Break the Ice! Team Building 101

When I was in college, I was part of an amazing Swimming and Diving team.  My first year on the team, we won the university’s first conference title which was an impressive feat.  After the team won the title, our head coach announced his retirement and my diving coach decided to move on as well.  There were many questions about the future.

Team putting their hand together - Team Building

After meeting the new coaching staff, our concerns were quickly put to rest.  They had a fresh approach to coaching and “building a team”.  More time was focused on goal setting and working as a unit.  We had meetings that focused on getting to know each other, team challenges, and goal setting (team and personal).  We learned to trust and rely on our teammates and to value everyone’s contributions no matter how big or small.  Most importantly, the change in approach fostered leadership and accountability for every team member.  At the time, I didn’t realize the process or the end goal, but l can certainly remember the impact.  We won our second conference title that year and broke the conference scoring record.  Looking back on that experience, made me realize the true power and impact of effective team building.

Team Building Turns “ME” Into “WE”

Team building is one of the most under-utilized instructional strategies in our schools.  Effective team building fosters a sense of trust and community and will have a positive impact on student academic performance and faculty/staff effectiveness.  They say that there is no “I” in TEAM but there is “ME”.  Too often, students and faculty members fall into the “ME” trap which negatively IMPACTS performance.  The focus of quality team building is to turn that “ME” into “WE” and build a community where individuals value honesty, support, collaboration, communication, and trust. Through proper team building opportunities, participants learn to listen, praise & encourage others/self, communicate, make decisions, resolve conflicts, take appropriate risks, and challenge themselves.

Effective Team Building Strategies

Let’s take a look at effective team-building strategies that can be employed to promote a sense of trust and community for the classroom, physical education, and faculty & staff.  It is important to share the benefits of team building with the participants.  The participants need to understand why team building is being used and how the activities will help them.  Setting the stage prior to participation is often called the “briefing”.  During this time, the leader sets the hard limits for the group, classroom management and safety rules.  In addition, the leader also will provide the group with goal-setting information, clarifications, and background information.  When the activity begins, the leader can provide challenges, additional instructions/interventions, and/or general guidance. At the end of the activity/session, the leader should take some time for closure.  In team building circles, this is known as a “debriefing”.  During the debriefing, the leader asks questions to generate thought process that focuses on what the group did, what they accomplished, what lessons were learned, and how learning can be transferred to daily life.  Leaders will often ask, “what, so what, and now what?”  As the facilitator, it is always important to keep in mind that without trust, success will be limited; if there is no fun, there is no motivation; if there is no challenge, there is no opportunity for growth.

Ice Breaker and Large Group Activity Ideas for Kids

The real question for most teachers is how can I use this to positively impact my classroom, gym, or school?  There are many simple ice breaker activities for kids that can be used to help your students get to know each other (5-part Handshake, Gudag, Look, Olympic Rock-Paper-Scissors, etc.).  It is recommended that teachers use these types of activities in the beginning of the school year to help build a community (this also works great for school faculties).  Once students get to know each other, the teacher can then introduce small group or large group challenges (Flying Fish, Group Juggle, Beat the Bell, Knots) to develop a sense of teamwork and foster positive cooperation, collaboration, and communication among classmates.   The challenges are excellent movement breaks for students that have a distinct purpose.  It is important to have clear cut rules for participation in all of these activities (as mentioned previously).

Engage Students Outside of Class

There are other fun ways to engage students, parents, and faculty members.  GeoCaching, which is essentially a GPS scavenger hunt, is a great activity to foster team building and communication.  With access to smartphones, this activity is more accessible than ever.  With a little time and patience, it is simple to create geocaches for groups to find on school grounds.  Another concept that is very popular is the Amazing Race.  During this activity, participants are given a list of tasks to complete (take pictures of certain objects, answer questions, collect objects, etc.) in order to “win” the race.   Often, the tasks are ordered differently for each team to add to the challenge.  The team that completes the task list first wins the challenge.  Another option is to create a team obstacle race.  These types of races have become more popular as the popularity of CrossFit has increased.  Commercial races like the Mud Run, the Warrior Dash, and the Color Dash have capitalized on the popularity of these new obstacle/fitness style races.  Schools can come up with creative ways to incorporate this concept to promote physical activity and team building.  Have you done anything like this at your school?

There are lots of great materials and resources for team building activities and exercises.  The list is actually too long to list without missing something impactful.  I suggest searching the topic via the internet or visiting:, and

SOURCE:  Cowstails and Cobras II, A Guide to Games, Initatives, Ropes Courses, and Adventure Curriculum by Karl Rohnke

One Response

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