What are physical team building activities?
Physical team building activities are great for all ages, and enable team members to gain immediate feedback on how well they are doing. Physical team building activities are defined as any team building exercise that involves physical effort from the participants. It could involve building something big, carrying a casualty on a stretcher, or orienteering.
I have broken this guide to physical team building activities down into four sections:
Before planning any physical team building activity, you must carefully consider the opinions and abilities of your team. It is all too easy to dictate that everyone is going on a 20 mile hike across wild country carrying heavy packs in challenging weather conditions. The end result will be to completely alienate and defeat quite a few members of the team. This is disastrous for your efforts to bring the team closer together. Adversity does not necessarily work.
There will be times when adventurous activities create the right conditions to bring team members closer together by sharing experiences, learning together and supporting each other.
You need to know the characters within your team before you embark on anything too strenuous.
To get your creative juices going, here are a few ideas for physical activities that can be used as a day away from your normal environment where team members can share new experiences together.
High ropes courses provide your team with some physical challenges where they have to get across various obstacles high up in the trees. You used to only be able to find ropes courses at outdoor activity centres, but Go Ape has set up lots of ropes courses all over the UK and US.
Go Ape ropes courses involve rope swings, challenging crossings up in the trees, and great zip wires at the end of each section. You can also go Segway trekking, Zip Trekking (lots of zip wires one after the other), and mountain biking.
You will have a dedicated host who will build a day that suits your team and budget. You get exclusive use of a forest shelter, food and drink, and conferencing facilities if you need them.
The Go Ape treetop adventure lasts between 2 and 3 hours. It is suitable for all, so everyone will be able to do it. At some points there are different routes, so the more adventurous can take the extreme routes. You wear safety harnesses at all times, and get a full briefing on how it all works.
Play in the Snow All Year Round at an Indoor Ski Centre
You don’t have to travel to the Alps to take your team skiing. You can take in the alpine experience at snow centres across the country. You can learn how to ski, snowboard, and have fun doughnutting in big inflatable rings or sledges.
You can experience the thrills of white water rafting at locations such as the London Olympic competition course at Lee Valley just outside London. Your corporate team building day would consist of tackling 300m of fast and furious white water, obstacles and drops in a big inflatable raft.
Your team will have a qualified rafting guide steering and telling you exactly what to do. You get to learn how to control the raft under a variety of conditions, and get to rush down the rapids, surf the waves, and even pull huge wheelies when everyone sits at the back of the raft.
This is a fabulous outdoor team building day. The team building day I took part in was at Nottingham Water Sports Centre. There is the risk of capsizing the raft, which happened once to us, but all you do is lie on your back and float down river. Before you know it, the raft guide has got the raft upright and someone is pulling you back in.
If you are in the US, there are lots of rivers where you can go white water rafting, such as the Colorado River.
Paintball Team Days
Paintball is a strategy game played by running around in the woods firing paint pellets at each other. This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but a great opportunity to get your own back on those you don’t get on with in the office.
You will need to plan the game strategies and organise a debrief afterwards if you want to actually develop teamwork. Otherwise all of the games risk just being a free for all shoot out where everyone looks after themselves.
Some youth organisations do not allow paintballing, as they prohibit shooting at people. But, if you are a corporate team, it is all system go! One word of caution – paintball pellets can leave some big bruises depending on how close you are when you get hit.
Sailing, Tall Ships or Yacht Charters
Sailing is a really good way to develop team work. Charter a sailing yacht with a qualified skipper, and your team will learn how to sail. The skipper will direct you all how to get the yacht to go where you want to. You will get to practice different areas of responsibility. Tasks include steering at the helm, manning a winch or handling a line, supporting and coaching your colleagues, share risk-taking and increase trust.
Adventure Associates in the US specialise in blending adventure activities and interactive experiences with team building. They can plan and host some great work team sailing days.
Assault Courses and Obstacle Course Races
Team building obstacle courses come in many forms. They range from the races at a school sports day, to something big like Total Wipeout on the TV. The military use assault courses to test the ability and endurance of personnel. These have gained notoriety with the public, and consequently events such as the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and the Dirty Dash have become great events to take part in.
This is a very effective physical team building activity that requires leadership, coordination, trust and good communication. At one end of your playing field, lay out a large target area, about 3 meters in diameter. At the other end of the field is the fire team. They sit behind a large tarp held upright to block their view of the target. They have a water bomb launcher and a stack of water bombs. Using direction given by their observer who stands on the target side of the tarp, they have to try and get as many water bombs on target as possible.
How high can you build a human pyramid or tower?
How far can you throw a raw egg to a partner who successfully catches it?
Get the Canister from Toxic Area
This is a popular team building challenge. Set up a can inside a taped off area. Give the team some equipment to retrieve the can without touching the ground inside the area. One variation I have done is to attach an ammo box up a tall tree containing supper for the team. They have to use climbing gear to climb up the tree, retrieve the box and return without dropping it inside the area. Inside the box can be anything you want that they can cook over an open fire. We had two chickens in ours. We plucked and prepared them while others in the team made the fire. Lovely.
If you aren’t that adventurous, you can just put sweets in the can.
Bucket Swimming relay
Get the team to do a swimming relay collecting things from the other end of the pool. Include a bucket, which is actually a real challenge to swim with as it fills up and slows you down.
Basically, you set up a volleyball court using blankets or large tarps for the net. The teams on either side cannot tell where the ball is coming from, so have to work together to win.
You can play this team building game standing up or sitting down on the floor, depending on how high you can make the net.
