16 MIN READ

Virtual Team-Building Exercises

Building Connections When You're Working Remotely

Virtual Team-Building Exercises - Building Connections When You're Working Remotely

© GettyImages
nuttiwutrodbangpong

Connect your remote workers with virtual team-building exercises.

Remote teams have fewer opportunities to socialize, making it difficult to get to know one another or new members. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from our colleagues, and it may even lead to team conflict and reduced productivity.

Virtual team-building exercises can help remote teams to overcome these difficulties, and to drive a sense of community and shared understanding.

In this article, we'll explore why virtual team-building exercises matter, and how they can benefit your team. We'll also look at five team-building exercises that you can try with your team.

Virtual Team-Building FAQs

What are virtual activities?

Virtual activities require team members to take part remotely, using technology such as virtual meeting software, online chat, or instant messaging.

What do I need to get started with virtual team-building exercises?

Reliable videoconferencing technology, and the skills to use it. Ideas for activities that will help to build teamworking skills. And, most importantly, good facilitation skills. Aim to keep the exercises moving so that people stay engaged.

What are some virtual team-building challenges?

You may sometimes encounter problems with the technology or with your internet connection. Virtual team building can also take longer to produce the desired results.

Why Virtual Team-Building Is Important

Teams can find it difficult to build rapport when they never meet "in real life." But developing and nurturing good working relationships is important for individuals to feel able to communicate openly, solve problems, and collaborate well. Virtual team building can also reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in remote teams.

While some people question the value of team-building exercises, studies have shown that they improve teams' effectiveness and help to build trust. These exercises can be equally effective for virtual teams.

Tip:

Our article Working in a Virtual Team and Bite-Sized Training session How to Set Up a Virtual Team provide advice on using technology to collaborate with people remotely, and on how to build effective virtual teams.

Setting up a Virtual Team-Building Exercise

Start by defining your purpose and objectives. For example, do you want to improve project management or negotiation skills? The outcome of your team-building exercise needs to meet your objective, and promote individual and team growth.

When setting up your exercises, consider how much time you have for each activity. Collaborative problem-solving exercises will take longer than quick "ice breakers."

Think, too, about the participants' cultural expectations and individual personalities. Introverts may find it harder to open up during team discussions. They may also be suffering from overstimulation if they're working from home. On the other hand, extroverts may tend to take over.

Some people on your team may not have met, so allow enough time for introductions. Where people don't know each other, use short, fun Virtual Ice Breakers to get started. And consider different ways people can contribute, so everyone has a voice.

Tip:

To be truly effective, any team-building exercise must be part of a continual process, embedded into your team and organization's culture. They are not a "quick fix."

Five Virtual Team-Building Exercises

Let's look at some team-building exercises that you can use remotely with your team. They are designed to improve communication, build trust, develop listening skills, and enable your people to understand one another better.

Exercise 1: Four Facts and a Fib

This exercise is ideal for a team whose members don't know one another very well. It provides an informal platform for individuals to share personal information and build trust.

People and Materials

Suitable for groups of any size. Each participant needs a pen and paper.

Time

Allow around 20 minutes for completion, depending on the size of the group.

Instructions

Ask the participants to write down five "facts" about themselves, one of which must be a lie – but a plausible one. For example, "I once swam with dolphins," not "I wrestled a shark!"

Allow participants enough time to write down their facts. Once they are finished, go around the group and ask each participant to read out their five facts.

As a group, guess which facts about each person are true and which is the lie. When each person has revealed their truths and lie, discuss the outcomes. Were any surprising? If so, were the truths more surprising than the lie?

Advice for Facilitator

If the group is not forthcoming at first, ask people directly which of the speaker's facts they think is a fib and why.

Exercise 2: Escape Room

An Escape Room is a themed challenge event where players collaborate to find clues, complete tasks, and solve a variety of puzzles. It can improve communication, collaboration and decision-making skills.

People and Materials

Escape Room games are typically suitable for teams of between three and six players, and require a significant amount of creative setup. In fact, it's often easier to use an external supplier.

Mind Tools Club members and corporate licensees can access our exclusive and original Escape Room game, "The Lost Labyrinth," comprising a downloadable game pack and Game Master Guide. See our Escape Room article for details.

