Need some team building activities for the holidays? Here are five different ones that you can use as stand-alone activities or put them together for one amazing holiday gathering.
Each activity comes with instructions, and you can even download a 4-page PDF guide of this post at the end to take with you to your holiday party or team meeting. (The PDF includes additional ideas not listed in the post.)
Also called the Paper Tear activity, this exercise shows the importance of communication and clarifying instructions. This activity can be done with smaller teams as well as large groups.
Hand everyone a piece of paper. Once everyone has receive a piece, instruct them that this exercise is to be done with all eyes closed and in silence (except for the rustling of the paper.) Participants are not allowed to ask questions of you, their neighbor, or make comments about the process until it is completed.
Ask everyone to close their eyes and to follow these instructions exactly:
- Fold your paper in half.
- Fold it in half again.
- Tear off the top right corner.
- Fold your paper in half length-wise.
- Tear off the bottom left corner.
- Rotate your paper.
- Fold it in half again.
- Tear off a piece from the middle
Say, “If you followed these instructions exactly, all of your papers should look the same. Open your eyes and unfold your paper.” At this point, have them compare their papers with those around them.
What was it like to follow the instructions?
How hard or easy was it to not be able to clarify?
How does this resemble communication in your organization?
What ways could this process be improved/changed?
2. Helium Peppermint Stick
This is a variation on the helium stick team building activity. One year with a student leadership group, I wrapped red electric tape around a thin, long piece of PVC pipe to make it look like a peppermint stick. Depending on your team, you can create a story to go with this activity:
Santa’s elves have lost one of their peppermint sticks. It appears they’ve accidentally dropped some of the reindeer dust on it because it has a tendency to float up. It’s fairly fragile and very light weight. Because we don’t want to break it, we’re just going to use our index fingers to touch it. In order to reverse the effects of the reindeer dust, we have to set it on the floor as a team. Everyone must be touching the peppermint stick with both index fingers, and they must remain touching it the whole time.
This activity takes a lot of communication and cooperation to complete. It’s much harder than it seems at first.
- What worked well during this activity?
- What was your communication strategy in the beginning?
- How did that change over time?
- What observations did you make during this exercise?
3. Holiday Spectrums
Spectrums is a game that I learned personally from Mark Collard of Playmeo. The game is an icebreaker that asks participants to line up on a continuum based on two choices.
Designate two end points on the spectrum you’ve created. (You can use a couple of small cones, 2 chairs, roll out a long piece of webbing or duct tape, etc.) Tell your group members you’re going to read off what the 2 ends of the spectrum represent. For example, “dog lover” at this end (and indicate which end that would be) or “cat lover” at this end (point to the opposite end of the spectrum). You can choose to move to either end or pick somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter where you go, just pick a spot that you feel represents your answer.
Possible questions/categories for this team building activity:
a. Christmas is (The holidays are) awesome! OR Bah Humbug!
b. Griswold Christmas Lights… or Never put lights up
c. Black Friday shopping… or Stay at home and avoid the crowds!
d. I love holiday traditions… or I love to try new things every year!
e. I use wrapping paper… or I use gift bags.
Get more ideas by downloading the free PDF!
f. Create your own spectrum question(s).
After each person has selected their place, ask them their reason for selecting that particular spot on the spectrum (you don’t have to ask everyone – just get a few responses.)
What can we learn from each other during this activity?
4. Deck the Halls Scavenger Hunt
Make a list of holiday items and assign points for each item. The larger or more hard to find items should have more points attached to them.
Give each team a list of the items and a time limit to gather items (typically 1-2 hours). If teams are late, they could face disqualification. I would suggest that you have the teams stay together for this activity. You can designate the teams stay within a certain area or allow them to venture out. (Just be aware that the larger the teams, the harder it will be to stay together if they are allowed outside of a certain area.)
See sample items in the PDF (Free download)
This is the “bigger and better” approach to a scavenger hunt. Give each team a small item (small Christmas stocking, candy cane, ornament) and ask them that their job is to go out into the community and ask for something “bigger and better” than what they currently have. The idea is for each team to trade up to the most extravagant item that they can find in a certain amount of time.
