Most salespeople develop a love-hate relationship with team-building activities. On one hand, they can seem cheesy and easily elicit an eye roll or two from the ranks. On the other hand, they forge important connections between reps and give them a chance to play out team values.
Research, old and new, shows that company culture and employee retention are closely linked, and what might pass as a simple game will often establish rapport, comfort, and communication that lasts. And frankly, the best sales team building activities are just plain fun.
We spoke to dozens of sales professionals and team leaders about their most effective and enjoyable team building experiences to put together this go-to list of activities. There’s something here for every budget and team, inside and outside the office, formal and informal. We’ll cover:
- Learning and Development
- Short Outings
- Charitable Activities
- Meeting Rituals
- Team Building Games
- Long Offsites and Retreats
These activities are meant to help your sales team let their guards down so they can form authentic connections.
It’s also a good idea to choose a mix of the activity styles above, and get feedback on what worked best.
You might pick a few with a work focus, while others stay free of office talk; or toss a few competitive exercises along with ones that require the team to collaborate.
Let’s take a look at some team building activities that center around learning. It’s possible to develop your reps in a way that brings the whole team closer.
Learning and Development
Engaging in professional development activities as a team can focus on personal development (learning what makes each salesperson on a team tick) or it can focus on learning about your industry.
Group personality tests
One of the best ways to understand your team’s collective strength is for each member to take personality tests and discuss the results.
Tests introduce a shared vocabulary to illuminate communication preferences, weaknesses, and areas of comfort. And overall, they increase empathy for one another. Sales and HR leaders also receive the added benefits of comparing and contrasting the psychometric profiles of their top performers to find commonalities that can inform future hiring initiatives.
Two common tests include DiSC and True Colors, both of which offer options for groups to take the test at once. For a do-it-yourself approach, have sales reps take the test at home, then schedule a dedicated meeting or offsite to review commonalities and differences in the results. Or, leverage a licensed facilitator to administer the tests and guide the conversation and sharing experience. These sessions can be powerful and only take a couple hours to conduct.
If DiSC or True Colors doesn’t resonate with you, there are plenty of options. Here’s an excellent breakdown of the most popular team personality tests and why they’re effective.
Learning new skills
Learning new skills together tends to even the playing field: regardless of work performance, everyone on the team can focus around a fresh objective and walk out more informed.
- Watch a TED talk or webinar related to your industry, or about sales strategies and tactics. Follow it up with a roundtable discussion or idea generation session to apply it to your team’s day-to-day work.
- Attend an industry conference together. Here’s a list of sales conferences you can draw from.
- Bring in a facilitator to teach a presentation skills workshop. Then, have each team member present on something they’re working on.
- Take a class completely unrelated to work, such as archery, woodworking, or whiskey tasting.
Teams will draw closer together through this shared experience, and individuals will appreciate their employer investing in their development.
Short Team Outings
Most professionals we spoke to said that getting out of the office, even for a couple hours, is the quickest way to get reps to drop their egos and connect as people. Here’s what they recommend.
Send the team on a wild goose chase around your city — preferably one that requires them to solve puzzles together and use complementary talents.
Morgan Chaney shares her experience with a scavenger hunt while in sales at Google:
“We worked with The Go Game to do a really cool guided scavenger hunt through NYC, interacting with staged actors to help us solve the hunt along the way. Awesome way to be competitive while also exploring the haunts of West Village.”
Another endorsement for city-based scavenger hunts comes from Rachel Lehn at Perfect Search Media in Chicago:
“The best team-building activity that we’ve done is a 1-day custom scavenger hunt, complete with funny clues, hard puzzles, and active challenges. We built teams of people who don’t necessarily work together day-to-day, so that we’d grow new relationships and strengthen old ones.
After a full day of posing for pics, solving riddles, and walking all over downtown, we headed to a happy hour to recount stories from the day and hang out as a big group. Everyone was smiling and laughing and so happy! Usually our offsites involve sitting in a room together all day, so this was a change from the routine. We feel more bonded as a company and it has helped with cohesiveness at work.”
Another favorite end-of-quarter activity from Morgan Chaney involved a little finery:
“While in sales at Google, our team did a pampering night: we went to barber shops and spas for clean shaves, express facials, or pedicures, then regrouped at a fancy dinner afterwards in San Francisco to celebrate our closed quarter.”
