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Foster High-Performing Virtual Teams with Activities That Create Culture

Most anyone who has been in a management position is familiar with tips designed to develop high-performing teams: Clearly communicate your mission, empower rather than micromanage, foster cooperation, resolve conflicts quickly, trust your team members. With so many of us working remotely these days, those tips have never been timelier, but inspiring fully virtual teams requires some creative culture-building.

One of the more critical attributes of team development involves creating a supportive environment with team members who trust each other’s abilities and motivation to get the job done. However, trust doesn’t always grow organically across a diverse team; it takes planning and thought. The good news is that there’s an abundance of team-building activities designed to build rapport and trust among remote working teams.

Share personal color commentary — and work styles

Just like onsite teams need lighthearted “water cooler talk” to get to know one another, high-performing virtual teams benefit from similar banter. It’s up to the team leader to set the tone for each remote meeting, and the best often starts by asking the team members to share a little bit about themselves. For those who are new to working together, it’s often helpful to have members take turns sharing a “Me 101” primer, a few minutes where each person shares a bit about their background, extracurricular interests, and their preferred communication methods. Prefer emails over calls? Inaccessible between 2 and 3 p.m. every day when picking the kids up from school, hate PowerPoints?

Break the ice

Another fun “icebreaker” activity is to ask everyone to briefly share a surprising fact about themselves or something they’ve experienced: celebrity meet and greets, most rewarding day on the job, three truths plus one lie, etc. Most icebreakers provide context that invites others to share their similar experiences and stories.

Let’s do lunch!

Even virtually, sharing drinks or a meal is a great way to let team members learn more about each other. Word to the wise, you can get even more goodwill from this activity if you let your team members expense lunch so they’re not warming up last night’s dinner again. Or, if lunch sounds like too big of a commitment, you can always “meet for coffee” or happy hour.

“Today I learned…”

Every two weeks or so, ask your team members to share something they recently learned. Topics can range from something fun and useful like an everyday life hack to time-saving software shortcuts and project-specific discoveries.

Create a shared purpose

Collaborate with your team leader and team members to identify short sprints of your team’s purpose. What can only your team accomplish in the next 2 weeks or 30 days? Make it meaningful and centered around results. Have team meetings that center on that purpose, the actions you are taking to achieve it, what needs to be done, what is at risk of slipping. These short sprint meetings create a sense of urgency and energy to get work done together.

Virtual Team Norms

Working remotely comes with a number of conveniences, and assumptions.  Combat the assumptions you hold by naming them together. For example, will everyone start their Zoom.com meeting with the video on and mute engaged? Reconsider the time and date of the meeting – does it work for everyone now? What about children or other non-traditional limitations that may not work for the existing team meeting.

One of the best, most effective playbooks for getting everyone to work together, to have more trust, and stay focused on the team’s common goal instead of each individuals’ motive is for the team to learn more about each other. Choose activities that build rapport, foster cooperation, and dig deeper than “What’s your update?” to create a team that performs AND cares about each other.

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Nancy Benthien & Jill Knocke

Nancy Benthien & Jill Knocke

We are a transformative force for leaders who are committed to creating and sustaining healthy, successful organizational culture.

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