Usually you give teams an hour or two to complete the task, meet back at a certain time (or face disqualification), and reveal what each team has been able to come up with. You can select a winner based on size of item or most expensive item. You could also give out other awards such as:
- Most creative item obtained.
- Biggest item.
- Weirdest object.
- Most likely to be found in a Michael Jackson video.
- Most likely to be found in our boss’s house.
- Create your own fun awards!
5. Holiday Mapping (Where in the world?)
Imagine the floor where you are is a map of the world. The center of the map is where we are physically. I will ask a series of questions and you move to the spot on the imaginary map that represents your answer to the question. For example, if I asked “Where were you born?” go ahead and move to that spot now. For each question, don’t worry about being able to afford
Additional question ideas:
a. Where in the world would you like to spend the holidays?
b. What other country’s holiday tradition(s) would you like to learn more about?
c. If you could take a 2-week vacation during the holidays (all expenses paid) where would you go? (You could also ask what they would do there once they’ve moved to their spot.)
d. Where in the world would you like to go for the New Year’s celebration?
e. What place would you absolutely NOT want to visit during the holidays? (This could create some laughs!)
f. <Insert your creative question here.>
After each question, call on a few individuals to name the place where they are and you might ask the reason they chose that particular place.
You’ll have great fun with these activities. Don’t forget to download the PDF (FREE) that also includes ideas for the scavenger hunt items above, as well as additional ideas not listed in this post.
What activities are you planning to use? What other holiday activities do you use for team building? Let me know in the comments below!
Leadership and Teamwork
Business schools assess leadership and team skills in applicants very keenly. Some schools may include direct questions asking you to narrate your leadership and teamwork experiences. Other schools that don't ask these questions directly assess you on these skills through the experiences you share through the various essays you write. If these are indeed your strength areas you would bring them up in your essays anyway is the assumption they work with.
You demonstrate leadership when:
a. you show initiative to improve things around you: solve problems, correct old processes and setup new ones.
b. you convince others of the effectiveness of your novel ideas and remove obstacles in implementation, you overcome opposition to your ideas too.
c. you lead a team of people to achieve a difficult task, you motivate team members to contribute to the task, include their opinions, and bring together dissenting voices.
Stories of leadership on the lines suggested here become the most decisive parts of your application. They turn that admission decision in your favor.
Identify such experiences, use them to answer the direct questions on leadership, or to substantiate points you make in other essays.
The most effective leadership story is one where you identify problems in an existing way of doing things, conceive a better way, persuade others to accept you way, overcome obstacles on the path of execution, and deliver a great result.
Just because you work in teams or lead teams doesn’t mean you are a good team player. To prove that you are, you would need to recall examples from your experience where you handled what are considered as the normal pitfalls of teamwork. These are described below.
Often in teamwork individual goals don’t align with team goals. If you were placed in a project you weren’t interested in how did you place team objectives over personal goals?
Teamwork generates conflicts. People have different ideas and they wish to do things differently. When you confronted such a situation how did you bring dissenting voices together?
In the best performing teams, team members share clarity of purpose. How did you create such clarity when you found lack of it hindering team process?
Also in teamwork, roles and objectives have to be clearly defined. When roles overlapped and goals were not clear, how did you organize the effort?
Share examples on these lines. Avoid examples where you arranged an out of office dinner or picnic and everyone because of it became ideal team players the next day. Get real. If a team member or a group of them are not contributing, the team outing is going to do little. Perspectives will change and realizations will hit when the real reason behind the problems are addressed and this often happens at the work place.
You will identify the ideal story to narrate team skills when you recall your good team experiences, where teamwork created a great result.
Not many applicants help admissions committees judge their ability to effectively work with others. A good team experience is an ideal way to show your people skills. Among the various stories you will include in the essays also include one that brings out your team skills.
Chapter 1: Achievements
Chapter 2: Career Goals and Career Progress
Chapter 4: Unique applicant
Chapter 5: Weaknesses, setbacks and failures
Chapter 6: Why MBA? Why XYZ school?
Chapter 7: Miscellaneous issues