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17 Effective Leadership Activities and Games (That Work Online Too)

Leadership development activities

More and more people are asked to lead teams nowadays in the workplace, yet the path to becoming a good leader is a long and not always straightforward one.

Practical leadership activities are a great way of moving toward that path, whether you perform them as a facilitator with your own team or with an external facilitator.

Leadership games such as those featured here are also effective at introducing leadership concepts and can be great for introducing or kicking off leadership skills training.

Leaders have both a big influence and responsibility for their teams. Some of the aspects they need to pay attention to are:

  • Setting the climate of a workplace
  • Inspiring team members
  • Setting values for their team
  • Improving team spirit and cohesion
  • Being responsible for their team’s communication and wellbeing
  • Developing leadership skills in others

These are no small responsibilities, and leadership skills do not necessarily come naturally for everyone. Dedicated work, self-awareness and being committed to personal growth is really important for gradually mastering leadership skills.

There are a number of tools to help you with leadership development. Coaching, peer support circles, and leadership development training can all help one to become a better leader.

It’s worth noting that online teams need great leadership too. In times of change or difficulty, ensuring your leaders are positioned for success and empowered to do their best work is vital. Leadership development doesn’t have to stop when work goes online. 


Below you will find a list of activities that we find particularly effective for practicing and strengthening your leadership and team-building skills. Many of the methods below are easy to use in a virtual environment with tools like Zoom and online whiteboards, and you can find specific remote tips on how to run them if they are marked as #remote-friendly.

Whether you are designing a leadership workshop for your team or want to find a great leadership game for your next executive away day, SessionLab has you covered.

Leadership development made easy

Best Leadership Development Activities

We have collected some easy-to-apply leadership activities for you from the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques. You can apply these leadership training activities right away with your team to improve teamwork, facilitate better communication and increase team cohesion.

These leadership games are particularly effective if you’re running a leadership workshop or need some exercises when running leadership skills training. Each of them can fit easily into an existing agenda or form the basis for great leadership workshops.

  • Leadership Envelopes
    • In this leadership activity, participants work in groups to translate leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours.
  • Your favourite Manager
    • Use empathy as a tool by taking the perspective of different employees and then reflect on positive and negative managerial behaviours.
  • Leadership Pizza
    • This simple leadership development framework asks each individual to think about what skills and attitudes they find most important in leadership and assess themselves before setting individual development goals.
  • Leadership Advice from your Role Model
    • This structured sharing activity invites people to think of a role model and discuss the leadership principles they observe in them.
  • Explore Your Values
    • This activity helps you identify and explore your own and your team’s most important values. It is a good exercise for initiating reflection and dialogue around personal values.
  • Your Leadership Coat of Arms
    • In this leadership building activity, participants reflect on their leadership philosophy and draw their own coat of arms symbolizing the most important values guiding their leadership approach.
  • Team Purpose & Culture
    • Helping a team align on purpose and group culture is a vital part of being an effective leader. Use this activity to create a powerful shared vision your whole team can get behind.
  • Marshmallow Challenge
    • The Marshmallow Challenge is a popular team-building activity in which teams compete to build the tallest free-standing structure with a set of specific materials. The towers need to be able to hold the weight of a marshmallow.
  • Crocodile River
    • This is a simple outdoor team building game where team members need to work together and support each other as they cross an imaginary river filled with crocodiles.
  • Chinese Puzzle
    • This group game is applicable both as an icebreaker and as a leadership game designed to focus on teamwork and collaboration. The idea is to untangle a large human knot participants have created with their interlocking hands.
  • Active Listening
    • This activity helps to improve active listening – an essential skill for any leader. Participants take turns practising active listening and peer coaching.
  • Trust Battery
    • This activity helps in recognising relationships at the workplace that may suffer from lack of trust and encourages team members to take actions to build trust.
  • Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue
    • This exercise provides a very practical framework for regular and effective feedback within teams. As a leader, you can help your team members get constructive feedback in a timely manner.
  • Team of Two
    • This leadership development activity is great for improving interpersonal and conflict resolution skills and guiding teams towards more productive working practices.  
  • What I Need From You
    • This communication exercise helps teams and leaders articulate their core needs and work together more effectively
  • Heard Seen Respected
    • This group activity helps future leaders see things from other perspectives and develop empathy and understanding.

