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June 19, 2015

Breaking the Ice With Your Virtual Team

Caroline Smith

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I remember one virtual workshop where the consultant used an ice breaker to warm everyone up. As I was out of the office, I was wearing my standard "working-from-home" uniform of jogging pants and a t-shirt, and had no make-up on. So imagine my embarrassment when he asked us to turn our webcams on and introduce ourselves! That certainly taught me a lesson for virtual meetings: always be prepared!

We had another videoconference a month or so ago with a potential new supplier. On the call there were participants from the U.K., South Africa and the U.S. On one hand it was wonderful to have technology that enabled so many people to "meet" in different locations, but unfortunate on the other in that the sound quality wasn't great. Although I could hear the people in the U.S. fine, I was struggling to decipher what some of my colleagues in the U.K. were saying because of an echo on the line! However, we did do a great virtual ice breaker with them, which I'd like to share.

Introductions Online

After the supplier introduced herself, she asked us to download an app. The app works like an online sheet of paper and allows people to write down their thoughts, and post text, images and videos into one document. Once everyone had it, the supplier asked us some questions, and we had to write our answers onto the virtual board.

One of them was, "Where is everybody today?" and another was, "What's the weather like where you are?" Then she asked us to take a picture of our "office" and upload it. We went round the group and each person had to talk for 30 seconds about their surroundings.

Initially, I thought this "game" was going to be a waste of time. I already knew my colleagues well, and didn't see the point in spending 10 minutes on this when we could be getting down to business! But actually, I was wrong, and it was a really effective way of warming us up, and for getting to know one another better.

For instance, I discovered my co-worker in South Africa works from her veranda! You could see a hammock and palm trees in the background, which was a far cry from my little home office in London! What's more, we used the app for the rest of the session, so whenever anyone had an idea, they scribbled it down to discuss at the end.

Virtual Collaboration

At a conference that I attended, Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies ran a great session on how to get people to collaborate when they're based in different locations. She told us how she had designed a virtual online workshop in India to help integrate mobile devices within a team, and gave us some examples of the activities she used to familiarize participants with their new devices. For example, in one activity, participants had to share a "selfie" video to introduce themselves. Another activity got them to work together to generate QR codes, and then discuss how they could use them in future training sessions.

Again, these are brilliant examples of how ice breakers can help people get to know one another, as well as encourage them to learn something new at the same time!

The Mind Tools article all about virtual ice breakers includes four different activities you can try with your own team. We discuss how they can help remote team members improve their relationships, as well as promote creativity and problem solving within a group. And we warn you of some of the things to avoid, too!

If you've got any great ice breakers of your own, we'd love to hear from you. Please share your ideas below.

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4 comments on “Breaking the Ice With Your Virtual Team”

  1. Great ideas...I like it as it would greatly help in establishing rapport and ease the communication.

  2. That's great to hear Anupam! Opening the channels for clear and easy communication is of so much value in business (and life).

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