Escape Room challenges are an intense test of teamwork and problem-solving skills. Sandra Matel at Nimlok Chicago tells how an Escape Room adventure bridged the divide between sales and marketing teams:
“Last year, we took our team out to participate in an “Escape Room,” where each team was locked in a room with various scattered clues and had to work together to solve a way out of it. The clues were hidden in objects throughout the room and were provided in riddles, word puzzles, and mathematical equations. The Escape Room was designed so that individuals with different skills could collectively benefit the team as a whole—the key to success being the group’s diversity rather than the similarities among its members.
Sales and marketing must work as a team in order to be successful; however, it’s all too often that the two work as individual entities rather than collaboratively. Participating in the Escape Room allowed us to grow closer as colleagues and reinforced the value of working together to overcome challenges that face our organization.”
The team at ThoughtLab loved a simple go kart trip to get out of the office and spend some non-work related time together:
Jeff Hands, President of Optimum Control Software, recommends spooking the team once in a while:
“The best team building exercise I’ve ever taken part in was the time my team and I went to a Halloween haunted house. I think fear really brings out the most genuine emotions. We all stuck together in the house and made sure that no one was left behind. It was a good way of knowing that we had each other’s backs.”
Thrift store bar crawl
At Blueboard, Morgan Chaney shares a creative, offbeat teambuilding activity:
“We did a thrift store bar crawl. Each teammate received $20 and headed to a thrift store to pick out an outfit for the bar crawl that evening. The surprise was that we were actually shopping for someone else, we drew names before. At dinner, the names and outfits were revealed, some pretty cool, some just hilarious. We all dressed in our new outfits and did an organized bar crawl around Tahoe (where we were hosting our offsite). Great conversation starter for the locals, and lots of memories made that night.”
“Once every couple of weeks (usually on a Wednesday, for “Wellness Wednesday”) we head on over to a local gym and take a class together … We find that partaking in just 30 minutes of activity together allows us to not only have fun outside of a workplace environment, but we’ve had some really creative brainstorming sessions mid-plank! We return back to the office energized, and Wednesday afternoons after a class usually end up being our most productive time of the week.”
Keep in mind the needs and abilities of teammates. If this activity excludes individuals, it might not be a fit for your company.
Timothy Wiedman advocates for adventure sports to bring people together: nothing like a bit of white water rapids to evoke teamwork and demand trust. Note his “no work talk” rule, allowing people to focus on interpersonal relationships rather than business:
“A small group of employees decided to try something to improve collegiality: they investigated a whitewater rafting trip to West Virginia, even though few participants had been rafting before…. A rule governed all interaction: no work-related shop talk allowed!
To negotiate rapids, paddling teamwork was vital. Further, if a team member ended up in the water (an infrequent occurrence), that person usually needed help getting back into the boat. Rafting is truly a group effort, and team members quickly mastered working together.”
If you need a hand planning logistics for short team outings, many vendors offer services that can be tailored to your team, industry, and company values. Here’s a selection of some of our respondents’ favorites:
- Murder Mystery Night
- The Go Game (mentioned above)
- Escape Room (mentioned above)
- Curated trivia events
David Jacobsen, CEO of TrivWorks, a live gameshow-style trivia company, argues that sales teams can especially benefit from these curated, personalized events that bring out healthy competition:
“There is something incredibly disarming about co-workers getting out of the office and engaging in a positive, laugh-filled shared experience. It’s a chance for everybody to let their hair down, set aside the politics, and get to know each other in a fun new way – particularly if the content has been customized for them.
Most people – especially sales teams – are competitive by nature. By harnessing this with a trivia contest, you can create an environment which is not only fun and social, but charged with spirited energy as colleagues at all levels try their best to win. I am consistently told that the impact of such an experience is boosted morale and increased trust.”
These were some of the more out-of-the-box team building activities we uncovered. And there are always the good old classics.
Classic short team outings
Many of these timeless, go-to activities will fit within most team-building budgets:
- Team BBQ at a park
- Cooking together at a teammate or manager’s home
- Beach trips
- Casino night
- Mini golf
- Adult laser tag
- Bocce Ball
- Breakfast or dinner outside of work once per month
- Sporting events
|Here are some tips to keep your outings engaging:
Studies show that people who find meaning in their work show higher levels of dedication and motivation. The same spirit can apply to team-building activities. Put your shared values into practice and direct your team’s energy toward a big cause.
Here are some examples of “for-the-good” activities:
- Use B1G1 to tie sales wins to corporate giving. Create a contest among subgroups of your sales team for who can sell (and therefore donate) the most.
- Participate in a team charity walk in your city.
