To work effectively as a team, you need to learn how to overcome obstacles your team encounters.
And while you may find that team building games can help build cohesion and communication in your team, you’ll also find that problem solving skills are equally as important in leveling up your team’s ability to achieve goals, address issues, and succeed together.
Teams must learn to observe problems critically and find all the possible ways around them, rather than getting stuck in the details or making excuses. Great businesses have to solve both their customer’s problems and their own internal issues on a regular basis.
Problem solving has been linked to company performance. Good problem solving skills lead to better decision-making, which can improve performance and lead to company growth. Teams and leaders who can learn how to solve problems in an orderly, planned fashion tend to perform better than those who cannot.
Luckily, the problem solving process is a learnable skill. While some people are naturally better at it than others, everyone can learn the process of solving problems by thinking critically. One very effective method for teaching this skill is through problem solving activities and games.
How do problem solving games work?
Problem solving games help teams break a problem down into 5 distinct stages:
Going through this problem solving process helps a team learn basic strategies they can then apply to real-world problems. By gamifying the process, you’re allowing teams to work out the concepts and apply appropriate strategies in a controlled environment.
7 team problem solving activities
1. Human Knots
This is a simple activity you can do with any team. It teaches communication and clear thinking in the face of a complex, frustrating problem. There will likely be a number of solutions proposed by different members of the team, and each will need to be evaluated and implemented by the whole group.
Helps with: Communication skills, collaboration.
Time: 10 – 15 minutes.
What you need: Nothing.
- Have your team stand in a small circle (form multiple circles if you’re a larger group). Each person should hold the hands of 2 other people in the circle that are not standing directly beside them. This should create a messy knot of cross-crossed arms.
- Instruct your team to untangle themselves without releasing hands at any point. They may not be able to fully disentangle to form a circle again, but by the end of the activity time, they should have started working together to solve the problem.
Oh no! Your team is stranded in the barren Siberian wastelands and a sudden winter storm is approaching. Using only the materials on hand, you need to build a structure that will withstand the harsh winds of the storm. Unfortunately, the leader of your expedition has been struck with frostbite in both hands, and all the others are suffering from severe snow blindness.
Helps with: Leadership, trust, decision-making, adaptability.
Time: 30 minutes.
What you need: Blindfolds, an electric fan, and simple building materials such as card stock or cardboard paper, toothpicks, rubber bands, straws, masking tape, sticky notes, etc.
- Split the group into teams of 4 – 5 people. Each group should elect a leader.
- Team leaders are not allowed to use their hands in any way to help the group, and group members must be blindfolded during the exercise.
- Teams have 30 minutes to construct a small tent structure that can withstand the wind from the highest setting on the fan.
3. Dumbest Idea First
Thinking outside the box can stimulate your creativity and lead you to solutions that would normally sound too crazy to work. By looking at these crazy solutions first, you can expand your options and discover the possible solutions that might not be as obvious.
Helps with: Creative problem solving, critical thinking, quick problem solving.
Time: 15 – 20 minutes.
What you need: Piece of paper, pen or pencil.
- Present a problem to your team. This could be a real-world problem your team is actually facing, or it could be a made-up scenario. Example: your company is trying to beat a competitor to secure a contract with a high-paying client, but the client is leaning towards your competitors. You have a short time to change their minds before they make the official decision.
- With the problem presented, instruct your team to come up with the dumbest ideas they can think of to address the problem. Write them all down.
- Once each person has presented a few ideas, go through the list and evaluate each idea to see which ones are the most viable. List them down from the most likely to work to the least likely.
4. Wool Web
As difficult as it is to replicate the complexity of real-world problems, that’s no reason not to try! Wool web creates a problem that seems impossible in the beginning, but with the right direction and working together, teams can learn to break down impossible situations into solvable problems one step at a time.
Helps with: Communication, leadership.
Time: 30 minutes.
What you need: A few small balls of yarn.
- Divide the group into teams of equal size. Each time gets a ball of yarn.
- Instruct each team to make a large web from the yarn ball. Give them 5 – 10 minutes to do so. Once they’re done, rotate all the teams so that each team is at a yarn web they did not build.
- Each team should select one person to unwind the web. This person will be blindfolded, and the rest of the team should direct them on how to unwind the web through verbal instructions only. The first team to do it wins the game.
5. Tallest Tower
Simple construction projects can help teams develop strategies to overcome out of the box problems. Using only 2 materials, teams will compete to make the tallest tower in a set amount of time.
Helps with: Collaboration, creative thinking.
Time: 30 minutes.
What you need: 1 pack uncooked spaghetti noodles, 1 bag of marshmallows.
- Divide your group into 2 equal teams. Give each team 20 – 30 uncooked spaghetti noodles and 3 – 4 marshmallows.
- In the given time, teams will compete to create the tallest tower using only the materials provided. A marshmallow must be placed at the top of the tower.
6. Spider Web
A crafty spider has trapped your group in its lair. To escape, you must pass through its web to get to the other side safely. Each member of the team must pass through the web without touching it, but each hole in the web is only accessible once.
Helps with: Resource management, critical thinking, collaboration.
Time: 30 – 40 minutes.
What you need: 1 long ball of yarn, strong tape, scissors.
- Create a large web between two stationary objects (walls, trees, desks, etc.). The web should have 2 – 3 more holes than the number of people in the group, and hoes should be of varying sizes with some being simple to pass through and others more difficult. Position your team on 1 side of the web.
- The goal is for them to go through the holes in the web without touching it. Each team member can only get to the other side through the web, not by going around the web.
- Instruct your team to pass through the web one at a time, with each hole being closed as it’s used. The activity is over once the entire team is through to the other side.
7. Shrinking Vessel
Your whole team is stuck within a slowly shrinking vessel. It’s up to them to figure out how to stay inside the given space as it gradually closes in.
Helps with: Adaptability, quick thinking, collaboration.
Time: 10 minutes.
What you need: A rope, ball of yarn, or similarly thick string.
- Put a large circle of rope on the floor. Position your entire team within the circle.
- Slowly reduce the size of the circle. Instruct your team to work together to keep the whole team within the circle as it gets smaller. No one should step outside the circle. See how small you can make the space before they’re unable to stay inside.
After the activities
If you choose to do a problem solving activity with your team, take the time after you finish the activity to dissect the game and understand what happened, why it matters, and how to apply those skills in a real-world scenario. It’s not about frustrating people or playing a fun game together. These exercises can have a real impact on the way your team works and performs in the future.
Take the time to sit down and talk over the lessons of the games, including what could have been done better in terms of team interactions. The end result should be a team that understands itself a little more and is better equipped to solve problems that come up in the workplace.