There are hundreds of empowerment activities that are great for building up self-confidence and increasing the odds that a person will be successful. Many of these activities are geared towards specific groups; e.g., women or young girls. However, there are also activities designed for everyone and below are examples of each of these.
What Are Empowerment Activities?
Simply put, these are activities designed to increase a person’s feelings of empowerment and one of the most common places to find these activities is the workplace. The activities are usually games and make the employees feel as if they’re only having fun. However, they serve a much more important purpose. Thanks to these activities, employees:
- Become more accountable for their actions
- Feel much more valued by their employers
- Resolve problems a lot more quickly
- Are more in tune with the organization as a whole
- Are much more attentive
- Are more invested in their work
- Deliver much better customer service
- Experience much greater job satisfaction
In short, empowerment games make employees better employees. They give those individuals a sense of belonging and a shot of self-confidence that many of them need. In response, they do a better job at everything they do, increasing not only their own productivity but the company’s as well.
Empowerment Games and Activities for the Workplace
Workplace games and activities for empowerment are truly invaluable. When employees feel empowered, it improves both their personal lives and their work lives. It is a win-win situation. Below are some of the empowerment games that many companies use to help their employees, although these activities can be used with other groups as well.
1. Egg drop. To use skills such as communication and decision-making, each team gets masking tape to make a basket out of a raw egg and straws to hold the eggs inside the basket. The teams have 30 to 45 minutes to create a basket, cushion the egg, and drop the basket two to three stories (think parking garage!) without breaking the egg.
2. Minefield. Listening and communication skills are needed for this game. Have someone spread different items around on the floor or ground, then blindfold the participants. Assign each participant someone without a blindfold and that person will help the participant find as many items as possible without touching the participant.
3. Brainstorming. The team gets together in a circle. The leader introduces a problem that must be solved and times the activity at 30 minutes. The participants contribute as many ideas as possible during those 30 minutes. No negative comments are allowed and no idea is disregarded. This is great for brainstorming and problem-solving as a group.
4. Stories. Employees learn patience and problem-solving with this exercise. Get a set of pictorial cards that tells a sequential story and give each participant one card. Employees cannot show their cards to others. Participants try to come up with the story on their own by working together to determine what the story is.
5. M&Ms. This is one of the many empowerment activities that stresses teamwork. Get several packages of M&Ms and take all of the blue ones out. Divide the remaining candies so that each employee gets a bag. Then, randomly place four blue M&Ms in four of those bags before giving them to the employees. Give them vague instructions; e.g., tell them to collect as many of one color as they can and they can do this any way they want. Soon they will start working together instead of separately to see how many of the same color they can amass during the game.
6. Bucket game. Get a pile of pennies and put a bucket on one end of the room. Have all the participants except one go outside, then blindfold all of them and give each of them one penny. When one participant comes inside, the un-blindfolded employee guides the blindfolded employee to the bucket using only vocal commands. This is a great game to learn about leadership styles. It takes a certain type of leader to guide people to the bucket without frustrating the employee. A successful leader can do it, however.
All Types of Activities
As you can see, empowerment games are both fun and educational. Each one of them teaches something valuable to employees and to anyone else who wants to play the game. See below for even more examples of this.
7. Shipwrecked. This is a great game to teach listening and understanding skills. Separate participants into two groups. Give each member of both groups paper and pen and tell them that they are shipwrecked and have to come up with five items for survival. Next, each group has to decide on a final set of five survival items, which means that they have to work together to decide on those five items. The one who finishes the list first wins.
8. Human knot exercise. Have employees get in groups of 10 and each group of 10 must form a circle. One at a time, each person has to take the hand of another person in the group and it cannot be the person standing next to him or her. Soon, a human knot will form and employees must work together to untangle it without letting go of their hands.
9. Chicken, dog, and rice. This is a great problem-solving exercise. Assign one person as the farmer and the rest are villagers. The farmer has to cross the river with the three items but he can only take one item per trip. Remember that leaving the dog with the chicken is dangerous because the dog can eat the chicken; the chicken will also eat the rice. Villagers have to help the farmer decide which item to bring across the river first without endangering the rest of them.
