4 unique (and effective) team-building exercises

Axe throwing for team building

A manager is only as good as the team behind him or her; that’s why effective team building is at the heart of company culture and success. Put simply, great companies have great teams, but great teams don’t just spontaneously burst into form. They need to be built and maintained over time, with constant fine-tuning and updating to stay sharp.

Making you anxious? No need to worry. Here are four unique (and effective) team-building exercises.

Hack days

Once every quarter, Shopify shuts down for two days for an event called Hack Days, which lets employees work and collaborate on personal projects. These can be anything employees want, as long as they help Shopify solve a problem. The event concludes with a round of presentations, a number of cool innovations, and one winning project.

Although the company is effectively shutting down for two days, Hack Days provide major dividends in the form of increased engagement and improved relationships.

“You get the vibe that people know each other a little better after hack days,” says Shavonne Hafsal-McIntosh, culture specialist at Shopify. “You see more people sitting at the lunch table. There is a lot of organic relationship building, and a sense that people can approach their job from a different angle.”

Zombie survival camp

What’s a zombie survival camp? Why, a two-day crash course in everything you need to know about how to survive the zombie apocalypse. Held at a campground, camps start with workshops on survival and combat techniques, which teams are then meant to use fighting off hordes of zombies.

Aside from the adrenaline rush, zombie survival camp challenges teams to work together to solve problems, including building a shelter with limited materials, or foraging for edible foods.

“It was interesting to see how people dealt with different situations,” says Kristen Wood, CEO of The Ten Spot. “Instead of taking a Meyers Briggs test, you got to learn about each person in the field and work as a group. We got to see people shine in different ways.”

But don’t just take their word for it; companies like TFO and Google have also gone for a zombie survival camp.

The Backyard Axe Throwing League

The Backyard Axe Throwing League is basically darts with lumberjack axes. Sound crazy? It’s not. The BATL has multiple locations throughout Ontario and Calgary, and they offer two-hour group sessions, including axe-throwing instruction and round robin tournaments.

Tangerine is one of many companies who have used the BATL as a means of getting employees together in an off-site setting.

“It definitely helped stimulate conversation,” says Mark Nicholson, VP of client experience at Tangerine. “It made people more comfortable approaching co-workers they wouldn’t normally have a chance to speak with.”

Long-term (daily) team building

Team building is at its most successful when its focus is long term. 500px, for example, has tried to make team building a part of everyday operations.

Every week, the company singles out an employee for outstanding work and gives them a hand. Literally. A large white porcelain hand is placed on their desk (they can sign their name on it if they choose), which apart from recognizing good work, also acts as a bold conversation piece that gets colleagues talking.

Other team-building activities at 500px include new hire interviews, which the company says are akin to In Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis; and a weekly team stand-up where everyone stands up at their desk while the weekly company bulletin is delivered.

“All of this helps reinforce personal relationships,” says Andy Yang, CEO at 500px, explaining that this is at the core of the company’s team-building philosophy. “We like to encourage our employees and their managers to have weekly one-on-ones to touch on some of the reoccurring themes. And we want to make sure it works both ways. If employees have feedback for us, those lines of communication are open.”

There you have it, four ideas and approaches that can help you come up with some effective team-building activities. Remember, though, you don’t have to come up with this alone. Solicit feedback from your employees about what they would be interested in; you might be surprised with what they come up with!

See also:
5 steps to setting goals with your team
How to plan team-building activities that don’t stink
The 4 golden rules of successful team building


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