Let’s see where do these leadership development activities help and how to apply them in your next leadership workshop.

Leaders determine the climate of a workplace

Leaders are role models to their colleagues and organization. Their working style, principles and values determine the culture that drives their organization’s behaviour.

That is why a competitive, paranoid leader can easily create an organization where coworkers are trying to push others down and think only about themselves. While a leader who is open and inclusive will create a climate of openness and inclusiveness. How they behave, and what they consider as the norm, also affects which kind of behaviours are enforced and celebrated and which behaviours are punished.

The following leadership games can help you in recognising important leadership behaviours that result in a productive workplace. A must for all leadership workshops.

Leadership Envelopes

Leadership games like this help groups translate abstract leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours. Participants work in groups to come up with real-life applications of leadership principles. The groups conduct multiple rounds of discussion to build upon each others’ ideas, and in the end, evaluate the best ideas to identify the most useful behaviours.

Leadership Envelopes #leadership #issue analysis #thiagi 

Leadership exercise in groups, working with practical leadership principles.

This activity helps groups to translate abstract leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours. Participants work in groups to come up with real-life application of leadership principles. The groups take multiple rounds to build upon the ideas of each other, and in the end, evaluate the best ideas to identify the most useful behaviours.

Your Favourite Manager

In this activity, participants take on three different employee personas and list the behaviors of a positive leader or manager and a negative one from the perspectives of those employees. After some individual reflection, participants compare their lists, first in pairs and then in groups. Finally, they collect the ultimate do’s and don’ts for managers and leaders.

Run this leadership technique online by using breakout rooms and an online whiteboard to record your findings. Remember: virtual leadership activities can be an effective way of empowering online teams!

My Favourite Manager #management #leadership #thiagi #teamwork #remote-friendly 

Participants work individually, assuming the roles of three different people and brainstorming their perceptions of three most favourite managers and three least favourite managers. Later, they work with a partner (and still later, in teams) to prepare a list of dos and don’t-s for improving employees’ perception of a manager’s style.

Leadership Pizza

This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify the skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development in these areas. This framework is also a great tool to set individual leadership development goals in a coaching process.

Try this activity when working on virtual leadership by encouraging your group to self assess and add their drawings to an online whiteboard and comment either live or asynchronously.

Leadership Pizza #leadership #team #remote-friendly 

This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

Leaders inspire others

Great leaders inspire others. It is one of the most important leadership traits and activities on this subject can help make a leadership workshop successful. However, there are many different reasons why someone will find a leader inspirational. In order to grasp what facilitates inspiring leadership, try the following exercise:

Leadership Advice from your Role Model

Everyone is asked to think of a role model they look up to and ask themselves: If a young person would ask these role models for leadership advice and what kind of advice that would be.

Facilitate a group conversation where these pieces of advice are shared and contradicting points are discussed and reconciled. Given diverse enough responses, this structured sharing activity might be a good introduction to the concept of situational leadership.

Leadership Advice from Your Role Model #skills #leadership #thiagi #role playing 

This structured sharing activity provides a faster, cheaper, and better alternative to buying and reading a lot of books: You tap into the wisdom of the group—and of their role models.

Leaders set the values of a team

Usually, the values of a leader are mirrored in the organization. If shortcuts are common practice for the leader, then she will see shortcuts made by her team members all across their projects. But if learning and self-improvement are important to the leader, then this will be a good foundation for these values in the whole organization, too.

To be more aware of your own values as a leader, try these leadership games:

Explore Your Values

Explore your Values is a group exercise for thinking on what your own and your team’s most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitions rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good leadership game to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.

Explore your Values #hyperisland #skills #values 

Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.

