14 Leadership Games Your Managers Can Use for Team Building

Mike O'Neill photo
Written by Mike O'Neill on Mar 13, 2020

Do you believe that leadership games are a waste of time and money?

If you aren’t discussing how what they learned in the game relates to their work, then you would be right. It’s essential to use leadership games as teaching tools if you expect to reap the benefits and see real results.

Leadership games are great for breaking the ice, developing leadership skills, teaching your staff to work as a team, and getting your leaders to think outside of the box.

Let us show you some examples of leadership games you can try and how they will benefit your employees and your company.

Are you too busy to read this article? Click here to see a summary of all 14 games.
escape rooms

Game #1: Escape Room

Escape Rooms are growing in popularity and available in many locations. Participating in an Escape Room involves a group being put in a room and solving a series of riddles and puzzles together to escape from the room.

A great tool to add to this exercise is to have your employees take the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) assessment before participating in the Escape Room. While working on clues together to escape, observe different behaviors and take notes as they participate in the challenge.

With one team, we had them all take the MBTI assessment. Then we went to an escape room. The teams worked together to find clues and ways to escape.

I observed the behaviors of the participants in the escape rooms, made notes, and then described these behaviors in the next training session.

We related these behaviors to characteristics in their MBTI personality type, and then discussed the strengths this brings to the work team, communication styles different personality types prefer, and how best to adapt your style to different people.

Knowing this information about fellow team members improved their ability to communicate and work together. - Rhonda Beard, Bench Builders

maneuver the Minefield

Game #2: Maneuver the Minefield

The object of this leadership game is guiding the blindfolded person through the "minefield" without incident.

This is an excellent activity to practice coaching (coaching others and being coached). This activity provides an opportunity to practice clear and precise communication. The obstacles are metaphoric problems the group faces either personally or as a team in the pursuit of their goals.

First, blindfold one person in the group. Then set up a safe obstacle course or minefield. Come up with a list of a limited set of words they can use to help direct the blindfolded person through the minefield. For example, just the words right, left, forward, or back.

The goal of the game is to develop communication skills and trust. After the exercise, discuss the results together as a team.

Some points that you can discuss are:

  • Did they find it difficult to trust each other?
  • Was it challenging to be restricted to only a few words when communicating?
  • How can they take what they learned and apply it to situations on the job?
improv night

Game #3: Improv Night

One leadership responsibility is to get a team to bond. Improvisation is an excellent way to get a team to pay attention and listen to each other. Improv Night helps improve communication, self-awareness, self-confidence, and creativity.

Split your team up into two groups. One group will be the audience, and the other group will be the performers. Have the group that’s playing the audience shout out a location, a profession, and a situation — for example, a cop in a doughnut shop.

The game is silly but educational. The goal is to get your team’s creative juices flowing.

Recommended Reading: Leadership Workshops: The Last Guide You Will Ever Need

coat of arms

Game #4: Leadership Coat of Arms

A family coat of arms is a visual representation of a clan’s values and strengths. You can apply that same concept to leadership by having your team make their own coat of arms.

Let them know that their coat of arms should represent their values, beliefs, and ideas of a great leader.

Have them include four categories into their coat of arms:

  1. leadership skills
  2. values that help to influence others
  3. recent accomplishments
  4. what you like most about your current work

When the game is over, review each team’s coat of arms.

Consider the following as you look at each one:

  • What are the insights that you gather about the teams’ personalities and perceptions?
  • Were the company’s values reflected on the coats of arms?
  • Does it look like the values represented align with the accomplishments that the team is trying to achieve?
helium stick

Game #5: Helium Stick

Helium Stick is a leadership game you can play to demonstrate the need for constructive communication and the importance of working together as a team to create a strategy.

You’ll need to split your employees into small groups of 6-8. Give them a dowel rod and instruct them to use their index fingers to hold it horizontally at chest height.

Have them lower the dowel rods to the ground as a team. They aren’t allowed to grab onto the rod with their fingers to keep it from falling. It must remain resting on their fingers the whole way down, and every team member must be touching the rod at all times.

Once the teams touch the stick, the challenge will present itself almost immediately. Each person is focused on their individual goal of not losing contact with the rod on their index fingers, and they lose sight of the team goal to lower the rod. The stick is very light, and the up-force from all fingers in contact with the stick is greater than the gravitational force of the stick. As a result, immediately, the stick will begin to rise. The teams will have to figure out the secret to get the activity to work.

Afterward, discuss what they could have done differently from the beginning to communicate more effectively and complete the challenge without as much trouble.

