To combat the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, remote teams need to work differently to increase that sense of team and improve communication.
Some forms of social bonding or collaboration simply call for in-person face time, such as the startup or brainstorming phase, which can require more back-and-forth interaction. While nothing connects a team like spending time together in person, there are things you can do to create a sense of togetherness on your remote team.
Team Building Tips
- USE VIDEO. Regular use of video for work-related communication greatly facilitates team bonding.
- CREATE A GETTING TO KNOW YOU CHANNEL. In your group instant message system (Slack, Stride, etc.) create a (voluntary) channel specifically for getting to know each other. Here people can ask questions like “what are your night-time or morning rituals?”, or “what’s your favorite fitness video?”, or even just “what did you do this weekend?”. You can learn a lot about each other with short questions like these and it gives you a chance to talk about things that you would not otherwise not talk about during team meetings.
- SHOW UP EARLY TO MEETINGS. Spending social time together via video—even just for a few minutes before or after meetings—is remarkably effective for building camaraderie.
- SCHEDULE UNSTRUCTURED TIME. You can schedule a 30 minute get together time where you can talk to your team about anything but work. Many teams also share virtual coffee or after-work drinks, play games together, even host a regular Trivia Night. There are also online tools like VirtualIcebreakers.com that can help you get to know each other and build trust.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome to episode 79, everyone. Thanks for being here. I want to spend some time today talking about how do we create that sense of team when we work on a remote team. A lot of people say that they feel a loss in team spirit or community when they work remotely. And I want to give you a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned from the interviews on things you can do in order to create that sense of team because you can’t do the same things that you would do in an office. It doesn’t translate into the virtual world. When we work together in the same space, we can leave a lot of things to chance. There are a lot of things that just naturally work themselves out. On remote teams, we have to be deliberate about our team-building activities. We can’t leave them to chance.
Now it kind of pains me that this is going to be my first tip for creating a sense of team because I like to do everything remote. But it cannot be denied, and in most of my interviews, people say if you can meet face-to-face at some point, then do it. Nothing connects a team like spending time in the flesh. Okay, I’ve said it.
Now let’s move on to virtual tips. One thing that’s worked surprisingly well for the Happy Melly community is that we started a Getting to Know You channel in our Slack group. It’s a channel that people voluntarily join, and it just acts as our virtual water cooler in some ways. People will ask questions like what are your night-time rituals or what are your morning rituals or what’s your favorite fitness video, even a simple, what did you do this weekend. And of course, not everybody answers. It’s a different group of people that answer every single question. But through these simple questions, we’ve learned a lot about each other. And it gives us a chance to connect on things we might never otherwise talk about like who knew that the fitness blender YouTube channel offered puppy workouts or that there were so many triathletes in the group.
Something else that’s been effective for the Happy Melly team is showing up early to meetings. So for example, if you feel like chatting and being social, you just log into the meeting five or ten minutes early and somebody else may or may not be there. More than likely, there’s somebody else there, and you just check in.
We’ve also gone so far as to schedule a weekly time where everybody can get together. We call it kitten talk. And the rule is that we don’t talk about work. It’s just the time for hanging out and it’s 30 minutes, once a week, non-obligatory, of course, and people just show up. It’s really fun, it’s surprisingly fun, and it’s surprisingly bonding for the team. There are of course some online tools that can help with this. In episode two, I interviewed Howard Esbin. He created a trust game for virtual teams that takes about two and a half hours, and it takes teams through the steps of getting to know each other, building trust, building identity, all the things that you want in a great team. So you can find more about that in episode two or at playprlude.com and tell Howard I sent you.
Another fun tool that can be used for your online meetings is virtualicebreakers.com. I interview the founder and creator of Gerard Beaulieu in episode number 52 of the podcast. And Virtual Ice Breakers is exactly what it sounds. It’s online games helped to break the ice and get to know each other as a team. There are all kinds of cool team-building games that you can do online, actually. One is Jurgen Appelo’s personal maps exercise. This is very simple. You just actually take a piece of paper or you can do it online. And you draw a circle around your name, and from there, you write work, values, education, family, a few other things. And then you fill this out like a mind map and present it to your team. And the only rule is you can’t present your own, personal map. Your team has to ask you questions about your personal map. This makes it a more engaging, two-way conversation rather than just one person presenting themselves. And it gives the team a chance to dive into some areas that they might have in common with you. So that’s an exercise that I really like. Jurgen Appelo also has a couple of others that are really fun. The moving motivators game is a really fun one where everybody puts down in order of priority what motivates them the most. If you want to learn more about that, then just Google Moving Motivators by Jurgen Appelo.
I can go on and on about all the different games you can play online, but the most important thing is that you’re deliberate about doing them. I think a lot of people know and understand the importance of doing them, but not a lot of people actually execute. On virtual teams, we need to be deliberate, proactive communicators. We need to reach out and really pay attention to how much time we’re spending with each other. I recently interviewed Dave Blum in episode 74. He’s Dr. Clue who builds team-building experiences for teams all over the world. And he had an interesting take on trust. He said that trust can be built when we show each other that we care about each other. I think it’s best to just let him explain it.
[Dave Blum] For all the programs [inaudible – 05:43], it all comes down to building trust, really. And you can build trust by a lot of different ways, just by being together, showing caring for other people is huge. This is true however you’re doing your teamwork. Caring is very important. If people feel like you have their back, you know something about their personal life and you’re respecting that. If someone sees you suffering or working hard or struggling, they’re there to give you a pat on the back [inaudible – 06:14]. All of that builds trust, and that is key to teamwork, whether it’s virtual or co-located. And that’s true for leadership as well. You show true caring for other people, you have their back, and they remember that.
So if we want to create that sense of team, that sense of belonging, then we need to take care for each other. And there are many different ways to do this on virtual teams. It might be a bit harder than doing it in person, it might take a little bit longer, but it absolutely is possible. We simply have to be deliberate about doing it. I’d love to know how you build that sense of team on your remote teams. Send me your stories and inspiration. You can find all the contact information at collaborationsuperpowers.com. You’ll also find stories, other podcasts, workshops, and tips and best practices. Stay tuned next week for my interview with Jesse Fewell. This was a super fun one. Jesse is a writer, a coach, and trainer in innovation, Agile methods, and he had one of the best answers I’ve ever heard to the question what does your virtual office look like. And his enthusiasm is contagious, so stay tuned for that one. A contagiously huge, enthusiastic thank you to our podcast producer, Nick, the podcast monster. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. All right, everyone. Let’s go out and create great teams. Until next week, be powerful.