More and more these days we’re facilitating team building for remote teams. We’re seeing groups with team members who perform the same job, based in multiple geographic areas. And we’re seeing groups with team members who work remotely from home while covering a specific territory.
Most of the programs my company leads are face to face; when remote teams gather together. But we’re also beginning to address the need for remote team building activities, a/k/a virtual team building.
Honestly, I still like face to face programs the best. There’s nothing like being in the same room with your colleagues when it comes to trust building and sharing best practices. That being said, remote teams need activities that will help them optimize for success on an ongoing basis, even when they can’t come together for what’s considered to be traditional team building.
The Challenges for Remote Teams
I recently led team building for a remote team from a digital marketing company. In fact, the entire company took part in the program, about 30 people in total. More than half of the participants had never met before and yet almost all of them had been working together for over a year! This team exemplified the challenges people face when they don’t have old-fashioned interaction on a consistent basis.
The challenges for remote teams include –
- One dimensional: People that only connect virtually tend to have one dimensional relationships and often misleading impressions of the co-workers they’ve never met. Face to face team building allows participants to see the fuller and more real picture of their colleagues. You’ll dispel some false assumptions and vastly improve the ability to communicate going forward by better understanding who your colleagues really are.
- Sharing best practices: It’s hard to share best practices in a robust way when everyone is remote. A good team building program will help people experience the optimal ways to take advantage of each other’s knowledge and various skill sets. Being able to debate ideas and experience strengths and weaknesses in a positive hands on environment is important. This sets the stage for team members to better understand how to utilize the contributions of everyone in the group over the long term.
- Road map to better team function: When everyone is together in an informal, interactive and supported setting, there’s great opportunity to discuss group dynamics and lay out a road map for how to implement better communication, strategy and knowledge sharing for the future. The future I’m referring to here is the normal day-to-day remote existence.
F2F vs. Virtual Team Building
I’m being a bit dramatic with my face-to-face vs. virtual headline. Because honestly, both types of team building have their place. While it’s vital to bring remote teams together from time to time for face-to-face interaction, virtual team building is important too; to build better function over time.
These programs listed below all provide good team building for remote teams.
- Team Building Through Song: Yes, this is what we do here at Kidbilly Music. But honestly, this really rocks for when remote teams come together to spend quality time. Innovation, creativity, humor, leadership, compromise and shared goals are all part of the process of team building through songwriting. Everyone quickly gets involved as inhibitions melt away and ideas are floated out there, discussed, debated and ultimately brought together into a unified team vision. You’ll create a powerful take-away, your original song. Music is a universal language – it’s something we all have in common. Sharing musical experience is a great way for remote teams to get to know each other’s personalities, talents and to see how different communication styles work, or sometimes don’t work!
- Story Slam: A well-facilitated storytelling program is a great way to deepen connections between remote team members. Sharing stories is a great way for everyone who participates to learn more about each other. When we tell a story we reveal a bit of ourselves to our listeners. That willingness to share a bit of our lives breaks down barriers and consequently builds trust. Story based team programs can and should be constructed to address your specific themes, goals and challenges. With remote teams, the concluding part of your session could include everyone collectively creating the story for how you’ll continue to collaborate on an ongoing basis.
- Virtual Team Building Activities:
- How about a DIY MTV Cribs-inspired video series? Team members can shoot video to show off their homes and personality a la the classic TV show.
- There are companies offering online scavenger hunts and even escape room type virtual programs. These include competition which is great to keep remote team members engaged in the activity. Do a google search for virtual team building and you’ll find some great resources.
- Monthly chats are great ways to get to know more about remote colleagues. Create rules to ensure these chats are really for team building so that they don’t become task driven: So your main rule is that these chats can NOT be about work topics. Talk about whatever strikes your interest: sports, weather, politics, personal interests, hobbies, passion projects, etc.
Optimize Your Remote Team For Success
Remote teams are here to stay. Technology makes it not only possible, but optimal for so many of us. It provides convenience and great life style choices for employees. It can provide cost savings for employers. And happy employees provide added cost savings because happy employees equal less attrition and more engagement.
New technology and new work dynamics also provide new challenges with possible negatives. You want to be smart and you’ll want to create the support for those new challenges to ensure that your group not only succeeds, but thrives. Don’t assume that you don’t need to plan group activities because you’re not the traditional group.
The downside of working remotely is the risk that team members may feel disconnected, alone or unsupported during times of challenge. Team building for remote teams is vital to build and maintain a feeling of connectedness.
Remote teams also run the risk of being less aligned on big picture goals like vision and mission. To address this you’ll need to bring everyone together face-to-face, to allow your group quality time to explore vision and mission. Employees will be much more engaged if they feel like they’ve contributed to creating your team’s vision and mission. This deep work is best done when everyone’s together.
Feeling a sense of ownership of one’s work is always a good thing. For remote employees, a feeling of ownership is absolutely vital. Working remotely requires more motivation and self-discipline than in the traditional office environment. In a sense, remote employees have to be their own bosses for part of the time.
Team building activities for your remote team should not be viewed as extra-curricular. Make this investment in your team’s success and it will pay of exponentially.