Almost all managers have the goal of boosting team camaraderie and culture. All great managers realize that team-building is an important part of doing so. Things like team-building games, events, and activities are all important for successful teams who work well together. However, busy managers are also some of the most time-strapped people in a company - not to mention, where does the budget come from?
We know that it can be hard to plan fun team-building activities without generous reserves of time or money - but we can help. In this article, we’ve hand-picked games that are completely free to play: no materials or equipment are needed, and prep-work is limited. Browse the list and see which game is the best for your next low-budget, high-fun team activity.
No cost, no materials needed, team-building games
All of these games are pretty simple and straightforward. They don’t require anything else from you, other than perhaps some planning in advance. Let’s dive in!
1. Group story-telling
This game is great for better understanding how your coworkers' minds work. What better way to bond than to create something together - in this case, a story. You can do this with any number in your group. Plus, you can play this game as many times as you want, and the outcome will be different each time. Here’s how it works.
- Have everyone stand in a circle or semicircle where the entire group can get a good look at each other.
- The person who is running the event should decide on a story topic. You can pick anything, but be sure to use your imagination. Something like the middle ages to underwater adventures adds an element of fun (vs. a typical day at work or something more mundane). The more creative you can be, the better it will be for the group.
- Choose a person to kick things off with a few sentences. Then, they “pass” to the next person to continue the story.
- The passing continues until everyone has had an opportunity to add to the story. A few lines are sufficient, but encourage people to be creative.
- The last person to go should wrap up the overall story. It’s a good idea to let them know in advance that this will be their responsibility so they can think of a clever ending.
An oldie, but a goodie - we like to call it a classic. This well-known game should be easy to play since chances are, everyone has played it before. Charades can be modified to play with any kind of group, and is great for a diverse team. There’s something for everyone! In case you need a refresher, here is how to play:
- Split everyone into groups based on the size of your overall team. You can have two large groups as long as everyone will be able to be heard. You might want a few small groups if your team is particularly big.
- Every team should take turns acting out a word or phrase. You can have a facilitator pick these terms for the group, or you can have people submit ideas (such as writing on slips of paper and drawing them).
- When teams guess correctly, they get a point. Keep track of each team’s overall points and announce a winner at the end.
3. Human knot
If you want things to get a little more physical, a game that requires movement is a good idea. It’s best for teams who are friendly already, because it necessitates being close to each other. Another note: it involves touching, so if anyone has been sick lately or is particularly concerned about germs, this might be one to opt out of. The goal is to create a human entanglement that everyone must try to escape. It’s a fun trust-building activity because everyone feels a little vulnerable and silly. Here’s how.
- Create a circle with everyone facing the center of the circle.
- Start by having each person reach one hand into the circle and grab hands with someone else in the circle. It’s important to remind people that they shouldn’t just grab the hand of the person next to them - that will ruin the game.
- Go one hand at a time to create a more complicated knot (not both hands at once).
- From there, instruct the team to maneuver around each other in order to undo the knot - without letting go of hands. The entire goal is to undo the knot without letting go of the hand-holds everyone created.
- The game is over when everyone is untangled.
4. Late for work
This game is another version of story-telling, but with a few twists that make it a little more involved. This game is really more of an improv exercise.
- Begin by choosing a “stage” where the game will play out - it should be a spot that everyone present has a clear view of.
- The first person will kick things off by entering the space and pretending to be late for work. They should come up with a funny or outlandish reason why they are late, and elaborate.
- A second person will play the “boss” and ask why they are late. Here again, the more personality they show, the better. Once those two complete their “scene”, they sit down to observe the others, and the process begins again.
- Two more volunteers will come up and improv the late to work scene, using a new work venue and new excuses. The game is complete once everyone has had a chance to pair off and do the exercise.
5. This or That icebreaker
This or That is one of the most straightforward icebreaker activities around, this exercise makes a great start to another team-building activity. It’s perfect for getting everyone to relax and get to know a bit more about their coworkers. Have everyone sit in a circle facing each other, and then go around the circle answering questions like “coffee or tea”, “beach or pool”, “TV or reading”, etc. For more quick team-building activities, make sure to read our blog.
