Creating Successful Winter Team Building Activities for City Folk

Indoor Team Building NYC

I read an article this week about a guy who took his team on an “extreme team building exercise,” a survival-type adventure spent in the picturesque environs of a Slovakian military base. Attendees spent day and night shivering in the freezing cold, all the while with members of the Slovakian special forces screaming at them. Have you heard of this?

Me neither – sounds like fun though, right?

Maybe if you like being outdoors in the Eastern European winter, and enjoy being berated by armed commandos. But for us urbanites, the words “team building” and “freezing cold” don’t mix (then again, let’s face it – both phrases send a shiver down most people’s spines).

I remember when I was working freelance for a scavenger hunt company which specialized in corporate team building here in NYC, and I got notice that there was a rare winter event scheduled (most scavenger hunts are held outdoors, hence their popularity in the summer – winter hunts are typically relegated to museums). Eager to earn some extra cash, I arrived only to find that this was, in fact, an outdoor hunt – in what was easily single-digit weather, with snow and wind. Over the next 6 hours, I nearly froze to death right alongside the miserable participants.

So how, then, are you supposed to run a successful winter team building activity in NYC or other urban environment? Here are a few tips to take home when planning your event:

  1. Hold it Indoors – I don’t mean to belabor the point, but seriously – city people hate being outside in the freezing cold. We have no cars, which means we have to walk to the train, the subway or wherever else we’re going, and we don’t want to spend one minute longer outside than we have to. Pick a warm, comfy venue, and stay there. Period.
  1. Don’t Make it Too Physically Demanding – City people are famously dedicated to our fitness and appearance, watching our diets and hitting the gym year-round. That said, this does tend to take a hit in the winter, when those miserably cold mornings make the trek to Crunch far less appealing than toasting a bagel in your PJ’s. We also feel extra burdened with our heavy coats, sweaters and snow boots. So please, don’t make us do too much running around.
  1. Start Early or Late in the Day, but Not in Between – Thanks to our rural farmer friends, daylight is scarce in the winter. When the sun starts to fade and it’s still mid-afternoon, this can be summed up in a single word: depressing. And that’s no time to hold a morale-boosting team building event. Catch people in their best moods: either in the morning when it’s bright and sunny, or at nighttime, well after the sun has set.

When it comes to winter team building activities in NYC or other cities, it really does matter when, where and how you hold your event. Take care when planning, so that your people will get the most out of the experience.


  1. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis on January 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Great tips. Clearly the company that organized your winter scavenger hunt didn’t know what they were doing. We’ve done them as recreational activities or as part of team building sessions with great success.

    My company has regularly been offering winter team building retreats with outdoor components for over 12 years now. Maybe this seems a bit strange considering my Jamaican blood. 😉

    With respect to your “Hold it Indoors” tip, we have had great success integrating indoor and outdoor activities and exercises. I started to write them out but found I had enough for a full blog post. you have inspire me. I will come back and share the link when it is ready. Here are just a couple of key ones:

    – a few weeks before the team building session, provide a full briefing about what to pack and what to wear
    – at the beginning of the retreat or team building session, full instructions about how to layer and dress to stay warm
    – give the instructions for each activity in an indoor setting to minimize the amount of time that people are just standing around (getting cold) outdoors
    – keep people moving when they are outdoors (dog sledding, snow shoeing, broomball, hockey, etc.) trust me, they’ll stay warm
    – keep the outdoor periods short and have them first thing in the morning, before lunch or before a break to minimize the disruption of changing into and out of winter gear

    Here is how it all comes together:

    Here are a couple of examples of what we’ve done for winter team building. Like me, these are all city slickers.

    The first example is an American executive team involved quinzhee building and the group elected to sleep in them overnight. Never compel people to do this. The group indicated that the overnight winter camping was one of the best team bonding activities they had experienced.

    • david on January 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you Anne for the comprehensive reply! Surely there are exceptions to the rule regarding outdoor team building activities during the winter; my only point is that New Yorkers such as me generally detest being outside in the cold if we don’t have to be, and that if the goal is to create a positive shared experience among a group, that indoor activities might be better received. But you cite a few good examples here.

      • Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis on January 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

        As a Jamaican, even though I grew up in Montreal, winter isn’t my favourite season but I had to find a way to make winter team building and events enjoyable for me and my other winter averse participants.

        I hope these tips keep you from freezing next time. Thank you for the inspiration!

        • david on January 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

          Awesome- thanks for sharing!

  2. MichalTuffel on August 16, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Well, team building should not be a complete physical task rather a task that involves your IQ and also involving the co-ordination between the team members. If you are looking for indoor team building game, you can opt for dumb charades as it is mentally challenging and is a favourite among people.

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