10. Two different sides. Break up the participants into groups of two. The first person has to relate to the other one something negative that happened to him or her. The second one then has to find the silver lining in the story. It is great for teaching employees how to work together towards a solution.
11. Line up according to birthdays. Groups get in a line in the order of their birthdays (month and day). The catch? No one is allowed to talk so each participant has to “tell” his or her birthday using something other than voice. In most cases, a leader will step forward and help the group decide how best to do this.
12. Circle activity. Have small groups stand in circles and stand behind a long string that encircles the entire group. The group then has to make different shapes with the string on their own. This is a great exercise for building leadership because often a leader will automatically come forward to help the rest of the group.
13. Drawing pictures. Communication and innovation are at the core of many empowerment activities, including this one. It is a two-person game. One person looks at a picture that the other person cannot see. The other person has to attempt to draw the object as the first person describes the object. However, the first person cannot say “it’s a heart” but must use descriptive terms such as “there are water drops on it” for leaves, etc.
14. Telling a lie. People get into small groups and take turns making four different statements — three that are true and one that is a lie. The other people in the group have to guess which one is false. It highlights the preconceived judgements that many people have and stresses the importance of body language.
15. Flipping over. Have six to eight people stand on a blanket or tarp. Leave roughly one quarter of the blanket without anyone standing on it. The participants have to work together to figure out how to flip the blanket over using just their feet and without getting off of the blanket or onto the floor. Collaboration is the main point of this exercise.
16. Salt and pepper. Take sheets of paper to correspond with each participant. Write sets of words such as “salt”, “pepper”, “black”, “white”, and others. Write one of these words on each sheet of paper, then tape that paper on the back of one of the participants, who cannot know what the word is. Then each participant has to find his or her “partner.” How do they do this? Only by asking simple “yes” or “no” questions and nothing else!
17. Jigsaw puzzle game. Get several complex jigsaw puzzles; the number of puzzles has to correspond to the number of groups you have. Each group has to work together to put the jigsaw puzzle together. The first group that completes the puzzle wins.
Women and Girls Are Included
The best part about these empowerment games is that anyone can benefit from them, not just people who work together. Empowerment games for girls, women, and students often include the following games, which can be altered whenever necessary.
18. Goodie bag game. In this activity, there are numerous groups of three to eight people each. Each group gets a goodie bag with random items in it. Each group has to perform a skit based on what is in their goodie bag and nothing else. This is a good game for getting people to step outside of their comfort zone and work with other people.
19. Scavenger hunts. This is perfect for improving teamwork and creativity. Simply get each team to find as many items on a list as possible. The team that finds the most items wins. Make sure that there is a deadline so the game doesn’t go on forever.
20. Puzzles. Get several preschool puzzles and take them apart. Set the participants up in small groups and blindfold each member. Place the undone puzzle in front of them and tell them that they have to work together to put together the puzzle. Place an un-blindfolded leader in front of them to guide them in the right direction using only words and nothing else.
21. Creating memories. Give each participant a post-it note and place a whiteboard in front of the room. Have each participant write down a favorite memory from work, then have each one of them stand and tell the rest of the group about the memory. After they’re finished, they must go to the whiteboard and place their post-it notes on there. This is great for trips down memory lane!
22. Tug-of-war expanded. This is similar to regular tug-of-war except that three or four teams are tugging at the same time with the same sets of rope, which have been tied together. It creates teamwork and sportsmanship because it lends some creativity to the standard tug-of-war game.
23. Categorize these items. Place roughly 25 random items on a table so that all participants can see them. Divide the group into teams and each team must categorize the items into categories. How many categories? Four, ten, it doesn’t matter! When they’re done, have a spokesperson from each group tell how and why they categorized the items the way they did.
24. Marketing 101. Divide the group into teams and each team has to come up with a product to try to sell to the other teams. The “product” has to be a random item from the room. They have to come up with a logo, a slogan, and a specific strategy. Then each group gets up and tries to “sell” the item to the other teams. The one that does the best job wins.
25. Listen to me. This exercise is great for improving communication skills. Divide the group into teams and assign a leader to each team. Have the leader read a document aloud to the other members. The leader has to read it in a monotone voice and the document has to contain non-related phrases and boring jargon. Have each member of the team then tell what he or she thought that the document was about.
