ok. Frankly, I think this is kind of a cheesy topic. Yes, even for me. In fact, I often don't like planning team building things, or talking about them. I guess I get the sense that people don't think they will be fun - I have to convince them to participate.
But, I do it. I plan activities, block time on calendars and I pretend it will be fun. And ..... it is. These are the types of things making small groups know each other better - they create common things to make fun of later on, they bring software engineers next to accountants. People remember these activities, they mention it to their friends and family, and it builds a unique culture.
Without giving it too much thought, here are some things we have done here.
Trivia: Pull unique facts, past jobs, and awards from employee resumes. Ask employees to send you 2 things others don't know about them. Get essential facts about your business (#1 customer service complaint, top account, whatever). Or even asking what Rose's home town was Golden Girls or what drink B.A. Baracus was scared of. End a Town Hall meeting with Trivia, with the winner getting a huge bag of Swedish fish candy, gift certificate, or $200!
Join a bike ride: - A small team of employees, friends and family volunteered as marshals for the New York City Century Ride. We got to the ride for free, help guide people along the route, and bike through the hear of New York. It was fantastic.
Tent building: Divide your employees into teams of 4-6 or so (hopefully people that don't work often together). Half the team is blind folded, no talking allowed, and assembles the tent. The others instruct without touching. Make sure you blindfold a couple of managers - it would be nice to have those normally giving directions to see what it feels like. First team done wins. This can take 30 minutes, can be frustrating, but is memorable. You don't even have to follow up with a discussion about 'what you learned' and 'how did it feel to be blind folded and not get enough information' - that might not be so fun. Pack up the tents nicely and return them when you are done.
Gong: Hang a gong (or bell or something loud and significant) and ring it when something big happens in the office. A milestone. Let the employee who helped make it happen explain to the others the reason for the gong.
Bathroom decorating contest: We had very bland, all white little bathroom stalls. No personality. If you want to have a sweet start-up in SoHo, bland and boring isn't going to do. Divide into teams (i.e. men vs woman, engineer vs sales), set a budget of $50 and a deadline of Friday. Invite your customers to come down and judge the winner. This likely wasn't down with a $50 budget, but look what you can do!
Nerf darts: Do you consider your workplace fun if you don't throw nerf darts across the room?
Volunteer: Go to a soup kitchen and help prep food. It might sound unpleasant, but we went and it was awesome. We were tired and busy but mixing hundreds of pounds of raw beef with your hands next to your boss in a hair net is fun. We also really felt like we were doing something good, and that we should do it more often.
Slide show: You'd better be taking pictures of Holiday parties, days in the office, after work events, et al - put them in slide show and show them before your a meeting or company Anniversary party.
Gallery Tour: In New York you can go check out loads of art galleries for free. Take a morning with the team, browse the galleries, get some creative juices flowing, talk with co-workers.
Do a, cliche, Adventure ropes course (looks like New York City Department of Parks and Rec has a program) or make your own in the parking lot. Have a dessert potluck. Every other week have an employee lead a meeting on a topic of their choosing (how to write a java Hello World, make sushi, understand a complex part of your product). Organize a during work Call of Duty II capture the flag game video game session.
Every once in awhile do something. It doesn't have to cost anything (or much) and can make work fun, help you communicate better with your co-workers, and all that retention, recognition, refresh, productivity type stuff. What do you do?