You need proper climbing gear for crate stacking. Rig a safety line and pulley high above the place where you will be stacking your crates. The stacker has to stack the crates into a tower as tall as they can, whilst balancing on the top. They need to wear a climbing harness, and helmet, with someone belaying them from the ground.
The team have to pass the crates up to the stacker. Takes guts and teamwork.
Bucket on a rope water obstacle course
Get a very long piece of rope or string and weave it across a series of obstacles. Up trees, through bushes, across mud, over walls. Then, feed one end of the string through the handle of a bucket that is full of water. The team then has to get the bucket of water to the other end of the piece of string without spilling any water. Good teamwork is needed to pass the bucket up and over high obstacles.
Each team has to form a relay chain to get all of the water from one big barrel across an obstacle course and into another barrel at the other end. The race is timed of course.
The team builds a chariot and then races across a course. The course can be as long as you like. I have raced cross country over several miles before.
The chariot can have wheels, or be dragged like a wooden frame.
Sedan Chair Racing
Sedan chair racing is the same principle as the chariot race, but the team have to carry the sedan chair off the ground with their rider sitting on it. A lot more tiring.
The team has to work together to navigate a course finding markers along the way. They have to keep together. The fastest team wins.
Using a GPS, you can find hidden caches all over the world using the geocaching.com website. A hitech treasure hunt.
Drops are where you drop off the team of teenagers somewhere. They then have to work out how to get to a given location in a time limit.
You can make it easier by getting them to travel to a tall building that they can see from the start point. Or you could make it harder by blindfolding them when taking them to the start, so that they don’t know where they are.
Now Get Out Of That Challenges
Now Get Out of That was a UK TV programme where teams had to navigate to a given location. There they would be given a puzzle or challenge to solve. Successful completion would give the teams the clue to the next location.
The team challenges included river crossings and getting a cassette recorder to work when the power wires were too short (use the earth lead to extend the others). The sort of tasks teens will love are things like working out how to boil some water using only a sheet of paper and a candle. They have to fold up the paper to make a container. The water soaks into the paper a bit, but this is countered by the flame. It doesn’t burn the paper if they are careful.
Create a swamp, and then the teams have to cross it without going in it. They can be provided with a variety of useful and unhelpful equipment. Planks and bricks are commonly used. You can also get the teams to make a bridge.
Scavenger Hunts and Treasure Hunts
Give your teams a list of items or tasks they have to complete in the time given. To make your teens think, make the description of the items cryptic. A picture of Thomas Jefferson ($5 bill), or a portrait of the Queen (a stamp or money).
If completing tasks such as visiting places, they can take a picture to prove they were there.
Monopoly Runs are a race around a virtual Monopoly board. This is easy if you are in London. The team has to visit all of the places named on the Monopoly board as quickly as possible.
If you aren’t in London, you can create your own board with place names of where you are.
Balance on a brick
How many people can balance on a brick at once? You can use any surface to hand, such as a milk crate. Or how many teens can you get in a phone box or in a car.
Learn a new sport
Just have a look at the full outdoor activities list to discover a new sport they all might like to try. Sharing the learning experience is a great way to get a team to bond.
A favourite amongst teens for team building. Give them lots of poles, ropes and large barrels to lash together to form a raft. Then have a race or get them to cross a river.
Bridge Building and other river crossings
Create a virtual river using two long pieces of rope. Give the teams equipment to make a bridge. If you are feeling adventurous, do it over a real stream or river.
Find an assault course that has a ten foot wall in it. The team has to get everyone over the wall. It takes planning, as the strongest person who can lift the other up onto the wall may not be the best person that everyone else has to then pull up the wall.
Dragon Boat Racing
Get the team working together to paddle a dragon boat in a race. Rowing is another idea.
Canoe catamaran trust
Using two canoes, balance beams between them and the team leader sits on the beam. Teams then canoe a course around the lake
Canal Lock Navigation
Guide a canal boat through a lock
Group plank skiing
You need two planks with loops of rope attached to them. The team stands with a foot on each plank holding the rope. They then have to walk the plank skis to the end of the room or field. This requires coordination and teamwork to lift the plank.
Using water fights as a team building activity for teens gives you plenty of scope to adapt to your environment. You can use rivers, lakes, boats, or just two large barrels of water at each end of a field for them to refill from. Allow a free for all, or work out a points system for achieving some goal such as capturing a flag.
Zombie Combat Experience
Run around abandoned warehouses or shopping malls fighting for your life against hordes of zombies. This adrenaline-pumping team building experience is not for the faint hearted. Your team of thrill seekers get a detailed mission briefing before receiving a combat training session and being issued with airsoft weapons and ammunition. You then head into battle.
Your mission is to work with a team of doctors, military personnel and other civilian survivors to defeat the evil zombies and end their reign of terror. Your team has to complete a series of military based tasks to find a cure for the life-threatening zombie infection and ultimately save the human race – just make sure you don’t get left behind!
Wide games are team games played over a large area, usually at night. The most common wide game is capture the flag. One team of teens defends a base, whilst the other has to enter and retrieve an object such as a flag and return it to their base. I have a powerful rotating beacon connected to a car battery and fire alarm switch. The switch is held open by a block of wood. The players have to get into the camp and remove the block of wood which turns on the beacon. That way it is obvious when the game is over.
It is essential in the military that all personnel work in strong effective teams. Leadership, trust, communication and coordination are critical. If these physical team building activities ideas aren’t enough for you, you’ll love my guide to military team building activities.