26. Balloon time. Have each participant write down a question on a small piece of paper and then place it inside of a balloon. Have them blow up and tie the balloon. When everyone’s done, throw the balloons in the air and let the employees tap them to keep them up in the air. After a while, tell them to grab a random balloon. Each employee has to pop the balloon and try to answer the question inside of it.
27. Sticks or canes. Have participants break into groups of eight to twelve people and form two lines facing each other. Place a stick or cane on the index finger of one of the participants in each group. The goal is to lower the stick to the ground without grabbing it or touching it with anything except the index finger. Each member can take over for another member of the group at any time to help with the task.
28. Build a marshmallow tower. Each team gets masking tape, some string, sticks of spaghetti, and one marshmallow. They have to build a tower and place the marshmallow on the very top. The catch is that the tower has to stand on its own for five seconds. This improves teamwork and creativity.
29. Triangle game. Each group forms a triangle and there is a “spinner” inside of the triangle. The spinner has to spin around; as this happens, the people making up the triangle split up and get into a different order, standing next to a different person this time. However, by the time that the spinner has stopped spinning, the triangle members have to get back into their original position and original order. This is a great memory game!
30. Building blocks game. Get into teams and have someone show them a structure built with building blocks. The teams have 30 seconds to look at it, then it is brought to another section of the room. Each team is given building blocks to recreate the structure and each member gets a turn at building. Each member can look back at the original structure for 10 seconds before starting to build. The first team to finish the structure wins.
Not All Activities Are Alike
As you can tell, activities that center on empowerment vary greatly from one to the other. Not all of them are appropriate or beneficial for all groups. However, with so much variety, it is very easy to find the activity that is right for your particular group.
31. Paper airplanes are fun. Have each team design what they consider to be the perfect paper airplane. See which team’s airplane can fly the farthest. The one that flies the farthest wins the game. This is definitely one of the most fun empowerment activities out there.
32. Scrambling shoes. Each participant takes off his or her shoes and throws them in one big pile. Separate everyone into teams and each team forms a line around the stack of shoes. The first member of the team has to find his or her shoes in the pile, put them on, then run to the back of the line. The remaining members do the same one at a time. The first team that completes the task wins.
33. Camera phones. Each four- or five-member team must go around and take photos of items that you have asked them to find. Assign points to each of these items. When the teams come back, tally up the points to see who wins.
34. Beach ball fun. Blow up a few beach balls and have each team keep their ball in the air using a certain number of hits and no more. No one can hit the ball more than once at a time. This is much harder than it looks! The leader lets the groups know how many hits they get.
35. Two at a time. In groups of two, each person sits down with his or her back to the other person. They link arms from behind, then try to stand up while keeping their arms linked. To make it even harder, you can instruct the partners not to talk to one another.
36. Teamwork. Each team of two similarly sized individuals face one another and place their palms together. Each one then slides his or her feet back an inch or two at a time. Soon, each partner is relying on the other partner to hold him or her up. They have to do this until one of them falls or stumbles.
37. Body work. In this exercise, teams of eight to twelve members use their bodies to make shapes and numbers by lying on the floor. One member has to guess what the rest of the team is trying to make. It can be shapes, numbers, words, or even short phrases. This is one of the most innovative empowerment activities developed.
38. Exposing stereotypes. Write down phrases — both positive and negative — to describe people. Write each phrase on a sheet of paper and tape it to the back of a person without letting that person know what the phrase is. The group sits in a circle but first each member of the group gets a look at the paper on the back of the individual. Next, the individual tries to guess the phrase simply by how the others are reacting. It can be a negative or positive phrase and it doesn’t have to match the individual’s personality. Phrases can include things such as “grumpy”, “motivated”, “lazy”, “go-getter”, etc.
39. Swap shop. This one is good for big groups. Separate them into two groups and have them face one another. They have to study the people on the other side of them for 15 seconds. Then one group turns around for around 30 seconds while the other group changes something about themselves — takes off a necklace, swaps shoes with someone else, etc. After 30 seconds, the first group has to turn, face the other group once again, and then guess what is different about them.
