Team building is for leaders as much as their individual team members. In fact, leaders need to take the time to hone basic skills like communication and critical thinking if they want to lead effectively.
Award-winning author Simon Sinek explains why leadership should be trained like any other skill.
If you’re part of a team of current or future leaders, here are several leadership team building activities to help your group become better at leading others.
Team building activities for leadership
We’ve split our selection of leadership activities for team building into two different groups.
This first section is for teams of pre-existing leaders. Some of these are focused on practical leadership team building elements. Others incorporate a stronger sense of fun. All of them are powerful ways to develop leadership skills as a group.
So, without further ado, here are a few effective team building leadership activities for those groups that are already in management or C-suite positions.
1. Choose a leader role model
Best for: Helping exemplify leadership.
It’s easy to become focused on the nitty-gritty aspects of daily leadership. While these are important, sometimes it’s helpful to consider leadership from a 10,000-foot view.
Choosing a leader role model is one of those leadership team building games that helps your team step back and think about things like the long term and the big picture. All you need to do is:
- Have everyone split into groups of 2 to 5 people.
- Ask each group to come up with their top leader role models and then collectively select one person to represent their group.
- Have each group share their choice.
- If you want to take things one step further, try to have your entire group choose one of these “final candidates.” Then formally elect them as the official role model for your entire leadership team.
This exercise is a great way to encourage leaders to work together. It also stretches basic leadership muscles, like communication, compromise, and deferring to others.
2. Stage a survival scenario
Best for: Practicing critical thinking and problem-solving.
Leaders can lean on their teams to help solve problems. However, they often need to initiate that problem-solving process.
You can help develop this ability by tapping into team building activities for leadership groups like this one. To stage a survival scenario, you have to:
- Inform your team that they are in a survival scenario, such as a plane crash or sinking ship.
- Task them with choosing five items that they would want to have with them.
- Have each group share their choices and explain why they settled on them.
This is a great way to force your team to work together to solve a problem under pressure. They must exercise critical thinking and pull on their problem-solving prowess. At the same time, they need to learn to work as a team and not just override the desires or opinions of those around them.
3. Build a leadership pizza
Best for: Personal development and self-analysis of leaders.
A pizza has a lot of ingredients. So does being a good leader. There are numerous traits and skills that good leaders must possess.
This next one is one of those activities for team building and leadership that gently encourages your leaders to consider what some of those leadership traits are …and how they are or are not exemplifying them.
Have each member of your team select one leadership “ingredient” that they consider vital to leadership success. Then ask them to:
- Share it with the group.
- Gauge their personal success or failure with that trait.
- Set a goal to improve their capabilities in that area of leadership.
This helps your leaders develop the ability to continually grow and refine their skills. It also presents your entire group with a lot of different-yet-critical leadership traits to consider.
4. Talk with emojis
Best for: Improving communication and active listening skills.
One of our favorite free team building exercises is the challenge of communicating with emojis. The standardgame is simple. All you need to do is have an employee write a message using only emojis. Then have someone else try to decipher what they’re saying.
If you’re looking for good executive team building activities, you can take this game up a notch. Pair off your leaders, and then ask them to have a full-blown conversation using only emojis to communicate back and forth. You can make it easier by allowing punctuation. You can also make it harder by restricting it to only gifs.
By pushing this fun activity to the limit, you challenge your leaders to communicate better. They must learn to actively listen well. They also need to put themselves in the shoes of the other person to consider how they could communicate.
Team building activities for leadership training
There are team building activities for leaders. And then, there are leadership team building workshops geared toward finding and developing future leaders.
This next set of ideas is focused on the latter. It offers different team building activities for leadership workshops. Use them to help identify potential and cultivate future leaders within your current team.
5. Literally practice positivity
Best for: Learning to stay constructive and positive under pressure.
A good leader can keep their cool when they’re under pressure. They’re also able to lift the spirits of their team and help them focus on the positive.
You can practice this ability to motivate by doing the following:
- Choose a team member as the “leader” of the exercise.
- Give them a bad situation they’re leading their team through, such as finding out about downsizing or getting negative customer feedback.
- Ask your “leader” to provide 1) A positive aspect of the situation. 2) A constructive “next step” for their team.
- Complicate things by giving the “leader” more bad news. Then ask them to repeat step 3.
This is one of those simple-yet-profound leadership team building ideas. Even so, it’s a powerful way to help a fledgling leader learn to stay positive and calm in a bad situation.
6. Set up a round of Human Icebreaker
Best for: Encouraging taking the initiative and developing confidence.
A good leader must be able to lead with confidence. If you have a group of potential leaders, one way to encourage this critical leadership trait is by playing “human icebreaker.” You can do this by:
- Having your team come up with a set of five or six “icebreaker questions.” Good examples include “Do you like pets” or “What’s the farthest from home you’ve ever been?”
- Give your team a set amount of time, usually around 5 minutes, to go around and ask one another as many questions as possible.
- Gather at the end of the exercise and see who got the most questions from the most people.
If you’re team building online, you can do this by having everyone reach out to one another via a program like Slack or even email.
Give your team a certain amount of time before a meeting to contact one another virtually. Then gather on a video conferencing platform and see who got the most answers.
Related reading: Remote team building software.
7. Play What If?
Best for: Practicing hypothetical leadership in critical situations.
“What if?” is one of those leadership development team building activities that pushes people out of their comfort zone. You can try it during one-on-one sessions with your team members or play it hypothetically with your whole group.
All you have to do is ask each team member how they would respond if they were in a serious crisis. A good example could be what they would do if they found out that an initiative they created had failed.
As you compile their responses, especially if they’re from one-on-one sessions, select the best ones and share them with the group during a meeting.
This is a good way to work the hypotheticals to get your group to practice how to handle unpleasant situations. It also demonstrates the need to accept responsibility as a leader.
8. Try a round of “30 Seconds”
Best for: Being decisive and learning about team building.
Leaders must learn to be decisive. They also need to remember the importance of team building and camaraderie. This next one is one of the best leadership team building activities for both of these goals. You can play by:
- Having everyone select their number one, most favorite memory of all time.
- Informing everyone that they must choose one specific 30-second chunk of time from that memory as their top “experience within an experience.”
- Asking everyone to share their choice with the group.
The act of going through this exercise helps your individual team members learn to be decisive and make tough decisions. Was your wedding day the best day of your life …or was it that weekend in the Bahamas? What specific moment within that context was the most profound?
Sharing the final thoughts with one another also goes a long way in helping your team learn about each other and bond.
9. Try to Spot the Difference
Best for: Teaching attentiveness and being fully present.
Leaders must be able to provide a strong, confident, and assured presence in the moment. The good news is that there are team building leadership games that can reinforce this trait.
Case in point: Spot the Difference. For this one, you need to:
- Split your team into teams of two, either in person or in breakout rooms on video conference software.
- Have each pair talk for a few minutes.
- Next, ask them to either look away or turn off their video feeds.
- Ask each person to change a few things in the background.
- Have the pairs face one another or turn on videos again and try to spot the differences.
This is a good way to teach each person in your team to be attentive. It pushes them to be present and aware of their surroundings when engaging with someone else.
Using activities for leadership team building
There are many different team building activities for the workplace. While many of these focus on fully functioning teams, at times, the emphasis should shift to the leadership side of the equation.
From developing existing leaders to cultivating future ones, use the list of activities above to hone the leaders in your team and bring them together. That way, sooner or later, they can provide an effective, highly-functioning impact on your company’s C-suite decisions.