Five Simple, Engaging Team Building Activities and Debriefing Tips

Team building activities are a valuable resource for Recreation Therapists and other Activity Professionals. They teach participants essential skills through engaging activities. With so many types of team building activities available, there is something valuable for just about any population.

Some need areas team building activities address:

  • Communication Skills
  • Problem Solving
  • Leadership
  • Learning About Peers
  • Dealing with Frustration and Adversity
  • Building Trust
  • Planning and Adaptability
  • Increasing Confidence
  • Emotional Resilience

team building activities picture

Here are five team building activities that require minimal prep work and easily adapted to a variety of populations.

Building the Spaghetti Tower

Let your participants get creative while making the tallest tower with the materials supplied.

Need areas addressed: Creative collaboration, problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and fine motor skills.

Group size: This activity could be done with just about any size group as long as each team consists of four or five members for opportunities to collaborate.

Materials: 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti, 1 roll of masking tape, 1 yard of string, and one marshmallow for every team. (These materials could easily be modified based on your available resources and participants’ skill levels.)

Each team uses the supplied materials to make the highest tower. Set a time limit for each team to attempt building their best tower. When the time is up, measure the towers–without any team members touching it–to find the highest one.  

Group Murals

pictures of paintsNeed areas addressed: Group and individual creative expression, group collaboration, communication, bonding with peers, fine motor skills, supporting peers

Group Size: Small to Medium

Materials: Large canvases, posterboard, or butcher block paper, paint, brushes, markers, colored pencils, or any other art materials you find appropriate.

Using the above materials, let every member contribute to a mural project. Have the participants decide on a theme and problem solve what they want on the mural. Encourage participants to teach and support each other during the mural’s creation. Once the murals are complete, proudly hang them where other participants, staff, and family members could see.

For more ideas like these, please check out this website.


This is a three-in-one team building activity incorporating charades, Pictionary, and sculptionary.

Need areas addressed: Creative expression, various communication skills, problem solving, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and leisure education

Group Size: This team building activity will work with most group sizes.

Materials: Pencils, paper, clay or play dough, dice (preferably large), a list of leisure-related words that are easy to act out, draw, or sculpt.

One player on each team rolls the dice. Depending on the roll, the participant will draw, sculpt, or act out the leisure-related word.

For example:

Roll 1 or 2, the participant acts out the leisure-related word for the team.

Roll 3 or 4, the participant draws the leisure-related word for the team.

Roll 5 or 6, the participant sculpts the leisure-related word with clay for the team.

If the other players on the participant’s team guess what the leisure word is, they get a point. The team with the most points at the end of the allotted time wins.

If you like this activity, there is a similar one I wrote about awhile back called Leisure Draw It!

Source: Mom

Building Cup Structures

This activity is for higher functioning clients with good fine motor skills. It requires teamwork and is pretty challenging. That said, it is a lot of fun and a great activity to build cooperation.

Need areas address: Cooperation, communication, teamwork, fine motor skills, problem solving, critical thinking, and frustration tolerance

Group size: Just about any group size will work as long as you could make multiple teams with four players.

Materials: Six solo cups, one rubber band, and four strings for each team.

Tie four strings to a rubber band to make your challenge tool. Next make three columns of two stacked cups. Each team has to take the cups from their three columns and make a pyramid using the challenge tool. Each player must have one hand on a string at all times while moving the cups.

The team with that successfully makes the cup pyramid first wins.

Check out this link for more information and illustrations.

Keep the Ball in the Air

keep ball in the air photoThis is one of my go-to team building activities I use when I don’t have much time to prepare and I have an active group ready for a challenge. Depending on what type of ball you use, this activity could be adapted for many populations.

Need areas addressed: cooperation, problem solving, planning, communication, gross motor skills, setting goals, hand-eye coordination, frustration tolerance.

Group size: This activity works best with medium to large groups.

Materials: A ball–a volleyball or beach ball works best, but you could even use a large balloon for groups that don’t have great gross motor or hand-eye coordination skills.

As the name of the activity implies, the group must keep the ball in the air. Before the group starts the activity, have them set a goal for how long or how many consecutive taps they have before the ball hits the ground. Then let them try to reach that goal. Make sure they tap the balloon instead of catch and throw it. Also, I usually say a player cannot touch the ball two consecutive times.

If the team reaches their goal, let them set another one. If they are having difficulty, facilitate a discussion about how they could make their goals.

Tips for Successful Debriefing

Anyone well-versed in running team building activities knows the power of a great debriefing session. Successful debriefing reinforces skills and lessons through valuable teaching moments. Debriefing is what makes the activity therapeutic.

Pay Close Attention to the Activity

Of course you would want to do this for safety and to ensure others are following the rules. But also make mental notes about how the group progressed through the activity. Watch their communication and problem solving as well as their moods. Use your mental notes for a debriefing session specific to the group’s performance.

Keep it Positive

During the debriefing session, use examples of positive behaviors you noticed that allowed the group to complete the activity. Addressing the group’s struggles is appropriate, but you want to make sure it is done correctly. By focusing on the bad behaviors and actions of some, the debriefing session could quickly turn into an angry finger-pointing session of blame. Use positive language to address the group’s struggles. For example, say something like, “A few of you had trouble when everyone wasn’t doing their part. How did you deal with that frustration to make sure your team completed the challenge?”

Let the Group Discover the Answers

Instead of giving a sermon on how communication is very important or how brainstorming is often the key to good problem solving, let the group find out on their own. Use open-ended questions with a lot of room for the group to discuss answers. If the participants were actively engaged in the team building activity, chances are they will have a lot to say afterward. Use their enthusiasm to guide them towards revelations about positive behavior, teamwork, etc.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

You could start the debriefing session with some generic questions, but make sure you really narrow in on the group’s specific triumphs and struggles. No two groups will complete an activity exactly the same. If you have multiple groups doing the same activity in a day, you will find this out very fast. For example, in a recent team building activity I did with four groups of adolescent boys, our debriefing subjects were different for each group based on their performance. Debriefing topics for each group: positive communication, listening to more experienced individuals, helping those struggling, and dealing with personal and team frustration. All for the same twenty-minute activity!


When Team Building Activities Implode

As Recreation Therapists, we deal with clients having mental, physical, and emotional difficulties. Sometimes frustration, anger, or other charged emotions sneak into the activity. By paying close attention to the participants’ affect and interactions, you could usually pause a team building activity before it becomes a disaster. Stop the activity and have the participants regroup and discuss. Sometimes that is all you need to “hit the reset button” on the group’s frustration and give them motivation to try again. As mentioned before, don’t point fingers or allow those in the group to do it. Encourage them to use “I” statements. For example, instead of you made me mad, have them say, I got mad when he didn’t listen to me.

Sometimes it is good to let a group push through their frustrations. By knowing your participants and their specific emotional strengths and weaknesses you should have a good idea when they cross the line from it being a therapeutic activity to a hot mess. Also, by adapting the activity so it is challenging enough without being overwhelming, the participants have a greater opportunity for success. (Remember the “Flow” concept from college?)

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