Time

The classic scenario is to escape within a time limit – usually an hour.

Instructions

These vary from game to game, and can involve codebreaking, word games and math puzzles.

Advice for the Facilitator

Invest the time you need to understand and prepare the game properly. If teams get stuck, have some hints prepared to keep the action moving.

Exercise 3: Blind Origami

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.

Phone (without video) or messaging app.

A sheet of Letter or A4 size paper for each person.

Time

Around 25 to 30 minutes.

Instructions

Email one person from each pair a set of origami instructions. You can get these from many hobby websites. Try origame.me, for example.

The person with the instructions should guide their partner (the receiver) through the steps to create an origami structure, via messaging or videoconferencing software (but with the camera turned off).

The receiver can ask questions, request clarification, and offer feedback during the call.

When each group has finished, participants can turn their cameras back on to see whether the receiver got the origami structure right.

Advice for the Facilitator

Rotate around the groups to see how they're getting on. When each group has finished, ask the partners to switch roles and repeat the exercise with a different design.

Once the second exercise has been done, ask participants 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 identify areas where each pair could improve their listening and feedback skills.

Bring everyone back into the meeting to share some thoughts on listening effectively, and get them to think about some takeaways.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 312 team management skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

Exercise 4: Scrabble Scramble

This fun activity is designed to trigger creative thinking, encourage collaboration, and develop communication. It works best when you use a virtual meeting package like Zoom, which enables teams to split off into virtual breakout rooms.

People and Materials

This exercise is suitable for groups of approximately 12 or more. You'll need a bag of Scrabble tiles, and participants will need pens and paper.

Time

Allow 20 minutes for completion.

Instructions

Assign two or three letters chosen at random to each person.

Then split the group randomly into teams. The exercise will work best with six to nine people per team.

Ask each group to create as many words as they can in 10 minutes using their letters. Before starting, outline the rules below to the group:

  • Each letter tile can be used only once in each word.
  • Words must be three or more letters.
  • Plurals of an already used word are not allowed. For example, you can have "tree" or "trees" but you can't have both.
  • Proper names are not allowed, e.g. place names or forenames.

Each team can swap up to two of their letters before they start if they wish.

Teams get two points for three-letter words, three points for four-letter words, and so on. The longest word earns a bonus of five points.

Advice for the Facilitator

Make clear whether or not teams are allowed to use a dictionary. If appropriate, offer a prize for the highest team score and longest word. Ask the teams to reflect on what they've learned. How did they work together to build words? Who took the lead? Who had the best ideas, and how did they arrive at them?

Exercise 5: Lost at Sea

This activity emphasizes decision making, collaboration, and critical thinking.

People and Materials

Teams of about five or six people. You can download our worksheet for the exercise here. Each participant needs their own copy.

Time

Flexible, but aim for 25 to 40 minutes.

Instructions

Give your team members a scenario where they're stranded at sea with just a handful of objects. They have to rank the objects in order of how useful they'd be in helping the group to survive. They should work individually first, and then as a team.

Divide participants into their teams, and provide everyone with a ranking sheet.

Step 1: Ask team members to take 10 minutes on their own to rank the items in order of importance. They should do this in the second column of their sheet.

Step 2: Give the teams a further 10 minutes to confer and decide on their group rankings. Once agreed, they should list them in the third column of their sheets.

Step 3: Ask each group to compare their individual rankings with their collective ones, and consider why any scores differ.

Step 4: Now read out the "correct" order, collated by the experts at the U.S. Coast Guard. You can find that here. Participants should add these to the sheet.

Step 5: Have the teams consider why they made the choices they did, and evaluate their performance against the experts' choices.

Advice for the Facilitator

Ideally, teams will arrive at a consensus decision where everyone's opinion is heard. If discussions are dominated by a few people, draw the quieter people in so that everyone is involved. But explain why you're doing this, so that people learn from it.

Key Points

Virtual team-building exercises are a great way to improve communication, build trust, increase creativity, reduce conflict, and help your team members to understand one another better.

They're also a useful way for people to get used to remote meetings and videoconferencing software.

Holding these exercises regularly gives your team members fun ways to interact and get to know one another. It encourages them to connect and to collaborate, and this can benefit your team and the organization as a whole.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Rate this resource

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.