6. Scavenger hunt
This one takes a bit more work up front, but makes for a fun and active group event. You’ll need some knowledge of the space that you’re using in advance. For example, if you’re doing an event out of your office and in another venue, you will need to have some idea of what items will be available there. Then, game runners should make a list of various items for people to find around the space. The instructions are pretty straightforward: break your group into smaller teams, hand them the list, and let them go. The first team to bring back all the items (or take photos with their phone) is the winner. Depending on the size of the space and the list you create, a scavenger hunt is the perfect team-building activity for large groups.
7. ABC game
Did you ever play this game on roadtrips as a kid? Capture some of that magic by playing it with your work pals. You can actually play this game anywhere, which makes it perfect for an office or conference room event. However, since the game uses letters, you will need to make sure there are sufficient posters, papers, or other documentation around. To play, split the group into two or more teams.
The groups should have even numbers and also be relatively small - bigger groups make the game too easy and then it ends faster. Instruct every team to go around the space and find items that begin with the letters A - Z. For example, for “A”, someone might find a desk plate for “Adam”, for “B”, someone might see a “Suite B” sign, and for “C”, someone might find a paper that says “checklist” on it. The first team to run through the entire alphabet wins.
8. Heads up seven up
This is another childhood favorite for many, and bringing it into your workplace is sure to create a little nostalgia. It's a simple and fun way to get everyone more comfortable working together. Here’s how you play:
- Have everyone sit down, either at a desk, on the floor, or wherever it makes sense (but everyone should be sitting). Everyone should close their eyes, put their heads down, and put their thumbs up.
- Seven players will go around the room and touch one person’s thumb apiece. Each chooser will select only one person, and they should do so as quietly and discreetly as possible. The goal is for the chosen people to guess who picked them, so the more secret, the better.
- Once all seven people have been picked, have everyone raise their heads and ask the seven chosen people to stand up. Now, they will guess who touched their thumb. Each person gets only one guess, and if they pick correctly, they will be one of the seven “choosers” in the next round.
- The game continues with the new seven people, including anyone who guessed correctly in the previous round. Ideally, everyone will get a chance to be one of the “pickers”.
9. Sound effects
This game seems a little childish at first, but it usually leads to a ton of laughs. It’s the perfect game for leaving egos at the door - chances are everyone will feel equally silly. Why not let your walls down and just goof off for a while? You’re sure to feel closer to your coworkers afterward. To begin:
- Have the group stand in a circle, and have one person stand in the center. The circle should be wide enough that the person in the center can freely spin around, and people can move fairly freely.
- The person in the circle should spin around a few times with their finger pointed out. When they stop, the person they are pointed at is “up”.
- The person in the center asks that person to make a particular noise - for example, a lion, or a car that won’t start. Chances are the sound won’t be that accurate, and the more outlandish, the funnier the game gets.
- Then the person who was just “up” moves to the middle and does the same. They will spin, point to someone, and come up with a silly noise for them to make. This goes on until everyone has had a turn.
10. Killer wink
Bring a little mystery into your next event with this game. This one can add some comedy, but also become a sort of brain-teaser. It's fun for teams who don’t know each other that well (yet) since you don’t need to really know anything about each other to play. Obviously, as the name suggests, gauge your audience before playing - a game with pretend murder in it might not appeal to all audiences. To play:
- Create a circle with room for people to move around, and have one person in the center of it.
- Secretly, select one person who is part of the circle (not in the center of it). You can just pick someone at random or maybe draw names in advance. Regardless, remember this should be a secret.
- Once the game is started, the selected person is the “killer”. They “kill” people by winking at them. When they make eye contact and wink at someone, that person is down and should fall over onto the ground. They can be as dramatic as they want, but obviously bigger reactions will get more laughs.
- The person in the middle is going to try and figure out who the “killer” is by observing the behavior of the group. They can have three guesses on who the culprit is. If they guess correctly, then the previous murderer is up in the center role. If they guess incorrectly, then they stay in the center and play another round.
