14 Brain-Tickling Team Building Problems

Home » Resources » Team Building ProblemsUpdated: March 27, 2022

This page includes our list of challenging team building problems.

Team building problems are activities that present dilemmas for teams to overcome. These exercises teach teams to brainstorm viable solutions, experiment, and reflect on results.

These activities are a type of problem solving exercise for work and are similar to team building puzzles and team building challenges.

Specifically, this list includes:

  • team problem solving strategies
  • problem solving scenarios for adults
  • survival team building exercise
  • simple team building activities
  • problem solving games

So, check out our list!

List of team building problems

From Escape Rooms, to Frostbite, to Mission String-Possible, here is a list of some of the most challenging and engaging team building problems.

1. Egg Drop

Egg Drop is one of the most common problem solving games. The goal of the game is to avoid a Humpty-Dumpty situation by building a vessel that can help an egg survive a great fall.

To play, you will give each group an uncooked egg and allow the team to choose from a variety of construction materials, such as:

  • toilet paper or paper towel tubes
  • newspaper
  • cardboard boxes
  • masking tape
  • wooden sticks
  • sandwich bags
  • plastic straws
  • cotton balls

Teams will spend thirty minutes to one hour constructing a device to shield the egg from impact. Once time is up, groups will carry the containers to a balcony, ledge, or staircase, place the egg inside the receptacle, and drop the contraption. After the device drops, participants will open the container to see whether the egg survived.

This experiment teaches teams to use available resources, exercise creativity, and apply logical design.

2. Human Knot

There is a reason that the Human Knot crops up on all kinds of team building lists– this game is one of the most simple team building activities around. The exercise requires no special materials or lengthy instructions.

Human knot steps:

  1. Participants form groups of five to twelve members
  2. Group members assemble in a circle
  3. Players reach left hands across the circle and grab an opposite member’s hand
  4. Players reach right hands across the circle and grab a different participant’s hand
  5. Without letting go of the grip, team members must untangle the knot and form a ring

To unjumble arms and avoid pulled muscles, your team will need to communicate. In the same way that shuffling a deck of cards creates a brand new combination, each Human Knot is unique and requires an altered approach.

In addition to flexing your team’s problem-solving skills, the human knot serves as a bonding exercise. Gathering in close quarters helps teammates banish shyness and social barriers, and overcoming the collective challenge brings the group closer together.

See our full guide to doing the human knot with coworkers.

3. Mission String-Possible

Mission String-Possible is a yarn maze which combines dexterity with deductive reasoning. The game is part obstacle course, part race, and part riddle. This activity requires setup, but provides a high-energy challenge.

To create a yarn maze:

  1. Buy a different color of yarn for every team
  2. Thread yarn across a small space, being sure to loop the string around furniture, fixtures, and other strings
  3. Affix sticky notes to the thread with clues
  4. Allow each team 15-25 minutes to unravel the thread
  5. Challenge teammates to solve the puzzle at the end of the rope

An example of a riddle might be a combination to a lock located at the end of the yarn. Each sticky note contains a different number, and team members must order the numbers to guess the correct combination. I advise coordinating the color of the post-it notes with the string, because if the stickies fall off the string, then your teams might miss clues and fail the riddle.

4. Spaghetti Tower

The objective of this activity is for teammates to construct a tall tower using nothing but twenty sticks of spaghetti, tape, and string. Once complete, the tower must bear the weight of a single marshmallow without toppling.

To perform this exercise, split the group into teams of four to seven. After supplying teams with the necessary materials, you should give each group 20-30 minutes to complete the task. Teammates can break the spaghetti, but must keep the marshmallow intact.

Upon completing construction, each team must balance the marshmallow on the top of the tower. You can then measure the height of the still-standing structures, and name the group with the tallest tower the winner.

This game emphasizes group design, and is an especially apt activity for engineering teams. Yet all departments benefit from this group building challenge. As author C.B. Cook once said, “On our own, we are marshmallows and dried spaghetti, but together we can become something bigger.”

5. Lily Pads

Lily Pads is a group problem solving activity that turns team building time into a real life game of Frogger, minus the traffic. In this game, participants must move across the room, or the “pond,” stepping only on circles, or “lily pads.”

