Every trainer and facilitator has their favorite engagement activity.  Some like the more active interventions such as rope courses; others prefer the more “touchy-feely” ones like trust walks; still others like using blind-folded instruction, or simulations like Gold of the Desert King.

Yet, of all the team building activities I have experienced, my favorite by far is an activity called Crossing the River.  I’ll describe the exercise first and then I’ll tell you why I think it is so great.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

Crossing the River is ideal for 8-16 people. If you have up to 24, you can choose several to be observers and assign them different sections of the Points for Observation. If you have more than 24 participants, you can split into multiple teams that do the exercise all at the same time, each with their separate “rivers” they have to cross. As each team completes the activity, they let out a team cheer.

  • Objective: Have all members of the team cross the river at the same time
  • Preparation: Create 3 islands by taping together four 8.5×11 sheets of paper. Create a pebble for each person by cutting sheets of paper in half lengthwise to form 4.25×11 sheets. Create on rock (an 8.5×11 sheet) for every six participants. Tape off an open area at least 10 medium strides (25-30 feet) long and six strides wide. Place the islands as shown in the diagram.
  • Basic Instructions: Have all participants stand on the left side of the bank. Hand out a copy of the instruction sheet to each person, and review the situation and rules together. Then, give two minutes for questions. The clock starts after the last question is answered.

Download our eBook for the full instructions on this engagement activity.

What makes Crossing the River so great for team building?

  1. The goal requires team planning and execution; the team has to come together for success.
  2. No one can do it on his/her own; the team either succeeds or fails together.
  3. The exercise breaks down barriers; it requires people to share their thoughts, share their resources, and share their space.
  4. And, perhaps most interestingly, the time limit creates a sense of urgency that frequently results in people defaulting to the same behaviors they do in the workplace: those who typically
    take over, do so in this exercise; people who drop out also do the same; people who frequently serve as naysayers often take on this same role when faced with Crossing the River.