Karin’s Leadership Articles

3 Easy and Practical Team Building Activities

by | Jan 11, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

It’s been a rather heavy week on Let’s Grow Leaders, talking about Courage, Fear, Transparency, and Chaos. So I am going to end the week on a lighter note. I had my team in town this week, working on business strategy and plans. We also made time the day before for a few practical and easy team building activities.

These activities are not original, but they worked quite well, with little prep, and without an external facilitator. If you are looking for a good way to kick-off the year, you might find value in giving them a try.

Making it Personal

We held the team building session at my house, followed by a home cooked dinner. I am a huge believer in having my team to my home, a tradition I have done for over a decade. There is value in wearing jeans, eating together, seeing the natural habitat, and meeting my family.

I now have a National team, so including significant others in the dinner is not practical. However in years past, I have included spouses and friends in the evening activities. A few years ago, my son ended up on the shoulders of team member riding a unicycle on my deck, so you have to be prepared for surprises. 

Vision Board and One Word Double Header

I combined the “one word” exercise that so many are doing this year with a vision board exercise (see, What the Heck’s a Vision Board and How it can Change Your Life). All you need is some old magazines, poster board, and glue and a bit of creativity.

I asked each of us to identify one word that we would focus on for the entire year (across all aspects of our lives), which served as the center of the boards. We then spent the afternoon sifting through stacks of magazines, cutting out words and pictures, sharing hopes and dreams, recognizing common interests and plans, and finding humorous suggestions for one another.

My word for this year is “inspire.” What’s yours?

I’ll pause here.

Book Exchange

In lieu of holiday gifts we elected to draw names, and we each purchased a book for one member of our team. The reasons for selection made for interesting conversation, some were strategic and business focused, other’s were more personal. I chose to give How To Work for an Idiot to one of my direct reports 😉

“What I Get From This Team” Matrix

We also did an exercise designed to talk about how we were doing as a team. I can’t remember where I learned it, so I apologize for not knowing the original source.

We used a 4 quadrant matrix, and asked one another 4 questions in the context of the team. and also in the context of my leadership.

  • What I get that I want.
  • What I get that I don’t want.
  • What I want that I don’t get.
  • What I don’t get that I don’t want

That simple structure led to rich conversation. It also led us to share some of our struggles and leadership philosophy
What Are Your Team Building Favorites?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

    First, love the book idea.

    Second, my word is communicate.

    Finally, to get my team jump started for the year I strive to draw out their personal stories. I ask everyone to bring something that represents the season of life they are experiencing outside of camp. We then have a bit of show and tell. It’s powerful to make the connections of commonality. We also do something similar “What I Get From This Team” exercise. Everyone answers three questions privately on an index card. 1. How do I see myself. 2. How do others see me. 3. How do I want others to see me. Then, we sit in a circle (love circles for teams) and take turns listening. One at a time we each sit still and listen as everyone in the group shares How they see us. It’s always a powerful experience. And like your exercise, the team has to already be in a healthy place for this to be effective.

    Another activity I’ve done in the past we call it Pat-On-Da-Back. Everyone traces their hand on a piece of card stock. You hang this on your back. Then, with music playing and no talking allowed….everyone mingles around writing notes of encouragement and praise on each others paper. Lots of these end up hanging around the office and camp in personal work areas. After all, we can all use a little pat-on-da-back from time to time.

    • Culture_Ninja

      Hey Eric!

      These are all really great. Sounds like you have an amazing team!

      I will absolutely borrow the “pat-on-da-back” idea from you! Hope you don’t mind. 😉

      Thank you!!!!

  2. Culture_Ninja

    I just have to say that you are on fire this week Karin! I wanted to comment on the past three posts but just didn’t have time. So, I hope you don’t mind me doing it now:

    1.) Team Building Post: This is very cool! Love the book exchange, matrix, & one word. Mine is “Limitless”.

    2.) Chaos Curtailed Post: Another great one. I will share this with several leaders that I know who struggle with this concept. So important!

    3.) The Problem With Positioning Post: This is a good one to balance with the Chaos post. Clearly leaders should be sincere and honest, but they shouldn’t reveal everything.

    Overall great work this week!! Thank you for sharing!!!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Culture Ninja, thank you so much! You just brought a really big smile to my face. Plus a triple decker comment… wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Leadership continues to be a big balancing act with lots of choices. It’s fun to be able to write and reflect on the many angles.

  3. letsgrowleaders

    Eric, I love all of these! Thanks so much for sharing. I too love circles for teams. I have a larger meeting coming up for which the pat on the back exercise could be just perfect. Thanks so much for taking the time to share.

      • letsgrowleaders

        Eric, ohhh… music… I see. What’s your favorite?

        • Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

          Depends on the outcome I desire. Fun and whimsical songs like http://www.myspace.com/music/player?sid=17172384&ac=now can lead to fun and light hearted comments.

          Serious and soft music, either instrumental or Christian worship, can lead to more reflective comments.

          And, if you can get your team to participate….show tunes with everyone singing along can lead to very light hearted and fun comments. TV theme songs are goof for this, Fresh Prince of Bel Air is a classic. Of course 95% of team is between 18 and 24 years old.

  4. Steve Borek

    One exercise is to have everyone take an assessment. I use the TriMetrix HD which shows behaviors, values, and skills. This requires a facilitator. I’ll do an overview for the entire team. The purpose is getting everyone to understand their individual style.

    This would work well with Eric Dingler’s first exercise.

    • Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

      Thanks Steve for the suggestion to enhance the experience. I agree adding an assessment would be good. Thanks for the suggestions of TriMetrix HD, I’d never heard of it before.

  5. letsgrowleaders

    Steve, thanks so much for the recommendation. Exciting to see the integration ideas.

  6. TrivWorks (@TrivWorks)

    Personalizing team building activities is the single-most important thing you can do to make events which are fun, memorable and impactful. Glad to see it’s first on your list!

  7. letsgrowleaders

    TrivWorks, thanks so much for joining the conversation. Oh yes, do I ever believe in FUN!

  8. Rocky Walls

    Thanks for sharing this post. We’re trying out the “What I Get From This Team” Matrix tomorrow at our team meeting! Looking forward to the conversation it will help stimulate.


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