Your Leadership Coat of Arms

In this leadership development activity, participants are asked to draw their own coat of arms symbolising the most important elements of their leadership philosophy. The coat of arms drawings are then debriefed and discussed together with the group.

Virtual leadership activities that include a visual outcome can be especially effective in engaging remote teams. Try this one in your next online leadership workshop to create something really memorable!

Your Leadership Coat of Arms #leadership #leadership development #skills #remote-friendly 

In this leadership development activity, participants are asked to draw their own coat of arms symbolising the most important elements of their leadership philosophy. The coat of arms drawings are then debriefed and discussed together with the group.

After the exercise you may prepare a coat of arms gallery, exhibiting the leadership approach and philosophy of group members

Team Purpose & Culture

Ensuring all members of a team are aligned when it comes to purpose and cultural values is one of the jobs of a leader. Teams and organizations that have a shared and cohesive vision are often happier and more productive and by helping a group arrive at these conclusions, a good leader can help empower everyone to succeed.

The Team Purpose & Culture method is also a great virtual leadership activity. You can run this method in online environments with ease and by creating a shared virtual resource in an online whiteboard or spreadsheet, you can enable your remote team too!  

Team Purpose & Culture #team #hyperisland #culture #remote-friendly 

This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Leaders facilitate team building

Every leader has an integral role in the formations of the teams they work with. Whether you are consciously working on it or not, your attitude and actions as a leader will significantly influence team cohesion and the team spirit of the people you work with.

This comes through in small everyday actions, the way you share responsibilities, the way you empower colleagues, and the way you foster a cooperative work environment as opposed to a competitive one.

You can benefit from using the following team building activities to give a focused teamwork experience to your group in your next leadership development workshop:

Marshmallow challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a team-building activity in which teams compete to build the tallest free-standing structure out of spaghetti sticks, tape, string, and the marshmallow that needs to be on the top. This activity emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, collaboration, and innovation and problem-solving strategies.

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing #teamwork #team #leadership #collaboration 

In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.

The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.

Crocodile River

The Crocodile River is a team-building activity in which group members need to support each other in a task to move from one end of a space to another. It requires working together creatively and strategically in order to solve a practical, physical problem. It tends to emphasize group communication, cooperation, leadership and membership, patience and problem-solving.

Crocodile River #hyperisland #team #outdoor 

A team-building activity in which a group is challenged to physically support one another in an endeavour to move from one end of a space to another. It requires working together creatively and strategically in order to solve a practical, physical problem. It tends to emphasize group communication, cooperation, leadership and membership, patience and problem-solving.

Chinese Puzzle (Human Knot)

This is a simple game to help team members learn how to work together (better). It can also focus on the group’s understanding of communication, leadership, problem-solving, trust or persistence. Participants stand in a circle, close their eyes and put their hands into the circle to find two other hands to hold. Then they open their eyes and the group has to try to get back into a circle without letting go, though they can change their grip, of course.

Chinese Puzzle #energiser #ice breaker #team 

Have your group stand up in a close circle (10 to 16 people is best). They close their eyes put their hands into the circle and find two hands and hold on. Then they open their eyes and the group has to try to get back into a circle without letting go, though they can change their grip, of course.

Leaders are responsible for their team communication

Leaders are usually viewed as the parents of the organization. It is expected from them that they take care of their people and make sure that proper norms and rules are followed. One of the key areas where a leader has a large influence is the style and amount of communication between people.

Active Listening and giving effective feedback are critical skills to have as a leader, but is also crucial for your team members. In fact, the issue that leaders rank as one of the biggest barriers to successful leadership is avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, constructive feedback.

Develop good communication practices with the following leadership games and activities:

Active Listening

This activity supports participants in reflecting on a question and generating their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with this activity. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being “the subject” who will explore a question, “the listener” who is supposed to be totally focused on the subject, and “the observer” who will watch the dynamic between the other two.

