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3 Fun Team Building Activities That Actually Work

private food tour, food tour nyc, walking tour nyc, team building activity nyc

Sidewalk Food Tours of New York offers a private food tour of The Lower East Side

What your business is being robbed of by not participating and which activities are worth the trip with you friends or colleagues.

Scientists that wrote the article “The Social Team Building Optimization Algorithm” published last year in the Springer Link, make a great opening argument regarding the need for and effectiveness of team building activities when incorporated correctly.

“A wolf pack can hunt prey efficiently due to reasonable social team hierarchy and effective team cooperation”

Think about it. For a single wolf to hunt a meal – their prey being an animal often up to 12 times the size of itself – they must do so in conjunction with a pack of as many as 15 others.  To do this successfully without failure or catastrophe requires all members of the pack to not only think cohesively with the others, but also know to their role in the pack and the process of the hunt.

That is a pretty remarkable concept.

While we’re not wolves hunting prey with our colleagues and bosses, this is spot-on in its reference to team cooperation as a superior variable in goal optimization for groups working together to accomplish a task or improve morale and productivity.

Like a well-oiled machine or a pack of wolves, our business initiatives will be most effectively met when all members of the team are functioning at their highest efficiency together.

A team building activity, or TBA, is a process involving games or exercises used to help a group of people gain better skills to cohesively work together.  This is done by not only providing an understanding for each other in a greater dimension, but also by developing trust, support and respect for one another along the way.

Beef from the Critics – 3 Team Building Activities to Inarguably Stay Away From

In a recent article titled “The Worst Team Building Exercises in History” the writer tells a handful of dreadful stories depicting team building exercises gone awry and why the activities in general can be undesirable and often a waste of time and money. 

Let’s be honest. There are definitely some terrible choices when it comes to TBA’s, and it helps to know what they are to avoid a team bonding disaster.  For good reason, these activities are unsuccessful and as a result are thought to be useless and wasteful for businesses to incorporate.  I’ve highlighted three examples of activities and exercise that simply don’t work toward a goal of team unification, group bonding and overall successful interactions.

  1. Participation Challenges and Classes

The first type of team building activities to stay away from are what I consider participation challenges which are competitions or programs encouraging participants to complete a certain goal over an amount of time and rewarding those who do.  This is referring to things such as weight-loss or habit breaking competitions, as well as nutrition challenges like juicing, diets, and cleanses.

Believe it or not, not everyone is excited about exercising or dieting, especially when their results are spread out to be observed and compared to everyone else’s. 

It’s weird.

As leaders, our job is to find value in the team of individuals that we work with, not try dictate their diet, wellness or how their time is spent.

These challenges are great opportunities for self-improvement and health and wellness; however, I don’t find them to be effective or appropriate for the workplace. For that reason, steer clear of them and opt for something better for the group as a whole rather than each member individually.

  1. Low-Engagement Games and Events

Another type of TBA to avoid if you want good results and feedback are what I consider to be low-engagement exercises – activities that provide minimal consistent interaction with everyone individually. Examples of such are things like the egg drop, balloon toss, Human Knot, trust falls, Two Truths and a Lie, Telephone – you get the idea.

It should go without saying but I’m going to say it anyways: These types of experiences bore people, plain and simple.  They’re short lived and tend to be passively entertaining at most, before becoming annoying, repetitive or steamily a waste of time.

For those of you who are sad to hear this – sorry guys, but they’ve got to go. At least in terms of team building activities.  Sure, they have the potential to be sort of fun if the group has the best attitudes, but let’s face it; getting people to participate in TBA’s is often an uphill battle from the beginning.  If you want people to feel as though this is beneficial and productive with their time, you need something convincing all on its own.

Unfortunately, my friends, these kinds of activities just won’t cut it. Save them for the next backyard cookout or field day.

  1. Physically Demanding or Pain Inflicting Activities

Unless you’ve got a particularly competitive and excessively active group of individuals, stay away from activities that are extremely physical or may cause someone damage or injury, even if its minimal or “harmless”. Not only are they dangerous to the players and ultimately the company’s liability, they are also sure to create discomfort, vulnerability and rifts among members that may carry back into the workplace or beyond.

Examples of these are games things like paintball, dodgeball or other fast paced sports, or large or physically challenging courses. While these sorts of games are generally entertaining for many, it’s often difficult to gauge various levels of comfort when planning something of this nature for team building.  Emotions run high and people’s words – and sometimes actions – get out of hand.   

To avoid hurt feelings, injury, exclusion and liability, leave the physically demanding activities for the weekend outing and refrain from using it as a team building activity.

eating wafles on a private food truck tour

Decadent Waffles on a Team Building Food Truck Tour of New York City

Now, to the Good Stuff – 3 Team Building Activities That Actually Do Work

While I certainly respect and understand the opposition to some degree, the concept of the experience of team building activities in its entirety is one that I find to not only be enjoyable and beneficial but also one that strengthens the value of the company or group as a whole.  It doesn’t have to be complex or focused on the skills you are hoping to develop within the workplace; it just needs to be something that makes people feel involved, entertained and connected to others around them.

There are tons of successful team building activities that not only increase collaboration and encourage positive communication, but also assist overall in improving productivity all while having a good time.  These experiences, when chosen and facilitated appropriately, can make a significant difference in the overall effectiveness of your group when working together on a task or a goal.  Here are the three best choices for team building activities that will promote team bonding as well as leave everyone raving for weeks after.

  1. Food Tours

The number one, best team building exercise, in my humble opinion, is food tours.  Why do food tours make exceptional group bonding activities?

First, this should go without saying, but isn’t food everyone’s favorite everything?

