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Tired of Remote Team Building?

When most of us hear the words 'remote team building', being spoken on yet another dreaded team zoom call, it's not uncommon for there to be a few looks of dissatisfaction floating around. If you are or have been a skeptic of virtual team bonding activities, or commonly associate the following feelings 😩,🤨,😤,😴,  with the company virtual happy hour or online skills-building night, you'll want to stick around for this one. I'm sure we'd all agree that whether we like it or not, using tech to connect is our core medium of collaboration right now, at least for those in fully distributed or hybrid teams. And, if we have any hope of strengthening and building bonds between our teams, we're going to have to find a way to get it right virtually.

If you want to jump ahead, go straight to the framework for virtual team building.

Getting Remote Team Building Right

For remote team building to be successful, it needs to consider the needs of the entire team. A team-building exercise may be incredibly engaging for some, while for others, it could fall horribly short. Companies who taking a step back to first figure out the problem they are trying to solve with their team building activities, before identifying which ones to implement, will have better success. Where many get it wrong is when it comes to assessing their employees needs. What often happens is that companies assume their employees are struggling with one aspect of something, when in fact, they actually may be struggling with something else. What does this have to do with team building?

Before deciding which remote team building activities to move forward with, you need to get to know more of what your employees really need. Then, and only then, you'll start to hone in on the right remote team building solution to solve the issues your team faces whether it be related to morale, productivity, the connection between teams, or another.

Remote Team Building vs. Team Bonding

Team building refers to the process of improving social relationships and defining roles within a group of individuals; this is often done through different types of activities so the group can learn how to function better as a team. On the other hand, virtual team bonding is about bringing team members closer and building trust amongst them in order to facilitate smoother and more effective communication.

Both team building and team bonding are important, and while team building may provide a more comprehensive view on factors affecting team performance, team bonding focuses on the level of comfort and positive energy within the team. As you can see they are complementary to one another and emphasis should be equally placed on both.

As much as team bonding may sound like a subset of team building, the objectives of bonding the remote team are often pursued using methods different from those of team building exercises. Team bonding should largely involve fun and practical activities that don’t necessarily focus on rating an employee’s technical skills regarding their work. For example, an “about me” game speaks more to how much one team member knows about another rather than how fast they are at making large calculations in their head.

Framework for Virtual Team Building

Before veering off course, let's reel back in. When we're speaking about a framework for virtual team building, we're talking about the framework to actually bring your remote team together for the purpose of strengthening the team as a whole. There are a number of areas to address when it comes to team building and it is important to approach them in a step-by-step manner.

With that said, keep in mind that team building isn’t a one-time effort, therefore you’ll have to carry out several iterations of these steps as you uncover new weaknesses within the team that require reinforcing. Think of it as self-development. Do you really expect that after one team building activity, everything will flow smoothly for months and years to come? As new members join the team, the company takes on different projects, or when any obstacle arises, there is a new opportunity to dive deeper into team building and whilst doing so, strengthening the bonds and capabilities of your team as a whole.

Let's dive into the framework 👇

Identify Cracks in the System

If you’re wondering how to bring remote teams together, you need to first figure out what’s pushing them apart. These causes usually vary in nature and include:

  • The disproportionate distribution of necessary tools - When some team members feel like they are not receiving all the resources they need to perform their tasks on time, they may look at it as favoritism.
  • Favoritism - Those who seem to have it easier and always have the manager vouching for them where necessary.
  • Individual character flaws - Some team members may have a habit of always waiting for others to do the bulk of the work before they swing in the very last moment to offer the simpler finishing touches.
  • Differences of opinions - Others may be the type that like to have a full-on quarrel about every change in direction, even when the new direction is perfectly logical and no reason to debate exists.

Finding Activities that Reinforce the Team

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand that there are two kinds of activities when looking at team building from the perspective of purpose;

Diagnostic - These ones are about discovering a problem/weakness within the team. As an example, Atlassian uses 'Health Monitor' as a way to "diagnose" the team's weaknesses.

Remedial - These are activities that are prescribed as a solution to a problem that has already been discovered.