- Host a beach or park cleanup day (a classic).
- Sign up for Habitat for Humanity group activities to help build affordable homes and shelters.
- Check out these in-depth reviews of more activities from BizBash, such as preparing school breakfast, volunteering at hospitals, lending a hand at homeless shelters, decorating libraries, building wheelchairs for veterans, helping animal shelters with construction projects, and assembling disaster relief kits.
You can also work with a local charitable team-building vendor, such as TeamBonding, to curate and plan an activity that is ideal for your group’s size (typically ranging from two to five hours).
Once you’ve tried an organization or activity that resonated with the team, make it a quarterly or annual ritual to repeat it, so that the team experiences continuity and a deeper connection to the cause.
The best sales teams embrace competitions. Research shows that 80% of global sales executives do goal-oriented competitions. But for team-building purposes, can you harness their power in a way that brings the team together? Yes.
Sales thought leader Kelly Riggs of Business LockerRoom incentivized his team to perform well as individuals by creating an award with a physical trophy-type prize. To his surprise, it spurred healthy competition between salespeople and brought the team closer. As he tells it:
“The most effective team building activity I had was a quarterly reward/recognition program called the PRISM Award. It was an acronym that stood for “personal recognition of individual sales management.” To earn the award you had to sell above quote in 4 of 5 product categories. I made a big deal about how the best salespeople “manage” all of the product lines, and find a way to hit numbers across the spectrum of products.
I never dreamed it would create such a competition among my salespeople at the time. Eventually, I had a couple of reps hit 5 of 5 categories, so I had to make a Silver Prism (for 4/5) and a Gold Prism (for 5/5). These were very nice crystal pyramids (like a prism) on a solid base.
It just goes to illustrate the power of recognition among a bunch of competitors…”
A word on prizes and incentives:
Get creative with prizes you offer. People reported many different types of incentives, from simple $25 gift cards for lunch near the office, to physical artifacts (such as Riggs’ Prism pyramids), to wildly unique experiences, such as turning people into James Bond for the day — complete with skydiving, fast cars, and martinis. Now that’s something the team will talk about for a long time.
Team fitness tracking
Incentivize your reps to be more active over the long term, getting them up from their desks, walking more often, and hitting group activity targets. Some fitness trackers, like Fitbit, offer group health plans. James McCarthy, CEO of Placement Labs, shares how effective this technique was for his team:
“The most exciting example of a team building exercise that we have attempted is the gifting of a FitBit activity tracker to each of my employees, with the understanding that they were encouraged to really use them. A nice feature of the activity trackers is that you can compare your step counts with other activity tracker owners, so everyone in the office has the ability to compete for most steps over a given time period.
A healthy (figuratively and literally) competition has sprouted, with individuals (or small groups) getting up to take short walk breaks throughout the day to increase their step counts (which I encourage (short breaks actually increase productivity because they improve employee morale, and help them from burning out)).
Since the implementation of the FitBits, I have noticed increased communication between employees, not only about work-related items, but more conversations about each other’s health, and ways they are trying to get higher step counts, etc. It has seemingly created a stronger camaraderie that was somewhat lacking prior.”
Unique activities and celebrations outside of the office are a great way to punctuate the typical sales quarter with some fun. But what about the in-between times? You can introduce daily or weekly rituals into your recurring meetings. These might only take a few minutes, but accrued, they can make a big difference over several months or a year.
Take, for example the daily morning catch-up.
Daily Morning Catch-Up
Just 10 minutes of checking in each day can bring the team together around shared values, insights, and goals. Says Ren Jean Chong of B1G1:
“Every morning at 10 minutes to 10, we gather for a morning catch-up to share our plans for the day. This is to keep the entire team up to date on each other’s roles, responsibilities, and projects, and to foster mutual understanding and respect of everybody’s contribution. Team members also take turns to share insights and learnings in relation to our team values, to kickstart everybody’s day with inspiring reflections.”
If you’re unsure about implementing a daily activity, try it for a one-week sprint before making a permanent commitment.
Thank You Fridays
Chong also shares a weekly meeting ritual to say thank you to another team member:
“Once a week, we have Thank You Fridays, where every team member expresses gratitude towards another team member who might’ve helped them out in unexpected or small ways. Everybody appreciates being appreciated. It’s a great exercise to foster stronger bonds between team members.“
Again, it only takes a few minutes, but added up over time it makes a difference.
