It can be tricky to find the right teambuilding activity for your group — something that suits diverse personalities and won't violate varying comfort zones. The following programs will inspire and excite your participants and get them working together toward a common goal while encouraging new ideas and natural leaders to emerge.

1. Kitchen Confidential: Pressure Cooker

Flour may fly — and that's not necessarily a bad thing — during Pressure Cooker, an activity that gives groups two hours to cook dinner for themselves or top clients. Under the watchful eye of Albuquerque celebrity chef Jim White, teams create a four-course meal from scratch, with minimal tutelage (aside from kitchen safety and basic knife skills). We're not talking rubber chicken either — menus can include challenging dishes such as Beef Wellington, stuffed salmon, and crème brûlée.

The event is held in a cooking school or a restaurant during off hours, with prep stations stocked with recipes, ingredients, and tools. Teams must decide what to cook first and how to get the ingredients they may be missing. (Hint: It's intentionally set up so that teams must barter with each other for some supplies.)

Timing and coordination are everything, says Peter Grazier, founder and president of Teambuilding Inc., which organizes the program. “This is a high-intensity, goal-driven activity that requires people to coordinate very closely.”

Leaders often rise from unexpected places, Grazier adds. “This activity shows a whole new range of skills to coworkers. People always surprise you.”

When the cooking is done, the chef serves the meal, talking about each course and pairing it with wine. He'll also serve up business lessons, pointing out how the ways people did (or didn't) work together in the kitchen translate to the workplace.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 15 to 20

COST: $3,500 plus travel expenses accommodates up to 10 participants, including dinner

TIME: three hours

LOCATION: anywhere you can find a large commercial cooking space

CONTACT: www.teambuildinginc.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 4

Fear Factor: 2

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 10

Creativity: 7

Affordability: 5

2. NASCAR Dreams: Working Together in the Pit

Show your team that their job isn't too far removed from the high-intensity world of racing at PIT Instruction & Training, Mooresville, N.C., outside Raleigh. PIT's award-winning program is designed to correlate the workings of the corporate business world with the methods that pit crews use to keep racecars at peak performance.

In professional racing, the organized chaos in the pit, where a crew scrambles to top off the gas tank, change tires, and make other adjustments to the car, can take place in as few as 13 seconds. Corporate participants aim for a still-hectic 40-second pit change, using the same uniforms, equipment, cars, and requirements as the pros.

Since most people have never been part of a pit crew, there are few preconceived notions and no skill advantages, providing an equal playing field for everyone, says Breon M. Klopp, senior director of development for PIT. Disney, Best Buy, and Coca-Cola are among the companies that have sent employees to the pits, absorbing skills such as benchmarking, communications, and task management.

The experience itself exemplifies the need for individuals to function as a single unit, in contrast to traditional “shared experience” activities, Klopp says. It can also be customized based on group goals, simulating unforeseen circumstances that plague the workplace, from understaffing to mergers.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 28-42 people, though much larger groups can be accommodated

COST: starts at $275 per person

TIME: three hours to 1.5 days

LOCATION: Mooresville, N.C.

CONTACT: www.Pit-Now.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 9

Fear Factor: 7

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 10

Creativity: 5

Affordability: 4

3. Do Good: Paint-by-Numbers for a Cause

Put teams in touch with their creative side while giving back to the community with a project for the Foundation for Hospital Art. Using a paint-by-numbers approach, groups start with an outline on a 4-by-6-foot canvas and instructions on what colors go where. Armed with brushes and custom smocks, they fill in the mural, which will then be donated to a hospital.

“It's a great way to get people to talk in a natural environment,” says Susan Henderson, president of Atlanta Arrangements, a destination management company that has run these “PaintFests” all over the country. “Much more conducive than your typical cocktail party.”

Teams of eight to 10 people work on each canvas, but the number of murals is limited only by the imagination. Henderson once took over the Georgia Dome, putting teams to work on 130 murals at once. Snacks and drinks or a buffet meal help to keep things social. The exercise can be combined with other activities for those less artistically inclined. As part of a larger event, for example, Henderson has set up a few canvases alongside more sports-oriented pursuits, letting people gravitate toward their favorite activities.

Groups working through a merger will find this event a particularly good icebreaker, Henderson says, because of its nonconfrontational nature. “The last thing you want in a situation like that is a competition,” she says.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: eight or more

COST: $80-$100 per person

TIME: 90 minutes

LOCATION: anywhere

CONTACT: www.atlantaarrange.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 2

Fear Factor: 1

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 10

Creativity: 3

Affordability: 10

4. Clued In: Incentives to Intrigue

Was it the professor in the laundry room with the ax? Using customized scripts and professional actors, Incentives to Intrigue engages attendees in a murder mystery, meeting goals ranging from a fun icebreaker to intensive teambuilding.

