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Build teamwork and increase productivity with these 10 simple exercises. Part II | Productivity Hacks

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Part II: 10 Simple Exercises to Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity

In the office and at the workplace, success is rarely the result of a single person. Rather, success is the result of several people coming together to work as a single team. Thus, effective managers are well aware that the key to increasing productivity in the workplace is to build teamwork. In part 1 of this series, we looked at some ways you can build teamwork and increase productivity. In part 2, we look at 10 more simple exercises you can do to build teamwork. Each of these exercises takes less than half an hour to complete and need little to no preparation time. Yet at the end, you will have a team better suited to working together effectively to meet both short-term and long-term challenges.

Planning Exercises

The Human Knot

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Time Required: 5 – 15 minutes

This planning activity is a simple exercise that requires zero preparation time. First, organize everyone into groups of no less than 5 but no more than 10 people each. Once you organize the groups, have each group form their own circle. Then have everyone place their left hand into the center of the circle and tell them to grab the hand of someone else not standing next to them. Repeat again with the right hand, but be sure everyone holds hands with a different person. After this, the group must use teamwork to untangle themselves without anyone disconnecting. You can optionally run this activity as a race between groups. The goal of the human knot exercise is to get your group working together as a team to meet a common goal while also having a fun time. Of course, it requires not only creativity and planning, but flexibility as well!

Magic Shoes

Time Required: 30 – 45 minutes

This planning activity is another simple exercise that again involves zero preparation time. Depending on the size of the group, you may want to split people up into teams of between 5 to 10 each. Instruct the teams that they are stranded in the desert and that they must cross a patch of very hot sand roughly 50 feet across to reach an oasis. Be sure you mark off a starting line and a finish line for the patch of sand. However, to cross the patch of very hot sand, you need magic shoes that can only be worn by each team member /once/. The magic shoes should not be actual shoes, but can instead be represented by a piece of paper or even just a stick. These shoes cannot be thrown or separated, and each member of the team must eventually cross the sand. As the shoes can only be worn once by each person, the team will have to devise creative strategies about how to get everyone across such as by carrying people and who carries who. The magic shoes exercise teaches the wisdom of planning ahead.

Hot Lava

Time Required: 30 – 45 minutes

For this planning activity, you will need materials large enough for two people to step on at the same time. Stuff like old notepads or pieces of cardboard work great, as do narrow wooden boards or cinder blocks if you have any lying around. You will need about 5 to 7 of whatever you grab. As with magic shoes, you will need to create an area with a starting line and a finish line. Place the materials across this area and label them 1 through 7 (or however much you have). Split your group up into teams of between 3 to 6 people each and instruct them that the marked off area represents hot lava. In order to get across the hot lava, they must step only on the materials. However, the entire team must hold hands throughout the exercise to make sure no one falls into the hot lava until each team member makes it to the finish line. Moreover, once a person steps on whatever material you are using (e.g., notepads), that notepad must always have at least one foot on it before the last team member passes it. To make this more challenging, make the area longer than the materials you are using when placed next to another. This way, in order to succeed, the team will have to pick up the materials they cross along the way. That is, after each team member passes, say, the first old notepad, the last team member bends down to pick it up-without letting their hand go-then passes it up to the front of the group. The hot lava game teaches not only planning but communication as well. If a team member touches the hot lava, the entire team must return to the starting line.

The Tallest Tower

Time Required: 20 minutes

For this planning exercise, you will need a variety of building materials such as paper cups and bowls, masking tape, construction paper, cheap pens, and cardboard. Split your group up into teams of between 3 to 5 people each and give them a lot of one material but very little of the other materials (vary this among teams). Tell them the goal of the exercise is to build the tallest tower in just 20 minutes. In order to succeed, each team will have to plan about how they will use their building supplies, and each team member will have to communicate with one another. You can optionally allow groups to barter materials to demonstrate the importance of cooperation between different teams.


Time Required: 5 minutes

This is another very simple planning exercise. Before getting started, you should create a list of 10 items that one would need in a survival exercise at sea, such as a life-preserver, food, water, flare gun, compass, inflatable raft, knife, rope, etc. Once you are ready, split the group into teams of between 3 and 5 people each. You will then instruct the teams that they are on a sailboat that is now sinking. Give them the list of 10 items you drew up and tell them they have room on the lifeboat for only three of those items. Moreover, they have only 5 minutes to make a decision. At the end, have each team say the 3 items they took and explain why. This team planning exercise encourages communication among team members and promotes creative problem solving.

