The Big Bang Theory of Scavenger Hunts: Team Building Tips from TV

“Come on, numbnuts!” Bernadette barks at her teammate Leonard. Not exactly the best way to start a scavenger hunt, as becomes apparent in the episode of The Big Bang Theory titled “The Scavenger Hunt Vortex.” The band of friends and colleagues demonstrates many of the ways not to enjoy the benefits of a team building game.

Since 1999, we’ve staged team building scavenger hunts for corporate groups, families, friends, school field trips, and all other kinds of groups, so we recognized all the ways that the nerds succeed and fail at the game. Here are some team building tips we’ve gleaned from the episode of the hit CBS sitcom.

Be patient with teammates.

Competition brings out the worst in Bernadette, and she hectors her partner Leonard through the whole game. “Faster faster faster!” she barks at him. “Do you not know that word? It means more fast!” As her husband Howard says, “Have you ever played a game with Bernadette? Have you ever gone into a steel cage with a wolverine?” Obviously her impatience does nothing to improve her team’s performance.

Focus! When you’re playing the game, be in the game.

In Bernadette’s defense, Leonard is maddening. He spends much of the game fixated on whether he insulted his girlfriend by not wanting to play as her partner. If the problem can’t wait till the game is over, leave the game. Otherwise, realize you can handle it later. Or as Bernadette puts it less diplomatically: “Hey, Romeo! Repair your relationship on your own time!”

Done is better than perfect. Don’t overthink it.

Sheldon the genius theoretical physicist is too smart for his own good and imposes unproductive rules on how he and Penny should tackle the game. When she dives into a jigsaw puzzle, Sheldon says, “You have to start with the edges!” Penny replies, “There’s no right way, Sheldon. I already found some pieces that fit.” But Sheldon is more concerned with perfection than with results: “Well take them apart and start with the edges. And stop wasting time.”

Beware of one person fixating on one answer.

Penny completes enough of the jigsaw puzzle to discover that the next stop is the comic book store. But Sheldon complains, “We haven’t finished the puzzle!” But this time, more than just his perfectionism is to blame. “I hope you’re wrong,” he says. “I really want to go to the train store.” We see a form of this all the time: One team member fixates on an answer and bends the team toward his solution, as other people give up on their suspicions that it’s not the right answer.

Cheer on your teammates and celebrate successes along the way.

Early in the game, Howard tells his teammate, Amy, “Wow, you’re really good at puzzles.” By contrast, even when Leonard succeeds, Bernadette snaps, “Congratulations, you got it last.”

Get to know your teammates—and have fun!

Ultimately the game is a McGuffin. The benefit of the scavenger hunt comes in getting to know your teammates better. Howard and Amy don’t win the game, but they win the day: They discover a mutual love of Neil Diamond and have a blast singing his songs. Of course they take it a bit too far by getting too distracted and giving up the game. Which brings us to one last point…

The team is more than just your team.

As Raj says, “When we’re all having fun together, we’re already winners.” Except that they aren’t all having fun together: Amy and Howard wind up at a karaoke bar instead of the finish line. Don’t forget that ultimately everyone in a game is part of one big team, engaged together in having fun together.