Some Basic Empowerment Activities
Of course, you don’t have to go to the above extent to get something valuable when you’re researching empowerment games. Sometimes the very basic activities are the best. Below are a few examples.
40. Breathing exercises. Spend a certain amount of time breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth with your eyes closed. Each time that you exhale, try to make it even larger. Picture it being bigger than your body, then bigger than your home, then bigger than your city, etc. Stay relaxed while you concentrate on that breathing.
41. No whining. Make a commitment to do no whining or complaining for an entire month. At first, you may not go more than 15 minutes without a whine or complaint. This changes over time, however. The more you concentrate on it, the better at it you will be, and soon that one month will be easy to accommodate.
42. Make a “do not do” list. Instead of a to-do list, make a list of what you want to stop doing. This can include hanging out with negative people, cutting out toxic family members from your life, and even ceasing to do something at work that may not be effective but you’re doing it because “it’s always been done that way”.
43. Sing along. Divide participants into groups of three or four people. The leader gives each group a word and the groups have to come up with songs that contain that word. They then have to sing each song. The team with the most songs wins.
44. Passing the rope. Each group of three to four members stands close together and is given a rope tied in a circle. The team has to pass through the circle together. Whoever does this the most times in the allotted timeframe wins the game.
Certain empowerment activities are called icebreakers. This is because many times, the groups participating don’t really know one another very well. Below are a few activities that are specifically labeled as icebreakers and most are made specifically for women.
45. Greetings, friends. This one is perfect for people who do not know one another at all. Tell everyone to go around the room and introduce himself or herself to someone in a certain way. This can include greeting them as if he or she is a long-lost friend, as if you have a secret, or as if you’re extremely scared, nervous, or happy.
46. Purses are important. Divide people into two teams and give them a list of items that you want them to find in their purses. Set a timer for three minutes and see how many items each team can find in that amount of time. The team that found the most items wins.
47. Beach ball fun. Take a large beach ball and write a question on each section of the ball. Toss the ball to one person on the team and he or she has to answer the question under her right palm. Let each person get a chance to answer one of the questions.
48. Circle of trust. Choose an even number for your group and have everyone stand in the circle shoulder-to-shoulder and holding hands. Start when one person says “in” and then leans in towards the middle of the circle. The second person says “out” and then leads outwards. Continue until everyone is leaning in or out. The goal is to finish this exercise without anyone falling.
49. Being queen is good. Give each woman a 3”x5” index card and have her write down five things that she would do if she suddenly became queen. It has to be five laws that she would enact that everyone would have to follow. Collect the cards and read each of the aloud without indicating who the author is.
50. Ad lib for fun. Each participate writes down an adjective on a card or sheet of paper. Fold each paper up and place them in a box. Have the participants take turns and when their turns arrive, have them read a children’s story but replace the adjectives in the book with the ones on the paper.
51. Guess what? Take cards or sheets of paper and write down words on each of them. In addition to the word, write a short description of it without using any form of the word itself, then put all of the papers in a box. Have the participants sit in a circle and the first one will choose a paper from the box and use the description to make another participant guess what the word is. He or she should do this with the person directly across from him or her. As soon as someone guesses the word, he or she is out of the game.
52. Questions to break the ice. Write questions onto pieces of paper or postcards and put them in a box. When it comes to a certain participant’s turn, ask that person the question and enjoy the response. Questions can include silly questions such as, “if you were an animal, what would you want to be?”, “what is your favorite color and how does it make you feel?”, and “if you could spend the day on a park bench, who would you want next to you?”
53. People have favorites. In this icebreaker, there are no wrong answers. No one is embarrassed or uncomfortable because they are simple and basic questions. Ask about their favorite trees, color, pets, movies, vacation spots, etc. There is no end to the possible questions to ask!
Empowerment activities are designed for specific groups such as women and girls or even for general groups such as co-workers and students. There are dozens of websites that consist of these types of games and activities and you can even make up some of your own. Many of the activities may not feel as if they’re teaching you anything but there is always a learning angle.
Empowerment games are usually very simple and many of them are made to break the ice and get people to feel more comfortable around one another. All of them, however, give their participants a sense of empowerment and increase their self-confidence. This, in turn, helps them in both their personal and their work-related lives.