Virtual Team Building Exercises

Building Connections in Virtual Spaces

Virtual Team Building Exercises - Building Connections in Virtual Spaces

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Make your remote team more effective.

Nihal has just been promoted and he's been asked to manage a new virtual team. He loves the challenge of the role, the opportunity to do business with people from other cultures, and the flexibility of working from home three days per week.

Most of Nihal's team members are dispersed around the world, and only a few work from the office regularly. As a result, he feels disconnected from them, and he struggles to keep track of certain projects. He has misinterpreted several of their emails, and people have misunderstood messages that he's sent. This has caused conflicts and mistrust within his team, and it's affecting its productivity and effectiveness.

Nihal and his team would benefit from building rapport, improving communication, and increasing their awareness of one another's strengths and weaknesses. Using virtual team building exercises could help them to achieve their goals and communicate more effectively, even when they work in different locations.

In this article, we'll discuss what virtual team building exercises are and how they can benefit your people. We'll then look at three activities that you can use with your own remote team members.

Working in Virtual Teams

Today, many people work remotely, and most organizations have team members, clients or suppliers around the world. In his 2013 book, "Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance," W. Gibb Dyer, Jr. highlights that numbers of virtual workplaces and remote teams are increasing, so organizations need to find ways to help their geographically dispersed team members work together effectively.

Companies are increasingly using video- and web-conferencing software, email and other online tools to allow team members to talk in "real time" and connect with one another. Our article on Working in a Virtual Team provides tips on using technology to collaborate with people remotely and build effective virtual teams.

Why Is Virtual Team Building Important?

Teams can find it difficult to build rapport when they've never met "in real life." But developing good working relationships is important for indiviudals to feel able to communicate openly, solve problems, and collaborate well with one one another.

While some people view team building exercises as a waste of time, studies have shown that they improve teams' effectiveness and help to build trust among their members. These exercises can be equally as effective when used by virtual teams.

Choosing a Virtual Team Building Exercise

There are a huge number of team building exercises, so how do you decide which ones are most appropriate for your team and the platform that you intend to use?

Start by defining your purpose and objectives. For example, do you want to improve communication? Build trust? Introduce your global team members to one another? Or increase productivity? It's essential that the outcome of the exercise meets your objective, and that it promotes individual and team growth.

Next, think about the platform you want to use. For example, what are the benefits of using online tools such as Skype®, WebEx™, GoToMeeting®, or Google Hangouts®? What are the constraints? How will you overcome these?

Tip:

See our article on Team Building Exercises to think about which activities might work best with your team.

Virtual Team Building Exercises

Let's look at some virtual team building exercises that you can use with your geographically dispersed team members. They can improve communication, build trust, avoid stereotypes, develop listening skills, and help your people understand one another better.

Exercise 1: Videoconferencing Discussion

In this study, Margaret Oertig and her colleagues found that face-to-face contact is an important part of effective team development. However, when remote teams don't have that contact, you can use videoconferencing to bridge the gap, build trust between members, and foster a collaborative and trusting work environment.

This exercise encourages team members to discuss their ideas about how to hold effective videoconference meetings.

Uses

This team building activity comes from the Virtual Team Intelligence website, and it encourages your team members to share their opinions about the effectiveness of videoconferencing.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people.
  • Skype.
  • Internet access.

Time

  • The video that you will ask participants to watch is less than four minutes.
  • The discussion can take as long as you want it to.

Instructions

  • Start by opening an online meeting room (such as showmypc.com) or a group Skype chat.
  • Ask your team members to watch the video "How (Not) to do Video Calls: Virtual Teams Management Advice." It provides lots of suggestions on how to build trust within your virtual team, including how to make your videoconference dynamic, using body language for effective video communication, and the importance of making eye contact with team members.
  • Once you've finished watching the video, discuss the tools and tips that your team members could use when they take part in a videoconference.

Advice for the Facilitator

Discuss how to build trust during a videoconference. Your goal is to encourage your people to use videoconferencing regularly, so that they can communicate more openly and effectively with one another.

Activity 2: Twaiku

This game comes from the book, "50 Digital Team Building Games," by John Chen. In this activity, the team members write a haiku (or "twaiku") poem using Twitter®.