11. My superhero story
This game is about as simple as it gets, but provides a lot of opportunity for getting to know your team better. The more creativity people use, the better, and you never know what you might learn. It's a simple concept: have everyone present give their “backstory” to how they came to your organization, but in an exciting way.
For example, rather than having people simply rattle off what companies they worked at before, they can share about the crazy challenges that led to them looking for a new job, or what special skills they are bringing into the role. If you want, you can make this a contest where the best story wins. The whole point, though, is that they should share a detailed and compelling rendition of what led them to where they are right now (like you might read in a superhero comic).
12. Business pitch
If you’re trying to amp up the entrepreneurial spirit of your department, this game is perfect. It’s a great tie-in to more professional elements, so team leaders can evaluate business acumen, and public speaking skills. To start, you’ll want to split people into teams or small groups of 3 or 4, so it’s great for creating cooperation between people who don’t normally work together. You also need to select a “board” who will judge the ideas presented.
Bonus: you can adjust this game and use some creative materials if you want to ramp up the visual fun. This game is very flexible and you can keep things simple or make it more complex. You can also browse more communication-focused games on our blog. To play this one:
- Once you’ve divided everyone into their pair or small team, have the board members (3 maximum) move to the front of the room where they can watch presentations.
- Give everyone a set amount of time - say 20 minutes - to come up with their best business idea and pitch. If you want to keep the game materials-free, then people shouldn’t use props or anything else - just their own speech. However, as mentioned, you could also have items on hand so people can create some visual elements like a storyboard or poster.
- The groups should take turns presenting to the board and sharing their best idea and business plan.
- The pair or group who comes up with the most compelling or intriguing business idea wins.
13. Country ambassadors
This is a lively game which only requires some knowledge of geography. Assign each player a country. You can do this by using a random country generator, or just selecting at random. Once countries are assigned, each person should take a turn describing their country without mentioning it by name. The goal is for all the remaining players to be able to guess their country. If you want to make the game competitive, then keep a running list of all the players and how many countries they’ve guessed. The person who got the most correct wins.
14. Work haiku
Haiku is a type of short form poetry that originated in Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases composed of 17 phonetic units in a 5, 7, 5 pattern. For this exercise, have everyone come up with their own work-related haiku. They can be funny, observational, or even emotional - but they should all fit the haiku pattern. This is especially important because without materials like pen or paper, you want the poems to be short and easy to memorize and recite. Have everyone tell their poem to the group.
This is another activity that is fun as an icebreaker activity, but can also be turned into a competition. You can always give a prize to the most creative entry. Another bonus for this activity is that it can be done in a virtual environment - for example, everyone can play on Zoom. For more team-building games that are great for Zoom, make sure to follow our blog.
15. Vocabulary chain
For this game, the only thing needed is an extensive vocabulary and a desire to have fun. It can also be a really fun way to learn new things and impress your colleagues. You never know who is going to introduce you to an amazing new word! This is also a virtual-team friendly activity. You might add this game to other virtual team-building activities. To play:
- First, choose a topic. It could be anything from “animals” to “our company vendors” - it just needs to be broad enough for some traction in the game.
- Team members must name things that fit within that topic - but the key is, their word needs to begin with the last letter of the former word. For example, if your topic is animals, and someone says “beaver”, then the next person could say “rat” (because it begins with r) and the next person could say “tiger”, and on it goes.
- Go around the group naming things that fit in the topic until everyone has had a chance to contribute.
- If you do happen to have a piece of paper, you can make sure you’ve covered every letter of the alphabet. The simplest way to do that is to write out the alphabet in advance, and then cross off the letters as they are used in words. Again, this is optional, though. More important than using the whole alphabet is making sure everyone gets a chance to contribute.
Level up your team-building
The team-building activities we listed are perfect for a fun afternoon with your group. You can choose a single event for an afternoon pick-me-up or build out a day with multiple. They’re perfect for adding to an event that you already planned, too. That being said, if you’re serious about creating culture within your department or company, it’s worth taking the time to plan a real team-building retreat.
Take team bonding to the next level by organizing a team-building retreat with Surf Office. We can help you to get outside of your routine and create an experience your team will be talking about for years to come. We create events and team offsites that combine work and fun for building a team that gets the job done.