Virtual Team-Building Exercises | Building Connections When You're Working RemotelyRemote 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 team working 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.
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 FibThis 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 MaterialsSuitable for groups of any size. Each participant needs a pen and paper.
TimeAllow around 20 minutes for completion, depending on the size of the group.
InstructionsAsk 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 FacilitatorIf 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.
TimeThe classic scenario is to escape within a time limit – usually an hour.
InstructionsThese vary from game to game, and can involve code breaking, word games and math puzzles.
Advice for the FacilitatorInvest 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 MaterialsAny number of people, in virtual pairs.
Phone (without video) or messaging app.
A sheet of Letter or A4 size paper for each person.
TimeAround 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 FacilitatorRotate 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.
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 MaterialsThis 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.
TimeAllow 20 minutes for completion.
InstructionsAssign 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 MaterialsTeams of about five or six people. You can download our worksheet for the exercise here. Each participant needs their own copy.
TimeFlexible, but aim for 25 to 40 minutes.
InstructionsGive 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.
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.
Source: Mindtools Club
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