Personal Highs and Company Highs
“We go around the table and share personal and company highs for the week. This allows everyone to stay in tune with what is going on with the business and to celebrate each other’s success (oftentimes they turn into a big love fest!).”
These meeting rituals have the added benefit of repeatedly opening the door for participation from all salespeople on the team, introverted and extroverted alike.
Team Building Games
Many teams we spoke to referenced simple games and icebreakers as a great way for reps to learn about one another and try solving problems in a non-work context.
- Two Truths and a Lie: Guess which facts about a rep are true or false.
- Find the Common Thread: Split the team into random groups, and have them find a shared interest they wouldn’t have known about before (such as “murder mystery fanatics”)
- Games like Mafia and Concentration were favorites, but here are 32 other great classic games to choose from.
- [Remote team friendly] Play Charades over videoconferencing software.
- [Remote team friendly] Play “Where In The World”: Have each remote sales rep take a picture of the view from their office window, anonymize the photos, and have people guess which team member submitted it.
- Play video games together in a game that tracks progress over weeks, like the ThoughtLab team:
The ThoughtLab team ends work a little early once a week to play Dungeons and Dragons together. It calls upon group problem solving skills, teaches players about their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, and encourages inclusivity, according to CMO Brandon Wright:
“Through this game we’ve had to solve many ridiculous challenges as a team, grown closer to each other, and blown off some steam by leaving a trail of dead goblins.”
You can even bring in a group facilitator for structured games. Leadership consultant Rob Oddi’s most powerful, engaging team building experience was a Lego Serious Play session. He notes that structured play tends to put everyone on equal footing so that all can participate:
“Not only did everyone get involved, everyone had a voice, and unlike most business meetings where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the talking, with the Lego Serious Play session it’s 100/100. 100 percent of the people do 100 percent of the work. People leave engaged, excited, and they use the power of ‘play’ something they’ve had in them since childhood to really deal with challenges their team faces.”
Structured, facilitated play sessions are great activities for an offsite, while other games can be used spontaneously in the office (for example, to kick off the weekend on Fridays, or before an all-hands meeting).
Long Offsites and Retreats
Multi-day team offsites are a powerful way to disconnect from the noise of the everyday work week and connect with individual salespeople on a deeper level. It also supports high-level planning and objective-setting in an environment away from inbox distractions. Conducting team-building offsites is especially important for remote teams.
We hear from CEO Cristian Rennella of El Mejor Trato, with operations across South America:
“In 11 years we have tried absolutely all kinds of activities. There are some that were positive, some without greater results, and others negative.
We could concluded that the best by far is to organize a team trip for 10 days to a place away from the office. It can be in a cabin in the mountains or it can be close to the beach, as long as we can be disconnected from day to day work.”
Offsites should have a mixture of fun and work activities. Rennella describes the work-related planning as such:
“There are 3 parts: first we present the progress from the last meeting, then evaluate new problems and opportunities, and finally, define the path or strategy to follow for the next 6 months. At the end, each member of the team is responsible from one to three goals.
This activity we do outside the office has had the greatest impact on the growth of our company!”
You may host such an offsite quarterly or annually, and vary the length depending on what’s reasonable for your reps. Zapier has found that 7 days is the ideal number: “We’ve found five full days bookend by two travel days to be a good fit. People with family and kids aren’t too inconvenienced and it’s long enough to do something meaningful.”
For more tips, see Zapier’s excellent guide to planning company retreats (especially for remote teams).
Sales reps that feel comfortable around each other are more likely to work well together. Successful team-building comes down to the right attitude. In particular, if you’re worried about reps thinking that team-building is cheesy, consider this perspective from Ryan Matzner, co-founder of Fueled:
“We acknowledge that most corporate outings fall into a few big categories: extremely cheesy, insanely expensive, or both. Yet we fully celebrate that fact as long as we do it together as an office. One time we rented out an entire Russian nightclub, and that’s only one example from a long list that includes adult laser tag as a highlight.
It’s cheesy and even corny, but coming into it we’re all in on the joke and this effectively lowers everyone’s guard enough to genuinely hang out. Most of our client-facing teams see each other as potential rivals, so the simple participation in a shared activity allows everyone to drop their egos for a while to bond.
Time and time again we’ve seen these activities break down the walls our workers inadvertently built between each other. Despite what many may think, we appreciate how effective these corporate outings are. We just approach it with a little twist.”
While sales team building activities come in all shapes and sizes, they all need one key ingredient to work: embracing the activity with an open mind, together.
Also published on Medium.