Trust and Communication Exercises

Trust Lean

Time Required: 5 – 10 minutes

This trust-building exercise involves all the members of your group and requires zero preparation time. First, have everyone count off starting with 1. Once everyone states their number, all group members should join together to hold hands. Tell the odd numbers to lean forward and the even numbers to lean backward slowly after you finish counting down from 5. If the group succeeds, everyone should be able to lean forwards or backwards in such a way that if one person let go, the entire group would fall. The goal of the Trust Lean is to show how the team must implicitly trust one another to meet a common goal. Keep in mind, however, that you may want to use spotters to make sure nobody actually falls.

Blindfold Runner

Time Required: 5 – 10 minutes

This trust-building exercise requires enough blindfolds for half your group. First, create an area roughly 30 feet across with a starting line and a finish line. In this area, create small obstacles with sticks or pieces of paper. However, be sure no one can trip over the obstacles! Secondly, split everyone into teams of two and tell one member of each team to tie a blindfold around their head. The blindfolded teammate will go to the starting line while the second teammate goes to the finish line. The teammate at the finish line must then direct the blindfolded teammate using verbal instructions to cross the area. If the blindfolded teammate hits an obstacle, the team must start over again. For added difficulty, make everyone with a blindfold spin in a circle three times before starting. The goal of this exercise is to promote trust among one another and to foster effective communication while working to build teamwork.

Slice ‘n’ Dice

Time Required: 15 minutes

In this trust-building exercise, have your group form two parallel lines of the same length and facing one another. The two lines should be standing roughly a few feet apart, and each person should extend one arm across the gap so that it would block anyone trying to walk between the two lines. Then have one team member at a time walk through the gap. To allow the team member to walk through, each person will have to raise and lower their arm. Once the team member walks through, have them rejoin one of the lines. Repeat this until each team member has gone through at least once. At this time, the group should have more confidence, and you can increase the difficulty by having each team member walk briskly or even run through the gap. This is a very simple exercise that relies a lot on trust. That is, each team member must learn to trust the other team members to raise and lower their arms at the right time. The goal is to create and foster a sense of trust among the group.

The Silent Birthday Game

Time Required: 15 minutes

This is a simple communications exercise that requires no preparation. This exercise will teach your team how to communicate with one another using nonverbal cues. In it, first instruct your group that no one can talk but they can use any variety of hand signals. Then tell them that the goal is to organize themselves in such a way that they form a single line in order of birthday. So the first person in the line may have their birthday on January 2, the second on January 17, the third on February 25, and so on. This is a great and simple exercise that demonstrates communication is not always verbal. Moreover, it teaches how to overcome barriers to communication. It is also a fun way for your team to learn more about one another!

Draw a Circle Exercise

Time Required: 15 to 20 minutes

This last communications exercise requires a large enough table for the group to sit at together, or at least tables for everyone, and a marker and one sheet of paper per person. After everyone is seated, tell them that you want them to follow your instructions word for word, there can be no questions, and to not look at anyone else’s paper during the exercise. First, tell them to draw a circle. Second, tell them to draw a triangle in that circle. Third, tell them to draw a square in the corner. Lastly, ask them to sign their name on the paper. At the end, ask everyone to hold up their sheet of paper for all to see. Chances are everyone will have drawn something slightly different. At this point, you should ask why everyone’s paper looked different. You may get a variety of responses such as, “The instructions weren’t clear,” or “You didn’t allow us to ask questions.” After this brief discussion, begin the exercise over again. This time, tell them to draw a circle four inches in diameter, then to draw a triangle within that circle such that all three corners touch the circle with the triangle pointing up. Then ask them to draw a square in the top right-hand corner roughly one inch wide and one inch tall. Lastly, ask everyone to sign their name at the bottom center of the page in cursive. After you’re done, ask everyone to hold up their sheets of paper. This time, each sheet should be nearly identical. This exercise demonstrates the difference between vague and clear instructions.

A Final Word

These 10 simple exercises to build teamwork and increase productivity will build a greater sense of trust, foster more communication, and encourage more cooperative planning in the office. However, for any team building exercise to be truly effective, you must communicate the goals well. Without an understanding of why they are engaging in activities that seem silly at times, the group will approach the team building exercises with a collective groan. However, you can avoid this by planning ahead and communicating your goals. This will in turn create trust between you and the group. Done right, team building exercises are a lot of fun, provide a break from the monotony of the office, and will lead to big productivity gains. So get out there and have fun!

There is more than exercises to Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity. Techniques such as Participative Leadership will help management to set the pace in the work place.

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