To play lily pads:

  1. Use masking tape to mark off a starting line and finishing line on the floor.
  2. Divide groups into teams of seven to twelve..
  3. Provide each team with six paper plates to use as “lily pads.”
  4. Direct teams to cross to the other side of the “pond,” by stepping on the lily pads.

Players cannot touch any space outside of the lily pad, otherwise all group members must return to start. The goal of the game is for the entire team to cross to the other side of the pond.

Lily Pad emphasizes that all members must reach the endpoint in order for the team to succeed, thus teammates scheme methods of getting every participant across the pond.

6. Shipwreck

The team building game Shipwreck strands employees on a hypothetical desert island together.

The game opens as the team’s ship sinks. Each team receives a list of 25-30 items, along with instructions that the group can select no more than ten items to bring to the island.

Sample shipwreck items:

  • Matches
  • Knife
  • Net
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Empty bottle
  • Water
  • Mirror
  • Tarp
  • Toilet paper
  • Oar
  • Hammock
  • Compass
  • One mystery item of your choice, which cannot be a boat

You should fill the list with highly useful items so that your teams struggle to narrow down the choices. First and foremost, the teams must agree on a collective goal. Groups may wish to escape, survive comfortably on the island, or some mix of both. Based on the group objective, teammates must collectively decide which objects to prioritize. Every team member must explain the rationale behind each selection and persuade the other members to acquiesce.

After twenty minutes, invite all groups to share the lists and reflect on the activity. Groups can compare and contrast the lists, and if time allows, then you can try to form an overall consensus of a master list.

7. Escape from Pompeii

Escape from Pompeii is a team survival game that challenges groups to outrun an epic eruption. In the early days of civilization, Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient city of Pompeii under lava and ash. In this activity, you challenge your teams to imagine the group in the city with moments to escape.

To play escape from Pompeii:

  1. Tape off a small section of the floor, or lay a board down to make a “raft.”
  2. Split group into small teams.
  3. Give teams five minutes to fit on the raft.

All teammates must fit within the rectangle. Participants can arrange themselves in any combination, as long as all team members are aboard the raft and no part of any member’s body touches an outside surface.

This exercise fosters collaboration and group support. Escape from Pompeii also sharpens communication skills and prioritizes collective success over individual outcomes.

8. Shrinking Feeling

Shrinking Feeling is an exercise that encourages participants to develop team problem solving strategies. The concept is simple: as the surrounding space shrinks, groups must figure out how to fit all team members within boundaries.

Using rope, you will create a shape on the carpet. All team members must fit within the border, and no body part can touch any outside object. As soon as all team members assemble inside the boundary, invite the group to step outside the rope, and make the shape smaller.

Teammates must analyze, discuss, and execute team strategies to include every member within the perimeter. Shrinking Feeling underscores adaptability and group response to change.

9. Trading Pieces

Trading Pieces is a spin on the barter puzzle, one of the most well-known team building problems. In this exercise, groups race to complete a jigsaw puzzle, with a twist that each team receives a couple of the other teams’ pieces. To complete the puzzle, teams must negotiate with other groups and convince competitors to surrender pieces.

This version of the game ups the difficulty of the original barter puzzle with one extra condition: teammates can speak to each other, but cannot talk to other teams. In addition to persuading other teams to release pieces, participants must strategize how to silently broker the deal.

Trading Pieces practices persuasion and negotiation along with flexibility and creative thinking.

10. Founders Keepers

During Founders Keepers, your teams will need to establish laws and respond to threats to create a functional new kingdom. To play the game, you should instruct teams to choose a name for the country and create five central laws. Afterwards, you can prompt your colleagues with some of the challenges on the list below.

Sample founders keepers challenges:

  • Neighboring country attacks
  • Drought wipes out half the crops
  • King caught in a scandal
  • Peasants protest
  • Kingdom runs out of money
  • Country cannot communicate with outside lands

Teams must respond to these disasters while staying loyal to the core laws. This exercise serves as a model for upholding values in times of crisis. Unlike the other challenges on this list, the problems posed in this activity require diplomacy and discussion as opposed to immediate action. This exercise challenges the team to think of long-term consequences of proposed solutions instead of merely reacting to the situation at hand.

