Culture exercises are essential for the workplace. They help to break the ice, build bridges between team members, reduce the collective anxiety of the team, inspire creative thinking, and foster a more positive and productive work environment.
Building a strong company culture is all about establishing a unified vision and ensuring that everyone feels safe, engaged, and invested. Team-building exercises are an easy way to get everyone on the same page, and there is a virtually endless well of activities to choose from.
Scavenger hunts have been popular since the 1930s, and they remain a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. In a company setting, they work especially well if you share a large office space with other businesses or if your facility is adjacent to other local businesses like shops, cafes, and neighborhood service providers.
The simplest and most basic type of scavenger hunt involves establishing teams with 2 or 3 members and having them search for basic items on a list (e.g. a branded pen or a music CD from the 1990s) within a limited timeframe. Whoever collects the most items on the list within the timeframe wins.
There are several culture-building benefits to dividing your team into small groups and having them search for key items. First, it allows people in the office to get better acquainted with one another. It encourages cooperation, problem-solving, and friendly competition.
There’s also an intra-office version that works well. Have each individual search for tangible or intangible items from their fellow team members. For example, the list might include items like a colorful tattoo or a selfie from an international vacation. This forces everyone in the office to interact with each other and get to know one another.
If you have a lot of remote team members, make it a virtual scavenger hunt. The premise is basically the same, but instead of physically collecting the items, you have your team members search for items in their neighborhood and take photos on their smartphones.
Board games are another way to encourage teamwork, competition, problem-solving, and social interaction. You don’t want to do this on company time, of course, but it’s not uncommon for businesses to set up the occasional game night. Order in some takeout, break out the games, and watch your team connect like never before. Nowadays, there are even remote versions of word games and trivia that you can try.
Board games have been shown to strengthen bonds between individuals, reduce stress, encourage laughter, and promote creativity and self-confidence. These are all essential qualities in a positive company culture. You can encourage your team members to bring their own favorite board games to the party and show off their skills. Popular games for the office include Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Uno, and Scrabble.
Two Truths & A Lie
This is a simpler, less time-intensive culture exercise that you can use as an icebreaker or to kick off company meetings. If you have a large team, you can designate two or three different employees to participate at the beginning of each meeting.
The game is simple. The participant stands up and states three facts about themselves. Two of the facts are real, but one is fake. The rest of the team must then guess which of the facts has been fabricated. This game is a great way to learn valuable insights about a team member’s personality, and it also allows everyone to get to know their team a little better and engage in a bit of lighthearted banter.
Not to be confused with the aforementioned Trivial Pursuit, office trivia places the focus on the team members. One of the easiest ways to facilitate this game is to have each team member submit a list of random, unique facts about themselves. Then turn those facts into trivia questions. So if one team member wrote that “I drink 7 cups of coffee a day,” you could create a trivia question that reads “Which of your fellow team members drinks half a dozen cups of coffee every day?”
This is another great way to encourage your team members to engage with one another, learn about each other, and interact. It allows everyone to be just a little bit vulnerable, but in a safe and fun environment, and it allows even the most introverted team members to let their hair down and connect with their fellow workers on a personal level.
Company Talent Show
This is a great one to do if you have both in-house and remote team members because the talents don’t have to be demonstrated in person. One of the easiest ways to pull off a company talent show is to have everyone submit a short video of their talent showcase. Then, dedicate an hour of office time (Friday afternoons work well) to stream all of the videos. You can do this while your entire team relaxes and enjoys snacks.
Have everyone vote on their favorite talent, and give a prize to the winner. You can even segment the votes in multiple categories like “Most Unique Talent,” “Funniest Talent,” and “Most Amazing Talent.”
Escape rooms have become wildly popular. As of 2019, there are an estimated 50,000 escape rooms in the world. Not only are they an exhilarating way for friends to pass the time on the weekend, but they make excellent team-building activities for businesses. It takes the collective knowledge and problem-solving abilities of everyone on the team to solve the various escape room puzzles and access the exit before the hour is up.
Escape rooms work best for small groups. So if you manage a small office or are seeking team-building opportunities for individual departments, an escape room excursion or virtual escape room may be an ideal option.
A potluck is another great way to encourage connections in the workplace. Rather than just bringing everyone together for a meal, it allows each member to contribute something original to the menu. This one is great to do on a Friday lunch hour because it doesn’t interfere with working hours but still allows everyone to enjoy a much-needed social break.
While a potluck on its own can be great for culture-building (as it allows people to come together as a team), the experience can be an especially strong conversation starter if there’s a theme or purpose behind it. For instance, you might encourage each team member to prepare a family recipe or a dish with personal significance. Then, at the meal, everyone can go around the room and explain why the dish is important or unique to them.
The Dinner Party Game
This is another “getting to know you” ice breaker that works well at company retreats, before meetings, and at other gatherings. All you have to do is go around the room and let each team member share which three people—living or dead—they would like to attend a dinner party with, and why.
Not only is the game fun and creative, but it allows each person to think critically about their own passions and connect with other team members who share similar interests. It can also open up a lot of compelling conversation.
If your company culture is centered around making a difference or being good stewards in society, an occasional volunteer opportunity is arguably the best team-building activity you can promote. It gives each team member a sense of purpose, and it allows them to build relationships as they work together for the greater good. It also enables them to take pride in working for an organization that cares about more than just profit margins.
Using a site like VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org, you can easily find volunteer opportunities in your area. Whether your passion is helping children in need, the unhoused population, the environment, or the local community at large, you’ll find a wealth of opportunities.
5k or 10k
A fitness-related culture exercise can be extremely effective as it allows your team to work together toward a physically challenging goal. A 5k or 10k run is another way to give back to the community (as these events typically raise money for an important cause), but with the added benefit of helping your team members to promote their own health in the process. If your team is especially fitness-conscious or you have a few months to train, you might even plan a half- or full marathon.
With an event like this, most of the culture-building actually happens before the run. You can designate training runs in the mornings leading up to the big event, thereby allowing your team members to come together early each morning (or a couple of mornings per week), encourage one another, and start the day off on a positive footing (literally).
Fantasy Sports Leagues
This is an easy one that doesn’t take up too much office time, but it allows for plenty of healthy competition and bonding. Sign up for a fantasy sports league online, and allow each team member to join the league and build their roster. You might even offer a prize for the winner at the end of the season.
Every Monday when the team returns to work, they’ll want to talk about the weekend’s games and their own current standings in the fantasy league. They’re sure to enjoy plenty of lighthearted teasing as their teams rise and fall through the ranks, but everyone will have a good time. Note that this type of activity works best if your team is sports-inclined.
Salt and Pepper
Another fun icebreaker activity, this classic party game works well if you have a lot of new team members or if your existing team members haven’t really hit it off yet. To start, you make a list of common pairs (Batman and Robin, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Beavis and Butthead, etc…) and write each individual name (or item) on a sticky note. Then place one sticky note on each team member’s back or forehead and let them find their match.
The trick is that the team members can’t look at their own sticky note. They have to make their way around the room and ask their fellow colleagues yes-or-no questions to figure out who they are. Then, once they figure it out, they have to find their pair.
Other Culture Exercises for the Workplace
There are plenty of excellent culture exercises that can bring your team together and put everyone in a positive frame of mind. Even something as simple as an office lunch outing can be effective. Then there are paintball events, karaoke nights, murder mystery parties, sporting events, and so much more.
If you’re trying to build or reinforce a positive company culture and encourage employee loyalty and engagement, you can have success with any activity that enables your team to connect with one another while having a good time. Try a different culture exercise each week or each month (depending on how much time you have available), and see which activities are most effective for your team.