Active Listening #hyperisland #skills #active listening 

This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Trust battery

Every time you work together with someone, your trust battery – the trust you have towards a certain person, or the ‘emotional credit’ that person has in your eyes – either charges or depletes based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise and the social interaction you exhibit. A low trust battery is the core of many personal issues at the workplace.

This self-assessment activity allows you and your team members to reflect on the ‘trust battery’ they individually have towards each person on the team and encourages focus on actions that can charge the depleted trust batteries.  It also works great when promoting virtual leadership and working with online teams!

Trust Battery #leadership #teamwork #team #remote-friendly 

This self-assessment activity allows you and your team members to reflect on the ‘trust battery’ they individually have towards each person on the team, and encourages focus on actions that can charge the depleted trust batteries.

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue

Regular and constructive feedback is one of the most important ingredients for effective teams. Openness creates trust, and trust creates more openness. This is an activity for teams that have worked together for some time and are familiar with giving and receiving feedback. The objective of Start, Stop, Continue is to examine aspects of a situation or develop next steps by polling people on what to start, what to stop and what to continue doing.

For those in charge of online leadership, it’s vital to find ways of having difficult conversations in constructive ways virtually – try this method when working to resolve issues with your distributed team!

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue #hyperisland #skills #feedback #remote-friendly 

Regular, effective feedback is one of the most important ingredients in building constructive relationships and thriving teams. Openness creates trust and trust creates more openness. Feedback exercises aim to support groups to build trust and openness and for individuals to gain self-awareness and insight. Feedback exercises should always be conducted with thoughtfulness and high awareness of group dynamics. This is an exercise for groups or teams that have worked together for some time and are familiar with giving and receiving feedback. It uses the words “stop”, “start” and “continue” to guide the feedback messages.

Reflection: Team

All leaders know the value of structured and considered reflection. Teams that take the time to reflect and improve are those that can grow and by creating an environment of reflection, team leaders and managers can help their group move forward together.

This method is effective for both offline and virtual leadership development. It helps a group progress from individual reflection through to full group discussion in a way that encourages constructive thought and minimizes potential frustration or antagonistic conversation. 

Reflection: Team #hyperisland #team 

The purpose of reflecting as a team is for members to express thoughts, feelings and opinions about a shared experience, to build openness and trust in the team, and to draw out key learnings and insights to take forward into subsequent experiences. Team members generally sit in a circle, reflecting first as individuals, sharing those reflections with the group, then discussing the insights and potential actions to take out of the session. Use this session one or more times throughout a project or program.

Team of Two 

Whether you’re leading a team of just a few people or hundreds, the reality is that many of your discussions and interactions with the people you will lead will be interpersonal and one-on-one in nature. Developing the skillset you need to solve issues in your team when they arise and finding ways to ensure these conversations are productive is one of the most important things you can do as a leader.

Use Team of Two whether working online or as part of an in-person session to help your working pairs and interpersonal relationships go from strength to strength. By articulating needs and consequences clearly, this leadership exercise helps people communicate efficiently and see the results they need – a must for anyone in a leadership role! 

Team of Two #communication #active listening #issue analysis #conflict resolution #issue resolution #remote-friendly #team 

Much of the business of an organisation takes place between pairs of people. These interactions can be positive and developing or frustrating and destructive. You can improve them using simple methods, providing people are willing to listen to each other.

“Team of two” will work between secretaries and managers, managers and directors, consultants and clients or engineers working on a job together. It will even work between life partners.

Leaders are responsible for developing leadership skills in others 

It’s not enough for a leader to be good at delegating, spotting opportunities and directing a team toward success – the best leaders know the value of creating future leaders and enabling leadership potential in their team.  

Leadership development is a common career trajectory for many employees and great leaders know that helping staff develop the necessary skills with activities, games and techniques is part of their role. 

What I Need From You

One of the most important leadership skills to cultivate is clarity: being clear in what you expect and need from others in your organisation or group is an integral component of high functioning teams. With What I Need From You, each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to articulate their core needs to others and respond in a structured way.