Recommended Reading: 11 Leadership Activities That Will Boost Team Productivity

spaghetti or marshmallow tower

Game #6: Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower

Have your employees build a free-standing structure that will enable the marshmallow to rest on top. The point of this? The team practices the design process that includes thinking, doing, prototyping, and iteration.

Each team gets the following supplies:

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • a yard of string
  • strips of scotch tape
  • a single marshmallow

Split them up into groups of 3-7 and challenge them to build the tallest tower they possibly can with the materials you provided. Give them a time limit, approximately 20-30 minutes to complete the task. They’ll have to get creative to find ways to keep increasing the height of their tower without it falling.

Let them ask questions when the game is over and explain how learning to collaborate and solve problems together will be beneficial on the job.

magic carpet

Game #7: Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet is a leadership exercise that demonstrates how the actions of one person could have negative consequences for the entire team and your company.

Divide your team into groups. Give them each a small tarp or rug. Have them stand on it and tell them they are going for a magic carpet ride and to imagine the carpet is 60 feet in the air.

The group will need to flip over the ‘magic carpet’ to find steering instructions without touching the ground or anyone falling off. Each member of their group has to stay on the carpet at all times. Stepping off the carpet/tarp means they fell off the flying carpet. One wrong move could send a team member plummeting to the ground.

Finding the solution to this situation takes communication, coordination, and creative thinking.

Recommended Reading: Organizational Leadership: 5 Essentials That You Should Know

lost at sea

Game #8: Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea builds problem-solving skills as team members analyze the information, then cooperate and negotiate with one another. It also encourages them to listen to one another and to consider how they make decisions.

Tell your team that they are shipwrecked and stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Give them a list of items they salvaged from the ship and have them rank the items based on their importance to their survival.

Your team will have to analyze the information and use their negotiation and communication skills to agree on the order of importance the items have.

scavenger hunt

Game #9: Scavenger Hunt

It can be challenging to break down the professional facade in an office setting and create personal connections with coworkers. Scavenger hunts encourage interaction and will give employees an incentive to step out of their comfort zone.

Plan to make your scavenger hunt challenging. Just asking them to find an object doesn’t get them to engage and interact with each other much.

Randomly assign leaders for each team so that employees who aren’t leaders on the job have a chance to develop leadership skills in a fun, low-stress way. Leave them clues with riddles instead of a random list of objects to find. Offer an enticing reward to the team who finishes first to motivate them, such as a gift cards, concert tickets, dinner for two, etc.

Scavenger Hunts are excellent leadership exercises to promote teamwork and challenge your teams’ problem-solving skills.

Recommended Reading: 7 Causes of High Turnover and How Much It’s Costing You

rope courses

Game #10: Rope Courses

Rope course workshops challenge your team to work together and build trust by requiring them to support each other and share ideas.

Low rope and high rope courses combined enable participants to grow at both the individual and the team level by highlighting leadership and communication concepts, problem-solving and coaching.

The low ropes course requires collaboration; the challenge encourages participation and creates an opportunity for self-understanding and growth as a team.

The high ropes course highlights risk-taking, trust, and coaching. The challenge enables participants to expand their comfort zones dramatically and helps them recognize fears that may block personal achievement.

Data support[s] the notion that participation in a four-hour challenge course significantly increases the participants’ levels of leadership and work efficacy and that results were significant and long lasting. Journal of Unconventional Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Research

pass the hoop

Game #11: Pass the Hoop

Pass the Hoop emphasizes the importance of goal setting, the use of strategy, constructive communication, and supporting other team members to complete a task.

Have your team stand together in a circle and ask them to hold hands. Give one person a hula hoop and tell them to hang it on their arm before they grab their neighbor’s hand.

Instruct them to pass the hula hoop around the circle without letting go of each other’s hands.

They’ll have to work together and communicate effectively to get each person through the hula hoop without someone letting go.

Recommended Reading: Tactical Guide: Create a Leadership Development Plan in 6 Steps

shape shifting

Game #12: Shape-Shifting

Shape-Shifting is another leadership game that emphasizes the importance of communication but in a different way.

Give your group a rope tied in a loop. Instruct them to use the rope to make different shapes on the floor.

Tell them they aren’t allowed to communicate with words — only hand gestures. Increase the complexities of the shapes you ask them to make as you go. For example, start with something simple like a square, and then ask them to make something more challenging, like a horse.

Sometimes leaders don’t grasp the importance of effectively communicating goals and objectives. Discuss the importance of communication after your team has finished the exercise.