While the typical event is held over dinner, with teams putting their heads together over dessert to solve the mystery, Jim Skiba, CMP, founder and president of Incentives To Intrigue, says that's just the start of what they can provide. “We have done a heavy-duty, psychological, eight-hour game day to get a team of 15 dysfunctional multinational people at a high-tech company to learn to work together,” he says. Skiba once put together an incentive program for 15 people over five days, weaving together three different stories, 25 actors, and three California counties. Of course, that level of complexity doesn't come cheap; that program ran more than $5,000 per person. Clients have included Apple Computer and McDonald's.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 15-150 people

COST: from $50 to $1,500 per person for a three-hour program, depending on add-ons

LENGTH: often three hours, with a meal included

LOCATION: anywhere

CONTACT: www.incentivestointrigue.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 7

Fear Factor: 3

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 10

Creativity: 8

Affordability: Depends on the program

5. Multicultural Playtime: Yan-koloba

Picture 150 adults chanting a tribal song while tapping blocks on a mat and rhythmically passing them around a giant circle, and you've got Yan-koloba. Traditional in many parts of Africa, this game originated as a way to engage the whole village in character education. Today, thanks to the research of Emmanuel Ngomsi, PhD, president of Universal Highways, it is catching on as a highly participatory tool for teambuilding and multicultural education.

“The game demonstrates that every single person is important in a team,” Ngomsi says. “One person can disrupt the entire group.” When Ngomsi facilitates a Yan-koloba session, he starts by asking the group to share organizational hindrances to teamwork. Elements of the game are then introduced slowly, starting with simple tapping. The facilitator can add complex movements, such as tapping the block in a complex rhythm before moving on. At the end, the facilitator applies the game's outcomes to the teamwork issues discussed at the start.

Ngomsi says the exercise has proven so effective that one participant suggested bringing Yan-koloba to the U.S. Congress. Now that would be a challenge.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: minimum of three

COST: $2,000 for a half-day facilitated corporate session

TIME: can be a brief icebreaker; intensive sessions require at least three hours

LOCATION: anywhere

CONTACT: www.yan-koloba.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 7

Fear Factor: 3

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 7

Creativity: 7

Affordability: 3

6. Feel the Heat: Fire-Walking

Get them talking around the water cooler with an ultimate mind-over-matter challenge: fire-walking. Sound dangerous? Bill Bastian, founder and president of Sparks Development, says there's no need to have paramedics standing by. While occasionally participants are “kissed” by the flames, any injuries are minor.

Things start out slowly. Bastian gathers the group around a big pile of wood and has them light it. For the next two hours, he breaks them into small groups to discuss individual goals and challenges. Bastian says he never tells someone to go first; invariably a member of the group spontaneously takes the lead.

Eventually, he says, some 85 percent of participants walk across the smoldering embers barefoot.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 20 to 700Cost: starts at $10,000

TIME: two hours

LOCATION: anywhere outdoors

CONTACT: www.sparksdevelopment.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 10

Fear Factor: 10

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 10

Creativity: 7

Affordability: 4

7. Go for the Gold: Olympic Thrills

Nothing brings your team together faster than hearing the boss scream like a little girl while barreling down an Olympic bobsled track. That's just one of many activities offered in Lake Placid, N.Y., where groups from Verizon and Heineken have taken advantage of a wide range of Olympic facilities under the watchful eye of the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Few other places in the world offer a bobsled track, a slalom competition, and a biathlon course. Finish the day with a solo run on the luge or an ice hockey competition, and your group might be exhausted, but they'll have plenty to brag about after heading home.

Start with an “opening ceremony” — a torch lighting and overview of the upcoming events — to really get people excited, says Chris Jarvis, group sales director at nearby luxury resort Mirror Lake Inn. Then break groups into teams to compete for the gold, engendering support throughout the competition.

The competition really brings groups together, Jarvis explains. “High-fives and slaps on the back are abundant,” he says. Close with a themed dinner where winners receive their medals.

While some of these activities sound risky, Jarvis says the ORDA takes safety very seriously. Participants are given proper protective gear and instruction, and staff is always on hand to ensure a safe outing. “It's incredibly fun, safe, and provides a great opportunity to build camaraderie among a group of professionals,” he says.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 20-125 people

COST: a group of 10 for the bobsled experience starts at $450

LOCATION: Lake Placid, N.Y.

CONTACT: www.mirrorlakeinn.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 9

Fear Factor: 9

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 8

Creativity: 4

Affordability: 8

8. Gun Play: Valhalla Shooting Club & Training Center

Don't bother shooting skeet — engage your team in an adrenaline-pumping hostage rescue mission at Valhalla Shooting Club. While the facility, nestled in the Colorado mountains, does offer more traditional activities, the star attraction is a 360-degree live-fire “shoot house” — one of the only places in the world where average citizens can play cops and robbers. This maze-like setup, filled with Broadway-style sound and light effects and reactive targets that simulate bad guys, is the stuff of action-movie adventure dreams.

Participants work with the same instructors who teach Navy SEALs and Green Berets, on the same ranges with the same equipment. Trained staffers make sure that participants both feel safe and are safe at all times.

Participants leave with a better understanding of their own abilities and a more realistic understanding of firearms.

IDEAL GROUP SIZE: 7-14, but can accommodate as many as 70 with a round-robin format

COST: starts at $100 per person

LENGTH: from two hours to two days

LOCATION: Montrose, Colo.

CONTACT: www.valhallashootingclub.com

Is It for Your Group?

Gets attendees out of their comfort zones: 10

Fear Factor: 9

Ample Opportunity for Interaction: 7

Creativity: 5

Affordability: 10

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