Forget about those tired corporate retreats with trust fall exercises and fake enthusiasm. It's time to bust out the big guns, so to speak, and treat your employees to an off-site outing where the No. 1 goal is true, grinning-ear-to-ear fun. And because people who have fun together bond together, a boost in team synergy follows as a welcome side effect of an off-site adventure.
It's especially important to go off site, meaning traveling well beyond the parking lot, for festivities in order to breathe fresh life into your team. The change of scenery and disruption of routine can generate energy and creativity that your team may be lacking lately. They'll return to the office the next day with renewed motivation and a stronger relationship with their colleagues.
So if your office feels like it has a case of the blues, eyelids are drooping by 11 a.m., new employees aren't meshing well with more established employees or meetings don't feel as lively as they used to, plan a day to do one of the following off-site outings.
1. Room Escape Games
Unlike the majority of the other activities you'll find on this list, room escape games don't require much physical effort. Instead, your employees' brains will be working in overdrive to quickly solve puzzles and follow clues in order to find the key to the door before time runs out.
Teams of up to typically eight people work together to escape from a locked puzzle room within 60 minutes. How fast can your team do it? If you have a team larger than eight people, split people up into groups randomly. Find a venue with multiple escape rooms so that your larger teams can have fun at the same time, and let teams try a second escape room after a lunch break.
The key to beating the clock is to work together. Can the team quickly learn how to cooperate and strategize, or will they squabble and waste time? An escape room has the potential to make office troubles bubble over, which can actually prove a very useful tool for facilitating conversation.
2. Canoeing Obstacle Course
A day out on the water definitely beats a day in the office. But for maximum fun and maximum team-building rolled into one, don't just dawdle in a boat. Instead, break out the competitive spirit hiding in your team members with a canoeing obstacle course.
Canoes work well for team-building because at least two people work together to navigate. Two-person kayaks can work as well. For best results, pick teams by drawing names out of a hat, and switch teams up after a break. Teams who manage to work well together and communicate will do the best job of racing around buoys, retrieving floating pool noodles, dunking basketballs into floating nets and more.
You'll need to hire a local canoe or kayak instructor to supply the equipment, give a safety training and briefly explain how steering works. After sending teams off to practice on the lake for a few minutes, the race is on!
3. Horseback Riding Lesson
Very few people would pass up the opportunity to channel their inner cowboy or cowgirl and saddle up to enjoy the great outdoors on horseback. There are sure to be plenty of laughs and smiles as your team interacts with the horses, take their first few swaying steps astride and settle into the rhythmic gait. And for folks who resolutely refuse to mount up, grooming, leading and feeding the horses represents a fun alternative that keeps both feet firmly on the ground.
You'll want to find a riding facility that caters to large groups of total beginners. Not all stables will have enough horses or staff. No prior experience is necessary to have a horseback riding lesson — just an ability to follow basic directions. Whether the horses stay inside a fenced arena or go out on a single-file trail, the fun is the same.
If you can find a facility with an instructor who can make the connection between communicating with a horse and communicating with colleagues, then you've hit the jackpot. Horses aren't interested in being bullied or nagged into compliance, and if the riding session can be framed in this context, you can elevate the team-building factor and create some "a-ha" moments among your employees. Clear, direct and kind communication gets results, regardless of species.
4. Off-Site Team Sports Tournament
Numerous possibilities exist for choosing a team sport for your employees to go head-to-head over: basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, hockey, field hockey, dodge ball, etc. Your team can learn how to work together in a totally different environment, and it's even more fun if you pit them against another department in the company rather than splitting your team up into two factions.
As tempting as it is to host this in the company parking lot, go to a legitimate playing field and make a day out of it. Create commemorative t-shirts, pass out medals and trophies, provide plenty of snacks and don't forget to take a team photo for the break room.
5. Laser Tag Showdown
Laser tag is definitely not just for 13-year-olds' birthday parties. Everyone loves to gear up and pretend like they're starring in their favorite action movie, shooting a "gun" and stalking the enemy while trying to avoid ambush themselves. For an exciting day of adrenaline, book a laser tag venue and plan to enjoy several rounds before lunch, and then check out other fun activities offered by the facility.
Split people into teams and encourage people to strategize. Outdoor versions make it even more fun to run around and scope out the competition. Your team members will quickly learn who they can trust to follow directions and who likes to go rogue. Office politics can mirror what plays out on the "battlefield."
Switch up the teams after a while to let people get to know each other better. Paintball represents another alternative, but the paint blasts do sting, so you're more likely to get everyone on board with pain-free laser tag.
6. Board or Video Game Tournament
Not every team will get excited about spending a day on their feet in the hot sun. If your group is a little more low-key and would bond over mental challenges, find an off-site venue to host a board or video game tournament. Let team members vote on the games they'd most like to play in order to drum up enthusiasm, but try to include some cooperative games for team-building.
You can also make it a unique and memorable experience by playing a life-size game of checkers or chess, with team members taking the place of each piece. Giant lawn dice can also add a fun element. Don't forget to have plenty of snacks on hand and unique prizes for the winners.
Need more ideas than these six? Ask your team what they'd like to do. Just make sure you take employees off site to benefit from a refreshing new atmosphere for rejuvenation.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.