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I'm looking for some good team building exercises for a small (7 people) software development team. We are just in the forming stage of our group and looking to bond a bit more. It doesn't have to be related to the project mission or vision (although that could work) but something that involves a common (fun) task that will show different personalities and leadership skills. Any great ideas out there?

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Hello Hilary, I believe that would worth to have some further details about the environment your team is located at, specially culturally speaking. What works for some folks on South America may not be the best for MiddleEast folks (and the other way round), for instance. –  Tiago Cardoso Dec 28 '11 at 20:18
    
We are a diverse team based in Canada - some Canadian born and others from other countries. Everyone is fluent in English. –  Hilary Dec 29 '11 at 20:44
    
Well, it was a success and despite the fact that there may not be evidence that team building exercises do anything, it has brought the group together faster (and helped bring a new member of the team into to the loop quickly). I set up three stations with different activities - building a structure, doing a puzzle and playing with a new piece of technology. Each station had various constraints for each team. In the debrief, we were able to draw analogies between the exercises and our project plan. We finished off with lunch and treats. It was fun - give it a try! –  Hilary Feb 24 '12 at 14:07
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7 Answers 7

I've three games to propose.

One. The first one is really easy to play and the objective is to explain the team auto-organization. Follow this steps:

  • Organize a room with chairs and tables causally arranged
  • Form teams composed by two members
  • One is the manager and one is the worker
  • The manager can give the following commands: turn left, turn right, step forward, stop
  • The worker must only walk following the commands above
  • The objective is to complete 60 walking steps in 90 seconds

Usually this objective is not reached.

Second session all people are workers. Let's do the same. Usually all complete the 60 steps in less than 1' and some time a pattern is formed (all people walk in a circle following each other).

Two. Each team member build a paper airplane, and perform 3 launches with the objective to land near a target, place 5 meters away, with the approximation of 50cm and count how many time the objective is reached. After that lets perform a 5Whys analysis and create a Lean A3 sheet. From the outcome of the A3 implement the actions and redo the experiment. Usually team improves by 50-70%.

Three. Last one is an experiment: Agile - The Board Game. It's a board game based on Scrum and Lean that uses Lego during the build phase. More details here http://isolasoftware.it/tag/board-game/

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I wrote two articles about games and agile. Are in italian but pictures and links help ;-) isolasoftware.it/2013/04/10/… isolasoftware.it/2013/03/12/agile_respect –  Giulio Roggero Apr 24 '13 at 17:12
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There is not tremendous evidence out there that team building exercises actually do anything. So while your team is going through its first steps in its evolution, spending time and money on extra activities will likely have no value in terms of bonding faster, going through the first stages of team development, or having any real change in performance.

You will likely get the same result having a few team lunches and dinners.

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Agreed. Of the teams I've seen over the past dozen years, those that have gelled the most are simply those that have spent time together outside the office: eating, drinking, relaxing. In some cases these have been forced upon the teams (for example, needing to spend a week together at a client site in another country, and due to lack of other options hanging out as a team after hours). In other cases it was teams that just decided to grab lunches together or go out for drinks after work. –  Kyle Jan 3 '12 at 19:57
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If the team is working in any type of agile environment, the Ball Point Game is a fantastic way to learn about iterations, inspect/adapt and self-organization.

A great resource for other games is TastyCupcakes.org

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Get a current Mensa Brain Puzzlers daily calendar and put it by a whiteboard. Encourage them to work the problems together. It only takes a few minutes each day, provides a quick break, and allows people to solve a problem together.

http://www.amazon.com/Mensa-Brain-Puzzlers-2012-Calendar/dp/0761161333/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325286188&sr=1-1

MindTrap or other little puzzlers are good too.

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Try a variation of Scavanger's Hunt. Divide your folks in 2 or 3 groups and conduct it inside the office and outside as well. This actually helps the team members bond together while working at common goals. Also, there can be a debriefing at the end where the team can draw and summarize lessons. The entire activity can take around 3-4 hours.

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When I joined a team as a Scrum Master I did a simple step: I asked everybody to share some private information about himself, i.e.:

  • How do you spend time after work?
  • What did you study?
  • Tell a story about your life-adventure?
  • What was the strangest work you've ever did?
  • Share your One Little Secret.

My experience shows, that sharing some private stuff is a good ground to build relations.

The other idea, which I will definitely do if I build team again, is to ask to draw a metaphor: "you and the team" and then I ask for interpretation. Some questions during presentation:

  • Who are you on this drawing?
  • What does this color mean?
  • What is your role in a team?
  • What does this object (i.e. a ball, a boat, whatever there is on drawing) represent?
  • and so on...

Good luck!

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This exercise is not so much for team building but maybe more for "breaking the ice" in a group of people that will need to spend time working together but may have just met. I participated in this during Red-Cross lifeguard training, and the trainer used it with fire-fighter teams.

  1. Draw a thick line on the floor. The thickness should be a bit less than the length of your foot. Imagine it's a tree trunk laying on the floor (in fact, this exercise is usually done with a tree trunk)

  2. Make everybody stand across that line/trunk.

  3. Now tell everybody to re-arrange themselves in the "trunk" in alphabetical order, without "falling off the trunk" (or stepping out of the line)

In this exercise, people need to ask their names in order to know whether they are in the right position or not, and there is physical contact in order to keep the balance and not fall off the "trunk" (or the line/rectangle on the floor). This is a great exercise to do on day 1.

It might not work great with just 4 or 5 people, though.

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