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Team-Building Activities That Don’t Feel Forced

By 

Liz Sheldon

Team building activities can be a real conundrum—no adult likes to be told when to enjoy themselves, but a lack of any outside-the-office bonding activities can leave people feeling isolated. A good general rule is to try to plan things you would actually want to do in your spare time (i.e. no sitting around in a circle reciting icebreakers).

Read on for some simple, non-cringe team activities that may just lead to some new office friendships—or at the very least, putting actual faces to those tiny Slack icons.

1. DO A BOOK SWAP

Ask your team to bring in a book they have lying around, whether it’s one they loved or never felt inspired to pick up. One person’s slog is another’s best book of the year. Remote? Try a mail swap for those okay with sharing their home address. If you're IRL, also consider an office lending library, where folks can take/leave a book when they need a new read. Or set up "mystery choices" like some bookstores do, where coworkers wrap favorite books in paper and simply describe what's inside—historical fantasy, political nerd deep dive, etc.

2. SIGN UP FOR A CURATED MYSTERY

Having a game box delivered to your office or scheduling a virtual mystery hour is less intense than an escape room and more engaging than a puzzle. While it’s admittedly a little bit corny, sometimes some structure is what you need to get people talking.

3. TRY OUT A COMMUNAL CRAFT

Knitting and quilting circles may sound like something your grandma's into, but that’s actually part of the fun. Tap a coworker with a crafting hobby to lead an afternoon of drinking and DIY-ing, or hire a local pro to come by and share the basics. It’s always easier to make conversation when your hands are busy, and the beginner steps of these crafts are simple enough that it's likely nearly everyone in your group can do them.

4. SHARE ABSURD PRESENTATIONS

Who knows why Gen Z decided it would be a great idea to start presenting intentionally ridiculous slide presentations at parties, but it’s a genius move. Ask team members what trivial, completely non-work related topic they could wax on about for hours, and request some enthusiastic volunteers do exactly that in front of everyone. Spice things up with a prize for the most creative/LOL entry (SFW, of course).

5. TAKE A LOCAL FOOD TOUR

Create a quest to find the best lunch spot or cocktail hour hang by taking a walking tour of a local neighborhood known for its restaurants or bars. This one’s fun to turn into a series—think a dumpling crawl of Chinatown, taco truck tasting, or pizza odyssey. If you live in a city, chances are there’s a slew of local guides to choose from—for example, NYC’s famous Scott’s Pizza Tours.

6. GO TO A GAME-THEMED BAR

A bar with some kind of an activity—think shuffleboard, bowling, or arcade games—is a nice mix that feels festive and like something they would do on their own time anyways, with games available to keep everything from being just about drinking.

7. SAMPLE SOME MOCKTAILS

Non-alcoholic drinks have come a long way, and making–or sampling—some is an inclusive activity you can do anytime of day. There’s a few ways to play it: You could hire a drinks expert to come to your office, or host a virtual session by sending a list of ingredients over in advance and having everyone follow along.

8. SHARE YOUR FIRST JOBS

Asking someone what their very first job was can be a surprisingly fun conversation starter. Everyone will have an answer at hand without having to brainstorm, and the answers can tell you a lot about someone’s backstory and how they came to be sitting in front of you as a coworker. Plus, it often leads to funny anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of say, scooping ice cream or pet sitting.

9. BOOK A TAROT CARD READING

Hire a reader to share short readings for the team (just make sure they know in advance to keep things from getting too deeply personal). Having a tarot reader set up at a larger office party is a great conversation-starter, or make it the main event on a Thursday afternoon team-building Zoom.

10. HOLD AN OFFICE SNACK TASTE TEST

If your office kitchen is stocked with snacks, instate a quarterly snackathon and ask people to vote on what’s in and what’s out. Think of it as a fun and tasty way to keep things from getting stale. After all, even those beloved peanut butter-filled pretzels can start to feel blah when you’re eating them week after week. Collect suggestions for new additions and gather round for a tasting—then take a poll to see which old snacks get voted off the (kitchen) island.

11. TAKE A PRIVATE MUSEUM TOUR

If there’s a cool exhibit coming up at a local museum, book a group tour with a dedicated guide. Your team will get a VIP-feeling experience, along with moments of connection as you move through the gallery spaces—or botanical gardens, or sculpture park. Seeing art together, even (or especially!) if people have different reactions to it, creates a strong shared reference point and can jumpstart creative convos.

12. CREATE A BRACKET—ANY KIND OF BRACKET

Best TV shows of the past 10 years? Favorite Met Ball looks? Best pizza toppings? Creating a fun competition that’s not solely about sports is an inclusive way to bring people in and get them rooting for their faves, without having to sit around and wrack their suddenly-blank brain for any movie they’ve ever seen. Mark the end with an on-theme celebration, like a favorite-episode watch party.

13. HAVE CELEBRITY GOSSIP HOUR

Gossip brings people together for a reason, but it’s only fun when no one’s feelings are getting hurt—and like it or not, it’s nearly impossible to exist without absorbing at least some basic star news during the week. Setting aside a few minutes at the end of a meeting to talk about the latest (office appropriate!) celeb gossip can be a low effort way to warm people up. Plus, you never know which coworkers will come out of the woodwork as surprise Real Housewives fans.

14. POT SOME PLANTS

Our collective passion for plants isn’t going anywhere, so lean into it with a group potting session. Have a local landscaper or plant shop expert come by with supplies and either seedlings or starter plants, and have your team gather round to freshly pot their own greenery, or create some air-plant terrariums. They can use them to infuse some life into the office, or bring them home for a little living brightness.

15. TAKE A VIRTUAL COOKING CLASS

In-person cooking classes can be more fun in theory, but if you’re in a big group, it can be hard for everyone to stay on the same page, and food can be a sensitive subject for many. All signing on to a virtual cooking class means your team can be in the comfort of their own kitchens—or just follow along as others cook. You can book a private class, or encourage your crew to sign up for a free weekly class, like cookbook author Julia Turshen’s Sundays with Julia, or Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi’s Instagram Live Bake Club. Both share ingredient lists in advance, so be sure to offer a supplies stipend.

16. MAKE YOUR WORKSPACE MORE COMFY

Sometimes a practical hang beats trying to make your work events feel FUN. Invite WFH colleagues to grab a bev and tune into a feng shui or ergonomics expert on how to set up their home desks/offices to banish carpal tunnel or "cashew back." Tip: Take after these TikToks that use tiny furniture models and pre-ask a few willing folks to share a simple drawing of their space to use as an example. It’s shockingly satisfying to see what you can do with what you already have.

17. RENT OUT A MOVIE THEATER

Taking over an entire theater is a great way to bring your group together, creating a communal experience that requires less small talk. See something current or ask if your theater can cue up a classic—people can debate their favorite movie theater candy, and everyone will have a shared topic to break the ice when you’re all back at work. Or, if you’re planning a warm weather event, research local rooftop or outdoor film companies and host an al fresco fiesta.

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