpanels just said, beware the concept of "getting people out of their shells". it presupposes that you have the wisdom and power to alter the social orientation of joe, an adult professional, to an optimum social orientation determined by you.

you might not like joe if you saw him without his shell.
posted by bruce at 11:40 AM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

A quibble about trivia: Trivia sucks when you are from the "wrong" country and the bulk of the questions come from pop culture, national history, and sports.

A concrete suggestion: Anyone who suggested a physical activity outside of a conference room is spot on. Are you sure you're limited to this kind of location? That would be a real bummer. I've seen ropes courses go well, and other physical but less intimidating physical exercises, like a long walk in the woods. Also, Food.
posted by whatzit at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

On the physical activity side, please take into account that some of the attendees may have physical limitations you don't know about, and don't pressure them if they bow out without necessarily wanting to disclose their medical issues to you. (Another thing I appreciated about that event I described; I couldn't have bowled anyway due to a medical issue, but not necessarily one I wanted to talk about in the midst of a crowd of friends/colleagues.)
posted by Stacey at 11:50 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I simply don't know about budgets in your area, but some of the team building activites that I've been through and did not loathe were:

- group cooking classes
- go-karting
- beer and pizza day with a hockey game (I'm in Canada)
- beer and mini golf day
- outdoor ranch visit (ppl could choose horse back riding, rafting, hiking, bbq)
posted by tatiana131 at 12:07 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

An IRS contractor sent its employees to Dave and Buster's about 12 years ago for team building and bonding. Really.
posted by jgirl at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2014

Every "team building activity" I have ever attended has ALWAYS been something entirely fun-based like a daytime baseball game, movie night at one of those fancy theatres with leather recliners and drink service, bowling, day trip to a theme park, or happy hour at a bar. Really.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:00 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I nth everyone who suggests doing natural things like eating out and parties and bars and fun activities, rather than "team building." I am restraining myself from the rant I really would love to give on this topic. It's the "inhuman" things that not everyone would choose to do on their own recognizance that people hate, really. Like everyone plays a game that not everybody likes, or touching is going on, or construction when some people have hammer thumbs, or whatever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2014

Nthing that a big relatively unstructured social event will probably be more effective than the usual "trust falls in the woods" kind of stuff. One small company I worked for rented a few lanes at a bowling alley and it was a great evening that brought people together far more naturally than the entire day of structured "company retreat" that preceded it. (If the goal is to strengthen existing workgroups, put those people on the same teams. If it's for different parts of the company to get to know each other, pull the teams out of a hat.)
posted by usonian at 1:15 PM on May 21, 2014

If you're constrained on the location, I recently went to a teambuilding event for about 50 people where they had a couple of people from this group lead 2 hours of non-strenuous improv-type exercises. I was dreading it, but it was actually incredibly fun and totally non-cheesy. The group was a mixture of extremely senior and downright eminent people and junior to midlevel people who didn't know each other. I was feeling terribly shy at first but by the end everyone was just joking around with each other. It totally worked for the intended purpose.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 1:35 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

One team-building event that I liked was going to a marina in Horseshoe Bay, renting out open motorboats (four or five people per boat, perhaps more - I forget) and going on a scavenger hunt in Howe Sound. I live in Vancouver BC, so this was local to my workplace and my home.

We had twenty tasks, listed on a piece of paper given to each boat 'captain' to complete within four or five hours - such as identify the creek with five bridges over it, name the island with the house that can only be accessed by a tunnel, that sort of thing. It kept us occupied for the better part of the afternoon, had us taking turns at steering the boat, we had some laughs, we had some fun - and we all ended up at a local restaurant with good appies and a beer or two. I met people from other offices from our company, and we all had a pleasant time.

So my suggestion is: scavenger hunt. And if you have a marina nearby, put people on a boat.
posted by seawallrunner at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My office had a Christmas party at ESPN Zone (similar to a Dave and Busters). They rented the place out and had food/drinks. It happened during work hours, so it was less torturous than if it was outside of work hours. There were no formal activities we in which we had to participate. It was a much better than any other team building exercise I can imagine. It wasn't very fun, but going didn't make me feel like the CEO was trying to torture us and I didn't feel like I had to pretend to be sick to get out of going.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2014

I honestly think that your speed dating thing would be the most effective. No, it's not going to be "fun", but it won't be useless, and I think it will actually build your team more effectively. You could add a few fun things into it ("What circumstances led you to join the team" "What was your most stressful day at work") to break the ice.

Don't do the fun things because they won't actually be fun for a good portion of your audience. If you're forcing people to team build, for the love of god, don't force people to pretend it's fun. On the plus side, some people will actually enjoy this more anyway. And the people for who it's not fun, at least they can see the point of the exercise.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Laser tag.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:40 PM on May 21, 2014

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 PM on May 21, 2014

As a team building provider that has done over 10,000 successful team building events, it is frustrating when people put all team building events in the same "everyone hates team building" category, if done right, if the budget allows, team building can be very successful and worthwhile and team and companies benefit from it. When people want to do team building, and have a budget of $20 per person for 240 people, you get what you pay for, a group social activity that is portrayed as team building. That's a fine thing and should be done as well but call it what it is, otherwise, it gives team building a bad name.

For one of our charity events, bike builds, cooking programs, toys for tykes or tools for schools, the materials alone cost more than $20 per person, plus qualified staff and assistants, it can be costly but done right, worth it. For a group of 240 people, I would recommend much of the above, go somewhere where all the costs are covered, go to see an improv show, a baseball game, or something where you can get bang for your buck and call it what it is, a thank you, a celebration, a summer outing, whatever and you will have fun. Trivia is a great idea, game shows too, as they can be customized to include information on your company.

Be happy to suggest other ideas but for those of you who knock team building, you haven't done it right.
posted by teambonding at 6:57 PM on May 21, 2014

Slacker Scavenger Hunt

Choose 5 charities. Divide your 240 into 24 groups. Each group gets a list of random, useless thing to find (cigarette butt, old sock, gum wrapper) plus one truly useless item of their choosing. The most useless item brought in wins the right to choose which charity gets the pot (the remainder of your budget). Hand out awards at the end. The group that does the least gets the slacker award, which would be a half finished trophy. 1st group to finish their list wins the Good Egg award (can be a hard boiled egg). Make it silly, keep it cool.
posted by myselfasme at 8:03 PM on May 21, 2014

Laser tag.

No. Really, no. Some people have been way too close to workplace violence for anything involving coworkers "shooting" at each other.
posted by Candleman at 8:48 PM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would suggest that, whatever you do, make it optional. You will not build cohesive teams out of people who resent going to the activity.

What my workplace does is frame these sorts of activities as "morale events", supply food, fun, maybe some team-building games, etc, but they're still optional events. They seem to go over fairly well. I've also had morale events at Dave & Busters or bowling alleys, and I'd say that those less-structured, more social-oriented ones seemed to go over the best.
posted by Aleyn at 10:27 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think something like a daytime baseball game might be fun to partake in. You may be able to get a bulk discount on one section, plus have the company's name put on the Jumbotron when they announce the visitors to the stadium.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:40 PM on May 22, 2014

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