Don’t Buy Any Team Building Board Games Until You Read These Tips

If you ever feel your team is too happy and you urgently need to knock their morale down a peg, just utter the magic words: “We’re playing a board game for team-building!” Watch their smiles fade faster than a cheap pair of jeans. But if you’re one of those peculiar leaders who actually likes to see their team happy (weird, I know), then hit them with the twist:

“It’s trivia time, and guess what? There’s a gift card on the line for the winning team!” Ah, the sweet sound of motivation and friendly competition. Who knew it could be so simple?

In this blog post, we’ll show you 5 ways to make team building board games fun. Following our tips will rile up everyone’s competitive spirits and get them excited to work together.

By the way, that’s not to say we don’t think a board game tournament isn’t fun… but when it comes to team building, your employees are expecting something meaningful and impactful. They don’t just want to play games, they want an experience. So while there’s typically no such thing as a “wrong” team building activity, the way you frame it determines whether or not your employees return to work with boosted morale and new perspectives.

1. Only Choose Games the Entire Team Can Play

The point of a team-building activity is to have the entire team involved. You want the lessons to resonate with as many people as possible, and the fact is, many board games will limit your groups to very small numbers (convenient for smaller teams, but not so much for bigger teams!). That also means you’ll end up buying several board games just to try and get the team busy. And at that point, since the team is not all on the same page, you lose what makes it a good team building exercise in the first place. Now they’re just being forced to play board games on company time! No one wins.

So the first best thing you can do is pick a game that already puts people in teams. Some that we recommend include:

  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Codenames
  • Pictionary
  • Murder mystery

Modifying Games to Work for Teams

If those aren’t accessible for some reason, the next best thing is to pick a game that can be modified to work with both large and small teams. For example, a strategy board game like Risk is normally designed for teams of one person. Each person represents a country out to conquer territories.

However, by changing that rule to accommodate one entire team per country, you now have a cooperative game where group members are huddling to their respective corners to strategize their next move. Now you’ve got a proper team building board game! You can increase the depth of many games simply by making them fit for a team.

Of course, this won’t work with every game. I loved Candy Land as a child, but there’s nothing about that game that requires a team effort. You simply pull a card and move your piece to the corresponding color! You can imagine how team building efforts won’t have any place in a game like that.

Other factors to keep in mind when choosing a proper team building board game:

  • Accessibility: Pick games that are easy to understand and inclusive, so that people of all ages and backgrounds can participate. A classic game like Trivial Pursuit will test people’s knowledge about a vast swath of subjects, essentially giving everyone a fair chance. On the other hand, if your team building event is going to include employees from foreign countries, you might want to avoid a team game that present a language or cultural barrier.
  • Skill Levels: Consider the varying skill levels of your team members. Ideally everyone should be a first time player of your chosen game, but the skills used in the game (if any) should be easy for everyone to comprehend. If your team is full of accountants, it might make perfect sense to modify board game rules to include math and number related challenges. It could also be fun to force a bunch of artistic thinkers to solve math problems since it’s out of their wheelhouse, but if you mix the two groups, you might create an unfair advantage based on skill levels.
  • Interest Survey: Before selecting a game, maybe conduct a quick survey to gauge what genres or types of games the larger group is most interested in. Or, a less formal way to do this would simply be to observe your team’s group dynamics. In general, competition can bring out even the stuffiest employee’s fun-loving side. Or, you might have prior experiences that says a game prioritizing creative thinking would be a better choice.

Fore more inspiration, here’s a video showing some of the best board games for large groups:

2. Incentivize With Fun Rewards

While competition in itself can transform the mood of even the most withdrawn teams, simply offering to play board games is hardly going to get anyone excited. That’s why it helps to sweeten the deal in a fun way:

You need to offer a reward.

Rewards come in two flavors: extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic Motivators

These are external rewards or consequences that drive behavior. You can read more about them in our last blog post on how to motivate your team. Some good ideas for extrinsic motivators include:

  • Monetary Prizes: Gift cards are the perfect prize here. People especially love Amazon gift cards as it’s the closest thing to giving them real cash!
  • Recognition: Spotlight winning teams or individuals in company newsletters or meetings.
  • Merchandise or Trophies: Company merchandise or trophies for the office desk can be good rewards, too. In the case of trophies, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be your traditional sports kind. I once worked at a biotech, and they awarded achievements with engraved magnets shaped like molecules. Get creative with it!

Intrinsic Motivators

On the other hand, intrinsic motivators are internal drives or passions that inspire action from personal satisfaction or interest. If you think your team will resonate well with the company’s mission and values, go for some intrinsic motivators like:

  • A Donation Charity: One of the most effective rewards we use in our team building activities is through the use of helping a local charity. We’ve made it so that the better the teams perform, the bigger their contribution. Even though the participants are not benefitting directly from the donation, they really love the idea of being the team that contributes the most and the fastest. We always recommend that the charity chosen is aligned with the company’s own values.
  • Skill-based Rewards: Offer rewards that can also be useful in the workplace, like a short course on a skill the team values. This reward will be a huge value if you believe your team will appreciate an intrinsic motivation.
  • Social Rewards: A team lunch or outing for the winners can be a great way to celebrate and build camaraderie.