This kind of clear, direct action is great at unblocking conversational roadblocks – a must for virtual workplaces – and is something all leaders should have in their toolkit.

What I Need From You (WINFY) #issue analysis #liberating structures #team #communication 

People working in different functions and disciplines can quickly improve how they ask each other for what they need to be successful. You can mend misunderstandings or dissolve prejudices developed over time by demystifying what group members need in order to achieve common goals. Since participants articulate core needs to others and each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to respond, you boost clarity, integrity, and transparency while promoting cohesion and coordination across silos: you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again!

Heard Seen Respected

Standing in the shoes of others, practicing empathy and ensuring that everyone on a team is able to be heard is a necessity for great leaders and your team in general. In this activity, participants shift between telling stories where they were not heard, seen or respected and then being listeners who do not pass judgment. 

Remember that leadership training activities should start with the fundamentals of good leadership. Keeping things simple with an activity like Heard Seen Respected can be an especially effective option whether you’re working online or offline. 

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR) #issue analysis #empathy #communication #liberating structures #remote-friendly 

You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Now over to you…

I hope you have found some useful tips for leadership development workshops above. Now we’d love to hear from you!

What are your favourite leadership workshop ideas and training exercises for leadership development? Did you incorporate any of them into your facilitation practice?

Have you tried any of the activities above? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.

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22 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing such great activity ideas. It is greatly appreciated and a perfect example of how the internet can and does serve the greater good!

  2. Thank you for the magnanimity of sharing these activities.
    We will choose and run and I am sure they will be very effective.

  3. Thank you so much . I am really having a hard time thinking about what activities to include for my leadership training talk . This is of great help .

  4. These exercises sound great. Does anyone have any feedback as to how these exercises have worked with their teams? Thanks!

    1. Thank you for the question, Jennifer. We’ve used some of these activities at our own team meetings at SessionLab, and I’ve used other ones earlier on at different training workshops. Which one would you be interested to hear more about?

  5. Thank you for these activities, I have used some of them already in my classes when teaching about leadership and leadership styles. Köszönöm!

    1. That’s great to hear, you’re welcome, Réka!
      If you have any suggestion on how to tweak or run better these activities, we’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

  6. Thank you for these activities. I was struggling to find activities to work on with groups as small as 1-5, but this should work well.

    1. You’re welcome, Albert – Indeed, most of these activities do work well in small groups as well. Wishing best with your next sessions!

  7. Hi I am trying to find an online simulation for a course I am designing for a college in Ontario, Canada. I am hoping to find something like your Leadership Envelope but in a virtual format or game. The ’rounds’ aspect is particularly interesting as I would like the students to work with one team over 14 weeks and then submit assigned work based on their experiences related to the course concepts.

    Please let me know if you provide something like this or can help in any way.

    Thanks

    1. Hey Rick! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Leadership Envelope is a great method! Sadly, there’s nothing quite like it in our remote-friendly section of the library currently, though there are a heap of virtual team building activities that could be adapted to go for multiple rounds.

      We did have some thoughts on how you might perform the Leadership Envelope in a remote format, which I hope will help!

      – Use breakout groups in Zoom for each group.
      – Have each team pass their virtual “envelope” with responses to the facilitator, either over Slack, PM or email
      – The facilitator then “passes” the leadership principle to the next team, though keeps the responses back
      – Play continues, with the facilitator collecting the responses under each leadership principle for later distribution – we’d recommend setting these up in an online whiteboard such as Mural or a Google Doc so teams can review them during the evaluation round
      – In the evaluation round, share the online whiteboard/Google Doc with the teams – they can then score them in the shared online space and present back to the group from there 🙂
      – For the final round, everyone returns to a single Zoom session, each team reclaims their cards (or the facilitator can distribute them back) and then you can debrief 🙂

      Hope that helps, Rick! Using a shared online space such as Mural is also a great shout for an ongoing course, as you can collect and display artifacts generated by the teams throughout 🙂

      Let us know how you get on!

      James

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