Leadership activities for workplace and remote teams

Whether you’re a musician or a chess player, being awesome at your job will come down to putting the hours in. The more practicing you do, the better. But to see the absolute best results, you need to be strategic about it. This means being purposeful with your time and ensuring your practice is a varied mix of theory and skill.

The same is true of management. You can read dozens of management books and watch hundreds of TED talks on leadership, but if you don’t get some hands-on experience, then you’ll be missing out (and probably sink pretty fast when faced with a real-life challenge).

One of the best ways to get practical experience (aside from on-the-job learning) is to roll up your sleeves and get involved in some leadership activities. Not only are these a great way to get real-world experience, but they also mean you can make mistakes and get feedback from your peers in a zero-pressure environment. Sound good? Let’s get started!

Leadership activities to try

Minefield

Tools: A blindfold and items to use as obstacles

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

Split into two teams and blindfold one person in each group. Then, create an obstacle course around them (chairs and tables, crumpled bits of paper, tape stuck to the floor). Everyone in the group needs to work together to direct their blindfolded person through to the finish line using a limited set of words (e.g. ‘left,’ ‘right,’ ‘forward,’ ‘back’).

If the blindfolded person touches a ‘mine,’ they need to go back to the start. The team that gets their blindfolded person to the finish line safely wins.

The takeaway: This is one of the leadership activities that’s all about developing trust and communication skills.

Open Mic Night

Tools: Zoom, if doing virtually

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

Split the group into ‘audience’ and ‘performers.’ The audience should then shout out a location, a profession, and a situation, which the performers then need to act out together. For example, a library, an opera singer, and a book. The sillier, the better.

The takeaway: Improv is a great way to nurture communication skills, self-confidence, and creativity. It also helps with self-awareness, positive thinking, and encouragement.

Sneak-a-Peek

Tools: LEGO/building blocks, pen and paper/whiteboard and pen, stopwatch (your phone timer is fine)

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

You’ll need LEGO or building blocks for this one. Split leaders into two teams, plus one volunteer. The volunteer makes a structure out of blocks (make sure it’s complex but replicable) out of eyesight of the two teams. Once they’re done, a leader from each team comes over to view the structure for 10 seconds. Then, they go back to their teams and have 30 seconds to explain how to build the structure.

The teams have one minute to get building. When the minute is up, another person from the team goes up to the original structure to take a look and bring instructions back.

Cycle through every person in the team. Once everyone’s had their turn, the structures are brought out and compared to the original. The team with the creation that most closely resembles the original wins.

The takeaway: This one of the leadership activities builds teamwork, recall, and instruction-giving.

Castaway

Tools: Zoom or chat app, if working remotely

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

Imagine you’re all stranded on a desert island. As a team, you all need to work together to decide on five items that are essential to your survival. Think water bottles and knives rather than a favorite novel.

If your team is virtual, you can do this via Zoom, or chat app.

The takeaway: This game is all about communication, teamwork, compromise, planning, creativity, and risk-taking.

Team Crest

Tools: Pen and paper, plus Zoom if doing this remotely

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

A family crest is a visual representation of that family’s strengths and values. For this game, split off into small teams. Then, ask each team to draw a crest shape and divide it into four sections.

Everyone on the team then works together to choose motifs that represent the following four things: key value, most important leadership skill, best skill for influencing others, and most important team trait to nurture.

Once the crests are done, the teams present them back to the wider team with reasons why they chose the things they did, plus any struggles they had in reaching a decision.

This can also work as a virtual team-building activity. Have one person draw the crest for presenting together as a team via zoom. Alternatively, use a diagramming tool (like Cacoo) to work together on a drawing at once.

The takeaway: Ability to achieve alignment is an important managerial skill, and this game will help you hone that.

Inspiring Leaders

Tools: Zoom, if working remotely

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

From amazing TED-talkers and legendary football managers, to talk show hosts and political figures — the world is full of amazing leaders, and we can learn from their successes.

Gather the group together, then ask each person in the group to discuss a leader they admire, and why.

The takeaway: Listening and speaking skills are the focus of this exercise. You’ll also learn about a diverse range of leaders and leadership styles.

Tallest Tower

Tools: Abstract items for building a tower

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Medium

Split into two groups, with an even number of people on each side (or as close to as possible). Give each team items for building (the same number and type per team). Within a set time limit, each team must then create the tallest freestanding tower possible.

The takeaway: This game encourages teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills

Spot the Difference

Tools: None

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

Split into two equal lines, with each person facing the person opposite. Set the timer to one minute, and ask one side of people to observe the person opposite. Once the minute is up, the observers turn around and the observed change one thing about themselves. This could include changing clothing, applying makeup, or changing their hair — for example. The observers turn around and identify what’s changed. After all the changes have been pointed out, swap so the observers become the observed.

The takeaway: This game tests attention-to-detail and memory retention, as well as teamwork.

Virtual Escape Room

Tools: Zoom

Cost: Paid

Prep effort: Medium

This is a great one for remote teams, and involves everyone communicating via Zoom.

First, choose your adventure via The Escape Game. Next, log into Zoom to meet your host and game guide, who will guide you through the adventure. With your digital dashboard, the team works together to find clues and solve puzzles. At the end of the game, the leader will review what went well and where you slipped up.

The takeaway: This is all about online communication skills and teamwork under pressure.

Inspiring Stories

Tools: Zoom, if working virtually

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Medium

From pensioners stopping robberies, to kids helping their classmates — amazing leadership stories are all around us.

This game involves a bit of prep: before the meeting (a day before, at least), ask each person to find a story of surprising leadership. Each person shares their story, along with the lessons that can be learned.

The takeaway: This game boosts speaking and listening skills, and gets participants to think about diverse forms of leadership.

Team Jigsaw

Tools: Two jigsaw puzzles

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

Two teams have to compete to complete a puzzle within a set timeframe. As each team works on their puzzle, they’ll realize some pieces are missing — and that they have pieces that don’t fit their puzzle. They then need to work with the other team so they can both complete their puzzle. They are only allowed to swap pieces one at a time.

The takeaway: Cross-team cooperation is vital in large organizations. This game teaches problem-solving and collaboration skills.

Final thoughts

Leadership activities are a great way to get hands-on experience. And, unlike books and TED talks, they give leaders the opportunity to develop and test skills with real people in a no-risk environment.

Just because your leaders are spread out across offices, cities, and continents, it doesn’t mean you need to miss out. Try virtual games similar to these leadership activities, take things online with Zoom, or get creative with collaboration tools. By giving your leaders the opportunity to communicate in an engaged way, you create better opportunities for developing vital skills that benefit both the individual, and the teams they manage.

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