3. Incorporate Relevant Lessons to Make it Worthwhile

Here’s one complaint employees we hear about team building activities:

“They feel like a waste of time.”

That complaint doesn’t arise as a result of good team building experiences though. It comes as a result of forced social activities that employers mistakenly think qualifies as good team building, such as:

  • Mandatory virtual happy hour (held after work hours)
  • Mandatory “two truths and a lie” presentations followed by mandatory karaoke
  • Activities and board games purely for the sake of “getting everyone together”

The fact is, employees know that a team building exercise is a work activity. You won’t convince them that it’s going to be more fun than game night with their own family or friends. That’s why we suggest embracing that fact and ensuring your team building board game (with a fun reward) is relevant to your company. Employees might still be hesitant at first (they usually are until they loosen up and start having a blast), but at least they’ll know you’re not trying to manufacture fun.

How to Bolster Your Board Games with Work-Relevant Lessons

We strongly recommend you don’t shy away from tying your team building lessons into work. Some of the best ways to do that is by reinforcing your lessons, values, or take aways, by:

  • Incorporating them into the theme: The theme of your annual meeting or conference, for example, should be reflected in the games. Nothing helps “show” something like values than embodying them through an activity. Everything from the choice of the game to individual aspects within the game can be fit to the theme with some creativity.
  • Discussion Points: After the game, facilitate a discussion on how certain challenges in the game relate to the company’s real-world objectives or values. This is an effective way to end the activities after a successful event, when everyone is now in a good mood and more receptive to leadership.
  • Debriefing: Use the game to debrief on lessons learned during the meeting, reinforcing key points in a more engaging manner.
  • Core Values: Identify aspects of the game that reflect the company’s core values and highlight these during gameplay.

That doesn’t necessarily mean every single part of the game has to be related to work—a little goes a long way. A good way you can incorporate the above into the actual game of your choice could be:

  • If playing a trivia or any kind of “question/answer” type game, make the questions relevant to takeaways from your meeting or conference.
  • Separate the group into teams based on respective strengths or skills based on a personality test. Alternatively, make the effort to put together people who don’t normally interact on a daily basis.
  • If choosing to incorporate a charity element, make sure the charity aligns with the company’s values.

4. Modify the Games to Encourage More Teamwork Than Competition

While competition can be a powerful motivating factor (we see it all the time), it’s essential to strike a balance when using a good game as a good team-building game. The crucial role of team building is to foster a collaborative spirit, promote mutual respect, and strengthen the communication skills between team members.

When games are overly competitive, they might inadvertently amplify rivalries or individualistic tendencies, overshadowing the team’s collective achievements. And in some cases, a team that already has issues in the workplace could have its problems amplified by competitive games (we also see that all the time). If you suspect your team has some things to work on, we suggest trying something less competitive or opting for some indoor team building games that build team culture instead.

To truly harness the power of board games in team-building, consider modifying them in a way that emphasizes teamwork and collaboration over mere rivalry. When players work together towards a shared goal, they not only enjoy the experience but also learn the value of each member’s contribution, laying a foundation for a harmonious work environment.

For example, we had the idea to modify an escape room. We combined fun elements from some of the best board games and created a game perfect for small groups.

Guidelines for Modifying Board Games to Foster Teamwork:

  • Cooperative Gameplay: Opt for games that require players to work together towards a common goal. This will help create a positive shared experience
  • Rule Tweaking: Modify rules to encourage collaboration. For example, instead of having teams simply take turns, try making it a requirement for teams to strategize together first before making a move. You can even have them appoint a team leader to help facilitate the discussion and make the move as the group’s representative.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Assign different team members specific roles within the game that encourage them to rely on one another.
  • Scoring System: Introduce a scoring system that rewards teamwork and group achievements over individual glory.

Individuals engaged in a board game.

5. Don’t Pick Games That Prioritize Luck Over Skill

Put the bingo card away! The last thing you want to do is have your team play a luck-based game. These games will sap any team building potential out of the activity by having your team members waiting around for something to happen. These games take all the control from the individuals, and that makes for bad team bonding.

One of the fundamental objectives of team-building activities is to encourage:

  • Skill development
  • Strategic thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration among the entire group

When selecting co-op board games for this purpose, it’s crucial to prioritize those that lean more towards skill and decision-making rather than pure luck. While luck can introduce an element of unpredictability and excitement, relying too heavily on it can negate the learning and growth objectives of the exercise. Skill-centric games ensure participants actively engage, think critically, and cooperate with their teammates, fostering genuine team-building outcomes.

Key Considerations When Choosing Board Games:

Fortunately, modern board games have gotten far more complex than Candy Land, so you should be able to find plenty online.

A few criteria to keep in mind when selecting team building board games are:

  • Skill Development: Choose games that require strategic thinking, critical thinking, and other problem-solving skills.
  • Avoid Dice-Dependent Games: Games that rely heavily on dice rolls can feel arbitrary and may not foster the intended team-building outcomes.
  • Decision-Making: Opt for games where players have to make meaningful choices that affect the outcome, emphasizing skill over luck.
  • Balance: While some element of luck can be fun, make sure it doesn’t overshadow skill and strategy