Virtual team building — a template for you to use right away
No matter whether your team is distributed by design or that you are working from home because of the current pandemic, keeping your team’s spirit high and the team members engaged is much harder over a long distance than in person.
Being a part of a team that is distributed over five time zones, facilitating the creation of connections on human level is extremely important to steer the team dynamic into a positive direction. And for that reason we have virtual team buildings.
What follows is a team building that I have put together and did with my team just today. And it worked great! So if you are looking for inspiration for your virutal team building, feel free to just take this template as it is and try it out on your team. And you don’t even have to be a team manager. If you are a team member who feels their team would benefit from this, take the initiative and organize it. Trust me, both your colleagues and your management will be thankful for your initiative.
This requires no more preparation then reading this article, there are no special tools needed, you can just set the date and use any video communication platform your team is used to. This works over Zoom, Skype, Teams or anything you are using. Depending on the size of the team, this event will take about an hour.
It is important to understand the core purpose of the event itself — sure, you meet a lot on video calls and you collaborate on some tasks even when you are not in the office. However not everyone on your team is usually included. Also all other meetings are more formal even if you start them off with a little bit of small talk.
Virtual team building is to boost the human connection. To connect on a more personal level, there is no space for work related topics. This is to substitute and extend on the conversations you would have in the kitchen around the coffee machine or on your lunch break. And what’s more, this time the whole team is involved and not just the people that have accidentaly decided to make a cup of coffee at the same time. And when you include all, sprinkle a bit of psychology into it, you end up with a team building.
Keep it light, be positive, start with a joke and give everyone the same amount of attention. Also ask everyone (and keep reminding them if needed) to have their cameras turned on for the whole duration of the event.
And now for the specific activites — these are designed to do exactly what we are looking for. They connect the people, they put everyone on the same level and they even help the team members to improve on their soft skills. We’ll start with “Home office bingo”.
Home Office Bingo
Have you ever noticed that on all calls there is a couple of things that happen almost every time? How many times have you heard “can you see my screen?”, “sorry, I was on mute” or a long silence after asking a question already? How many times have you seen a pet or a family member to walk on another participant? So why not to make a game out of it? This is the perfect ice breaker to start the event with.
I have prepared this 16 tile bingo template, that you can use for your event. The objective is to get a row or a column crossed off for the game to be over.
Share this bingo with all of the participants, so they know what events we are looking for and instruct them to call them out whenever they see one. Then ask them if anyone is wearing pajama bottoms and note whether anyone has a funny background or is working outside. Chances are that you’ll get at least one thing crossed off in the begining which will get the game going.
Also note how much time it took to finnish and then reflect on that. In our case, we have had it done by the first half of the event, while in total we have crossed off exactly eight tiles.
And that’s all there is to it, just take this template and you are ready to go:
What am I seeing
This game is designed to engage all participants at once and also to give an opportunity for one person to get better at their verbal skills with each round.
Get a list of all the participents on the call, write them down in a notepad (or any other text processor), each name on a separate line.
Then, as you are sharing your screen, put all the list into this name list randomizer and click on “randomize”. Once you have a random list of participants, share this link to the group chat.
Instruct the person that was on the top of the list that they now have to pick a random image and describe it in as much detail so all the other people can draw it with a pen and paper as close to the original image as possible, using verbal instructions only.
Side note: when everyone stands up to go get a pen and a paper, decide beforehand whether or not to count that towards the HO bingo.
Put a time limit on this so it doesn’t get out of hand. For example let the person giving the instructions a two minute limit and the rest of the team four minutes to do the illustrations. Once the time is up, first let everyone show their images on the camera, then have the speaker reveal the original image.
Do two or three iterations of this tops, since we have one more game to go.
Pancakes or Waffles
This will fill the rest of the event quite nicely and is designed to hone presenting and argumentation skills of everyone on the meeting.
Without giving any specific details out, make everyone vote on a question whether they prefere pancakes or waffles. You can do this by making all the pancake people to raise a hand on the camera, then the waffle people to do the same.
Only after you now have all the voting done, explain to them that either pancakes or waffles (choose the one with a smaller number of votes) are going to be discontinued forever all around the world. Then say that the group that voted for the item that will be discontinued can revert this decission by presenting a case to the other group.
Give them a two minute preparation and then have all the people one by one make their statement. The other group’s task is then to counter argument in a same matter. People can switch sides (get persuaded), however decission needs to be eventually made.
If you decide on the outcome and still have time left, you can extend this with another round having the winning item compete against a new one (e.g. muffins).
Be prepared for some surprising arguments but, most importantly, to have a lot of fun during this one :)
There you have it. A template for a complete virtual team building that you can use right away and which fits into an hour.
Just one last note though — don’t forget to gather a feedback from all the participants after the session so you can keep improving it.