Recommended Reading: Promoting Leaders? Best to Promote High Performers or High Potentials?

jumping ship

Game #13: Jumping Ship

Jumping Ship is a leadership exercise that teaches your employees about different leadership styles:

  • autocratic, or authoritarian
  • delegative, or “free reign”
  • democratic, or participative (Clark, 2015; Johnson-Gerard, 2017).

Divide your people into groups and give them three big sheets of paper and a pen or marker. Ask them to write one of the different leadership styles on each sheet of paper — for example, autocratic, delegative, or democratic.

Give the groups 45 minutes to write down real-life work scenarios where employing a specific leadership style would be disastrous.

Discuss the situations each group came up with as a team and ask them what leadership style would be ideal for each scenario.

ducks in a row

Game #14: Ducks in a Row

Ducks in a Row is a leadership exercise that challenges your teams’ decision-making process during difficult situations. It enables participants to devise a 3-to-5 step decision-making process they can use when challenging leadership situations occur.

Have your team split up into pairs and give them a few examples of difficult situations a leader would face on the job.

Give them approximately 30 minutes to come up with the steps they think an effective leader would take to manage and resolve each situation.

Have each team share what they came up with and discuss the results as a group. Ask them to compare their results and reach a consensus on the 3-to-5 most effective steps to take in a challenging leadership situation.

quick summary

14 Leadership Games Your Managers Can Use for Team Building

Leadership games can be a lot of fun, but they need to be tied back to the objectives of your company for them to be effective. Try the following games and make sure to discuss how what they learned relates to their work and performance on the job.

  1. Escape Rooms: Have your team take the MBTI personality test and “lock” them in a room with hidden clues they must find and decipher to get out. Afterward, discuss how the strengths and weaknesses of their personality types impacted the way they worked together as a team.
  2. Maneuver the Minefield: Create a safe obstacle course and split your team into groups. Blindfold one person in each group and give them a limited set of words to use to navigate that person through the minefield. This leadership exercise develops trust and communication.
  3. Improv Night: Divide your team into groups. One group is the audience, and the other groups are the actors. Let the audience determine a location, profession, and situation for the actors to act out. Improv gets their creative juices flowing and builds self-confidence and communication.
  4. Leadership Coat of Arms: Have each employee create a crest that represents their idea of a good leader. Are your company’s values reflected in the coat of arms they made?
  5. Helium Stick: Challenge your team to lower a dowel rod from chest-height to the ground with it resting on their index fingers. They’ll have to communicate and work together to get it to the ground without it falling off.
  6. Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower: Give your team uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows and have them try to build the highest tower that they can using only the materials you give them.
  7. Magic Carpet: Send your team on a magic carpet ride by having them stand on top of a small tarp or rug. Tell them the instructions to steer it is on the underside of the rug, and they have to turn it over without causing any of their team members to “fall off” by stepping off the carpet.
  8. Lost at Sea: Tell your team they have been shipwrecked and are drifting at sea in a lifeboat with some items they managed to salvage. Have them rank each of the items in order of importance to their survival.
  9. Scavenger Hunt: Challenge your team to work together and use their problem-solving skills in a scavenger hunt. Hide clues and riddles they have to decipher to find the items on their list. Offer an enticing reward to the team that finishes first.
  10. Rope Courses: High and low rope courses combined with leadership training programs are an excellent way to teach communication, problem-solving, and build trust between your employees.
  11. Pass the Hoop: Have your employees stand in a circle and hold hands with a hula hoop hanging on someone’s arm. Instruct them to pass the hula hoop around the circle without letting go of their neighbor's hand.
  12. Shape-Shifting: Give your team a rope that is tied together to form a loop. Instruct them to make different shapes using the rope and tell them they are only allowed to communicate using hand signals.
  13. Jumping Ship: Teach your employees about the different leadership styles by having them come up with situations where each style would be disastrous, and they would force the leader to jump ship.
  14. Ducks in a Row: Describe a few scenarios where a team leader faces a difficult situation. Have your employees come up with steps they think an effective leader would take to manage and resolve each one.
next step

Do More Than Games: Train Your Managers

Leadership exercises and games help you build a stronger team, but they don’t help teach your manager the skills needed to boost your bottom line.

Companies that invest in their leaders report seeing a positive impact on retention and recruitment of their best talent.

An effective training program will include:

  • Current topics of interest
  • Relevant content that can be applied immediately on the job
  • Training delivered by seasoned business leaders
  • Role plays, real-life exercises, and leadership games
  • Follow-up training, application, and coaching

Schedule a call with our expert consultants and learn if leadership games are going to be beneficial for reducing turnover and boosting productivity.

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