We know. It’s almost impossible to read – let alone type – the phrase “team building activities” without rolling your eyes. They can lead to awkward interactions at the best of times and bad memories at the worst.

But there is a better way. With the right activity and a positive attitude (bear with us), team building activities can actually improve your workplace morale and tighten your team.

In fact, numerous high-profile companies, including Google, Zapier and Buffer, all prioritize employee happiness and company retreats.

“Leaders need to allow for the creation of an emotional safety net to develop within their teams,” Shawn Stratton wrote about Google’s team building. “One way to create this environment is to carve out time for people to actually share their feelings and not just updates on the latest reports or budget numbers.”

There’s logic behind the hollowed-out phrase that is “team building.” So if you want to dive into the team building spirit — and spend as little money as possible — here are 10 ways to do it right while also not torturing your team.

Tackle a Trivia Night

Not every employee may be a trivia aficionado, but everyone knows… well, something. Find a trivia night and take your team out. It’s a good environment for people with different knowledge sets to prove what otherwise useless facts they’ve got hiding in their noggins, and often leads to surprising team members with their trivia prowess in some field or another.

Sell an Item Off Your Desk

This one’s a little sneaky. Get everyone to grab an item off their desk and bring it to a boardroom or office. Then ask each team member to sell you that item with a pitch. There doesn’t have to be a winner here, but feel free to award points to whoever is the funniest, most original or most convincing.

Build a Rube Goldberg Machine

Who doesn’t love creating random, messy things? Rube Goldberg machines are those wild contraptions you’ve probably seen on YouTube – they accomplish a simple task (e.g., turning on a light switch) by way of an incomprehensibly complicated contraption that takes over a minute to complete. Divide your team into small groups of three or so and let them loose to see who can create the most impressive one in an hour.   

Bad Movie Night

What’s the best bad film you can think of? Bring it in and watch it as a team. Make some popcorn and some memories. This works for remote teams, too; you can watch it simultaneously and then have a good laugh together. It’s just a fun, easy way to hang out without the added pressure of constant interaction.

Monthly Book Club

This doesn’t have to be for everyone in the office, but getting a company book club together is a great way to learn more about your coworkers in a very different setting. Have a different group member choose the book each month – and probably best to keep the recommendations under a certain page count to make the reading manageable.

Formal Fridays

Casual Fridays are so passé – and, besides, most companies are heading toward less formal outfits anyway. Why not spruce it up with a Formal Friday instead? Dress to the nines – fancy suits, prom dresses and silk ties all around. If you really want to glam it up, you can order some hors d’oeuvres for a cocktail-style brunch. (If this gets a little too pricey, you could stick with just the last Friday of every month.)

Team Scavenger Hunt

In addition to being a great way to draw out natural personality traits among team members (e.g., leaders, helpers, cheerleaders), scavenger hunts are just plain fun. Divide your team into groups of three or four and let them loose around the office to find your listed objects, or set the bounds outside of the office and capture photographs of objects around the city.

Board Game Afternoon

Monopoly? Scrabble? Settlers of Catan? Bring in a few board games (or take the team out to a board game cafe) and wind down with some good ol’ fashioned competitive play that will inevitably end with frustrated table-flipping.

Paint a Picture, One Piece at a Time  

Okay, so this one won’t be completely free, but it’s still an excellent and surprisingly cool trick. Buy a bunch of 4×6-inch canvases and print out a single large portrait to the same size as all the canvases put together. (So if you had 16 canvases, arranged four by four, you’d have a 24×16 photo printed out.) Cut the photo into pieces the size of the canvases, so each canvas has one picture piece attached to it. Then have each team member use paint to recreate their piece of the picture on their canvas. If you have 16 team members (in this hypothetical situation), you’ll end up with a fully recreated picture, painted in different styles by everyone. It will honestly look cooler than you think.   

team building activities

Imagine something like this, but with every canvas painted by a different – perhaps endearingly incompetent – painter.

Hold a Staring Contest

Also known as “making eye contact” (ew), partner up your team and have them stare into each others’ eyes for a full minute. Then switch partners. The idea is simply to make people more comfortable around each other — after the initial awkwardness, it may just work.