Not only does it give nourishment in terms of nutrition and all that good stuff, but it also stimulates the body in a way that triggers and releases feel-good chemicals in the brain such as endorphins.  It’s science.

Besides that, people have been incorporating food into their bonding rituals and gatherings for centuries, dating all the way back to the first civilizations.  Even the people of early Mesopotamia celebrated their holidays and festivals by preparing banquets for communal consumption.  From intimate family dinners and lunch dates with our best friends, to celebrations like weddings and corporate meetings; food is always a factor, and for good reason.

Everyone loves food.

Wouldn’t you agree? Speak now or forever hold your peace.

Kidding, but really, what better way to get a group of diverse, often superficially familiar individuals together to enjoy some time and interact than to take them on an adventure and feed them while they’re at it?

Exactly, nothing.

Food tours are low pressure and highly engaging, allowing people the opportunity to casually interact with others and experience new things, learning about one another in the process.  The chance to have a bite and then take a stroll to the next checkpoint is exciting and provides constant engagement, keeping the experience from getting stale or disappointing.

The best food tour company undoubtedly is Sidewalk Food Tours.  Offering a whopping 27 different tours across neighbors in 6 notable cities worldwide, Sidewalk Food Tours has an unbelievable variety that will indisputably address the interests, needs and taste bud favorites unique to each group and individual that attends.

During their excursion with Sidewalk Food Tours, guests can expect to be treated to a 3-hour guided tour visiting a handful of restaurants for their tasting pleasures.  Their tours are extremely social, giving members the opportunity to casually get to know each other better as they walk, converse and bond together at stops to undeniable culinary gems along the way. They incorporate awesome team building components such as the game of Jeopardy into their tours, and substitutions are always available for those with allergies or dietary restrictions, assuring no one ever feels out of place or left out. 

And if you’re like me and prefer a little distilled inhibition to grease the wheels and help you socialize (don’t judge, ain’t no shame in my game), they also offer an alcohol component for their tours that guests can choose to opt into as well.

Sidewalk Food Tours is perfect for corporate and private functions, as well as for parties and group outings of all nature. It’s a great option for team building and provides a lot of flexibility making for a customized experience for everyone that partakes.

private cooking class of San Francisco

Chef Eliza teaching a private cooking class of San Francisco

  1. Cooking Classes

Staying with the theme of food – because quite frankly this is making me so hungry– the next best example of a TBA that actually works is cooking classes.

Indicative of the name, cooking classes are designed to lead individuals through the education, preparing and cooking necessary for a specific dish.   They range in all levels of experience from beginner to expert, giving you the hands-on practice of being a professional chef.

Not only are they super entertaining but they’re a great opportunity to learn about and cook different dishes, encouraging people to expand their knowledge in other cultures, heritages and traditions.

In terms of team building, cooking classes are a great exercise for many of the same reasons as they are for food tours.  They foster new connections and the chance to learn about the likes and dislikes of others in the class, all while creating an experience for individuals to relax and appreciate these relationships beyond their roles in the office.

And, the best part is that you don’t even have to clean up afterward!

Perhaps one of the best options for classes are the Team Building Cooking Classes in San Francisco provided by Sidewalk Food Tours. All classes are 2 hours long and lead by a professional chef, designed with the goal of helping each guest increase their culinary familiarity and build relationships with colleagues and group members.

They can accommodate a minimum party size of 12 and go up to as many as 30 members, offering a discount for groups over 20. There are 5 classes to choose from including Handmade Ravioli, Thai Curry Basics, Paella Perfection, Wrap & Roll, and Brigadeiro Making.

Each guest will not only be taught how to prepare the dishes specified, they will also receive lessons in knife skills and general cooking how-to’s.  Classes are BYOB (even better!), and all include crudité and homemade dips served to guests as they are welcomed.

  1. Escape Rooms

My third choice for successful team building (again a personal fav) are Escape Rooms.  They consist of a group of people being locked in a room or series of rooms (trust me, its fun) with their escape reliant on solving a series of mental and physical puzzles by using clues and strategizing with information as it is discovered.

Escape Rooms are usually timed, ranging from an hour to a couple of hours. They exist in varying themes and difficulties, allowing you to choose one that best fits the group participating. Public bookings are often designed for 6 – 12 players however most Escape Rooms offer custom and private bookings for larger groups, some easily accommodating hundreds of people at once.

The benefits of Escape Rooms as a team building activity are first, that everyone has a chance to demonstrate their skills and areas of expertise.  Some people are forward-minded thinkers, concentrating their efforts on tackling tasks individually. Others tend to sit back and focus on the bigger picture, often observing details or forming solutions that may have otherwise been overlooked by someone more exclusively focused. Both ways of thinking will certainly be helpful and necessary in escaping and winning, and success isn’t possible for one without the other.

Another reason why Escape Rooms make terrific team building exercises is that they not only show peoples strengths (and weaknesses) under pressure – a valuable bit of information – they also identify how the group addresses balancing the levels and diversity of skillsets among the members. 

And instead of being pinned against each other in competition, everyone is focused on the same goal, escaping and becoming unstoppable, genius CHAMPIONS. This unites the members and encourages them to rely on each other for what they are good at. 

Escape rooms have become more and more popular over the past 5 years and continue to pop up in locations everywhere for your enjoyment.  While there are plenty of great companies out there, some of the most popular can be found on reputable sites like Trip Advisor and Google. Check out where your nearest Escape Rooms are and give it a try for yourself or your business!

What’s my point?

People engage better with others when they feel connected and are comfortable.  The best way to get your team on board with your next outing is to choose an activity that they can’t wait to do again. While there are a plethora of terrible choices for team building activities, do your squad a favor and choose something that will not only create excellence within your corporation, but will leave your tribe excited the next time you mention a Saturday together out of the office.