Identifying problems and selecting activities may sometimes run concurrently. After establishing the purpose of the activity, you will need to pay attention to other characteristics such as:

  • Collaborative vs. individual - i.e. can this activity be done by every individual at their own time, or is it designed for real-time group participation?
  • Fun vs. practical - This speaks to whether the activity exists entirely outside of work or if it specifically addresses workflow patterns within the team.

Activities like “My User Manual” are more geared towards sharing personal work preferences (ie. email over phone, or morning meetings over evening meetings) with new team members.

The same goes for something like “Learning Circles” which involves creating small groups with an assortment of team members and others in the organization at large that you’d like to learn from.

  • One-off vs. recurring - Here, the leader determines whether the activity needed is one that will be carried out once or regularly.

Setting Goals & Assessing Impact

A manager should separate goals into two types, those that are specific to the recommended activity such as a game score, and those that are related to performance and team health such as how many lunch breaks the team had together or how quickly they compiled a report.

To measure the success of any activity, a survey is valuable to conduct amongst team members. With the right survey, you can gather opinions and later compare them with qualitative data on performance after the activity. A simple survey can be created with free software like Typeform.

This data helps you understand team members’ views on the activities and the extent to which they find them helpful in achieving team goals, a correlation that may be harder to ascertain entirely on paper without these conversations.

Remote Team Social Support: Bringing Staff Together

Now that you're clear on the framework for remote team building, let's hop over to team bonding. From virtual team icebreakers to one-on-one check-ins, there’s a variety of activities that employers & employees can engage in to support their fellow team members. When offering social support, it is important to bring human engagement to the forefront, regardless of whether you're bonding online or in-person.

Opt for activities that involve some kind of conversation, verbal compliments, and any other elements like involving facial expressions and body language. One of the major goals of these activities is to build trust within a team so they can become more comfortable relying on each other. Logistically speaking, you'll need to Identify the software, web platforms, and other tools needed to aid communication while team bonding. Follow this up with some activities like:

  • Rose/Thorn - An icebreaker that involves every team member mentioning a rose (recent good news) and a thorn (recent problem) at the start of collaboration meetings. This can help team members gain a better idea of the mental state every individual is in and promote more empathy within the team.
  • Charades and other trivia-style games - The beauty about these is that you can set them up in a customized manner using tools like Go Remote or CultureIQ. This allows you to incorporate the team’s shared history into the questions and clues. It also pushes other team members to take more of an interest in what’s going on in their co-worker's lives.
  • Health Monitor - This is a test based on characteristics of high-performing teams that aren’t about gauging your results, but rather how smoothly you’re achieving these goals as a team. It can help you unearth subtle shortcomings like delayed notification on urgent project tasks or spending a lot of time debating finished work.

Benefits of Team Building Activities

There's no mystery in the benefits of running digital team building activities, but it doesn't hurt to have a reminder ;) In case you're not convinced of the benefits, here are some of the most important ones...

  • Creates more team unity and synergy - this is especially important during decision-making moments. When employees participate in activities like scavenger hunts, mystery-solving games and other team bonding activities, they start to more naturally trust their co-workers and their decision-making abilities. Granted, these bonding activities are more challenging to do virtually, but companies like Goosechase are finding ways to bring activities like scavenger hunts to the virtual world.
  • Promotes improved employee visibility -  every team member has a chance to be heard. There is also more opportunity for varied and nuanced opinions to be brought to the surface.
  • Better work-life balance - members learn to come together more to help each other out when they're experiencing personal non-work-related challenges.

Running remote team building events virtually may not be ideal, but then again, not running them at all could lead to worse outcomes for your team. The key to strengthening your remote team greatly depends on building and nurturing the bonds between them. Creating a cohesive group that complements each other's weaknesses ultimately strengths and created unity within the team as a whole. If that's not a good enough reason to invest in team building, then it could be the right time to reflect on what your company would like without your team. A unified team isn't only good for building bonds, but it's good for business!

Written by: Gerald Ainomugisha - a freelance Content Solutions Provider (CSP) offering both content and copy writing services for businesses of all kinds, with particular focus on management, marketing and technology.