Uses

This activity encourages members of your team to work together and express their creativity.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people. Preferably several groups, each with two or more team members.
  • Access to Twitter.

Time

  • Ten to 20 minutes.

Instructions

  • Set up your own unique hashtag (you might call it #twaiku and add your company name on the end) so that participants can keep track of one another's tweets.
  • Ask each team to create a haiku, which is a traditional Japanese poem. English-language haikus comprise three lines and 17 syllables, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.
  • Haikus are traditionally written about nature, but you can suggest other topics such as teamwork, motivation, creativity, or leadership.

Advice for the Facilitator

Once everyone has finished, read through the twaiku. Ask team members how they found writing poems in groups. Was it difficult or inspiring? Did they think it improved their creativity? Find out what they thought about the other twaikus, which one they thought was best and why. Ask them for their ideas about how they could apply what they learned to their work.

Activity 3: Blind Origami

This is a fun and creative activity from the "Big Book of Virtual Teambuilding Games" by Mary Scannell, Michael Abrams and Mike Mulvihill.

Uses

The purpose of this activity is to highlight the importance of listening and asking for feedback.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people, in virtual pairs.
  • Email.
  • Phone.
  • A sheet of letter-format paper for each person.

Time

  • Twenty five to 30 minutes.

Instructions

  • To start, ensure that all participants have a sheet of letter-format paper.
  • Email one person from each pair a set of origami instructions.
  • The person with the instructions (instructor) should guide her partner (receiver) through the steps to create an origami structure during a telephone or audio Skype call.
  • The receiver can ask questions, request clarification, and offer feedback during the call.
  • When each group has finished, the instructor should email the original directions to the receiver, who can check the final product against them.

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Advice for the Facilitator

Ask the partners to switch roles and repeat the exercise with a different design. Once the second exercise has been done, ask them how accurate each structure was. How difficult was it to listen and follow verbal instructions? How good was the feedback provided?

Use the answers to these questions to identify areas where each pair could improve their listening and feedback skills.

Tip:

You can find simple origami instructions with easy-to-follow illustrations and free downloadable PDFs at Origami-Fun.

What to Consider When Running Your Activities

When setting up your virtual team building exercises, consider the following:

  • How much time do you have for each activity?
  • Will these exercises be a one-off event or will they happen regularly? For example, will you make enough progress in one session, or would you like to continue building relationships in the long term?
  • Does everyone in your team have the appropriate technology to participate?
  • How will people's countries or cultures affect their virtual experience, and how can you address their needs? For example, some people may not be available due to religious holidays, or some may struggle to "open up" if it's in their cultures to be private.
  • Some people on your team might already know one another, while others may not have met. So, it's important to introduce everyone, so that each person has a "voice." Where people don't know one another, consider using Virtual Ice Breakers to get started.

Key Points

Virtual team building exercises are great for improving communication, building trust, increasing creativity, reducing conflicts, and helping your team members understand one another better.

Holding these exercises regularly gives your team members fun ways to interact and get to know one another, and it encourages them to collaborate, which benefits your team and the organization as a whole.

Apply This to Your Life

If you work remotely and are feeling isolated, suggest some of these virtual team building exercises to your manager.

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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Zuni,
    It is amazing when we recall what life was life before the availability of the technology that we have today! I know I date myself when I think of what we used to work with!!

    The dymanics are somewhat different yet the importance of building a cohensive team is still critical to effective working. Anything that can be done to get people together and a sense of being connected works. Have fun trying out some of these exercises.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago zuni wrote
    Amazing how quickly things have progressed. In 2000, three telecommunications companies merged into one entity. Overnight we became a virtual company with teams dispersed across locations, provinces, time zones and languages. There was no training and no processes had been developed. We just had to "work it out" and learn to work together. The technology then isn't what it is today. There were no collaboration applications. Instant messaging didn't exist. And social media as we know today was likely a vision in someone's mind. We used teleconferencing, simple web cams and email to help us to gel as teams. And we were very creative in making it happen. Virtual birthday parties, contests and team scavenger hunts were just some of the ways we had fun together and learned about each others' talents.

    These team-building exercises look like a lot of fun. I'll try one at my next virtual get together.