11. Escape Rooms

Escape rooms are one of the most popular problem solving scenarios for adults. These entertainment venues are immersive investigative experiences. Many rooms revolve around themes such as haunted houses, spy missions, or outer space, and some locations rely on actors to propel the story. All escape rooms pose puzzles that groups must solve together using abilities like critical thinking, time management, observation, and composure. These rooms provide elaborate scenarios, challenging riddles, and subtle clues that teams must work together to decipher.

Chances are, an escape room or two already exists in your vicinity. A simple Google or Yelp search can help you locate these venues. You may even score a group rate.

Check out this list of DIY escape room puzzles, and these online escape rooms for teams.

12. Frostbite

Frostbite is a survival team building exercise that summons teammates to imagine an arctic expedition gone wrong. In this team challenge, participants must construct a shelter in the face of an upcoming storm. However, a bad case of frostbite prevents the team leader from using hands, while snow blindness leaves all other team members blind.

To play frostbite:

  1. Split the group into teams of 4-5.
  2. Designate a leader on each team.
  3. Explain the scenario.
  4. Bind the leader’s hands, and blindfold all other group members.
  5. Allow teams 30-45 minutes to build a structure out of playing cards, cardboard, rubber bands, tape, and staples.
  6. Turn on a small electric fan and find out which “tents” can withstand the “artic wind.”

Frostbite flexes group decision making and adaptability, and challenges teams to find ways to triumph even despite limitations.

13. Apocalypse How

Apocolypse

Apocalypse How compels teams to strategize ways to survive the end of the world. To play, simply divide participants into teams of four to six, and provide groups with a catastrophe, such as zombie attack, time-traveling dinosaurs, asteroid shower, or volcanic eruption.

To spice up the discussion, you can periodically hand out specific scenarios to which groups must respond.

Sample scenarios:

  • Car engine dies
  • Electricity goes out
  • Cell phone communication ceases
  • Deep gash on your leg
  • Run out of food

Apocalypse How exercises group problem solving and negotiation, and reminds teams to stay calm and think logically in the face of crises.

14. See Saw

My middle school gym class involved an outdoor ropes course. In one course challenge, my classmates and I had to balance the entire team on a giant see saw. This exercise may seem like one of the easiest imaginable team building problems imaginable, but completing the challenge is actually quite tricky.

To ensure that neither board end hits the ground, group members must distribute weight evenly. Teammates of relatively equal weight must step onto the see saw at the same time, otherwise the board will hit the ground, and the whole activity will restart. This maneuver requires a great deal of coordination and analysis, along with careful strategy.

The See Saw activity affirms that coordination requires careful consideration and effort. When working with a group, sometimes balance and timing are vital components to group success.

Conclusion

Team building problems help groups develop techniques to resolve on-the-job issues. For more information on nurturing competencies such as communication, compromise, and creative thinking, check out more of the resources below.

Overcoming obstacles as a group requires a great deal of trust, and these team problems teach teammates to depend on each other.

Next, check out this list of problem solving books.

FAQ: Team building problems

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about team building problems.

What are team building problems?

Team building problems are challenges that prompt groups to respond to situations with ingenuity and cooperation. Examples of team building problems include the Spaghetti Tower, the Human Knot, and the Egg Drop.

What are team problem solving skills?

Team problem solving skills are competencies that help groups conquer problems quickly and with minimal conflict. Team problem skills include decision making, deliberation, explanation, and delegation.

Why is problem solving important in a team?

Collective problem solving is a different process from individual problem solving. Group problem solving requires skills such as active listening, persuasion, and compromise. Teams need to practice the art of consensus building and collective decision making. Team building problems provide colleagues with scenarios that help sharpen these skills.

Does solving team building problems together really work?

Though it may seem silly to hold hands, assemble puzzles, build spaghetti towers, and debate about zombies, these kinds of activities encourage objective analysis, verbalization of logic, and compromise, all valuable teamwork skills. If nothing else, team building problems encourage groups to communicate effectively.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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