What kind of virtual team building can I do with my distributed team?
We all know that teamwork is critical to getting things done through people. Building cohesive teams is already a challenge when everybody is face to face. But developing trust, communicating well, collaborating readily, and problem-solving effectively become all the more difficult when leading a distributed team.
To help you with that, I’ve combed the internet and dug into my own bag of tricks to give you these 15 pretty good virtual team building ideas that will help you overcome the challenges of distance and bring you all closer together.
Virtual Team Building Games and Exercises
There are lots of techniques you can use to lead virtual teams that effectively shrink the distance between you and the other members of the group. Beyond those measures, you can really strengthen the bonds between team members by setting aside some time for intentional virtual team building.
Use these ideas to challenge problem-solving ability, communications skills, creativity, and imagination. By working together toward a common goal, team members will learn more about each other, develop trust, and learn to collaborate more effectively.
Product Launch. Adapted from Rob Wormley’s idea in the When I Work Blog, start by asking members to come to the next virtual meeting ready to show off an unusual object found in their work space. At the meeting, form two teams, then have each person briefly display and describe their object.
Now tell both teams that one of the objects from each team is a new product they will be launching next week. Each team is to develop a two-minute presentation about their product and present to the group after 20 minutes, complete with name, logo, slogan, and marketing plan. The kicker: the object a team is to promote is the one chosen for them by the opposing team.
Blind Drawing. Adapted from Aubrielle Billig’s idea at Small Business Trends, this can be good for working on communications skills. Give one team member a picture of a simple object. Without saying what it is, the person must describe the image while everyone else does their best to draw it. She can’t use words that will give it away. After five minutes, compare the original with what the team produced, and talk about the importance of precision and clarity in communication.
Variations: Try it first without allowing other members to speak, then repeat and allow for questions.
Plan a meal. Wendy Soon at Virtual Workspace suggests planning a meal together. Split your team into two groups. Tell them that a specific VIP is coming to dinner tomorrow night. Their job is to plan a seven-course meal to prepare and serve. Each group meets and discusses on separate channels. After 15 minutes, have each group present their selections to the full team. In part two of this exercise, discuss and select the best of all options and assemble a final full menu.
Rank it. A creative idea from Dave Nevogt at Hubstaff Blog is to decide on priorities as a team. Begin with a list of five to ten random objects; the more unusual and distinct they are, the better. Divide into two teams, then give each the same scenario. It could be anything from being stranded on a desert island, lost at sea in a life boat, or surviving the zombie apocalypse. Teams discuss separately to rank each item as to its importance in the scenario. After ten minutes, reconvene to share and compare results. In the next ten minutes, come up with a master list for the whole team.
Variation: Without telling them why, ask members to share an unusual object from their workspace, then use these items as your list for ranking.
Fortunately/Unfortunately. It was fun playing this story-making game as a family growing up, but there’s no reason it can’t still be fun now. The leader starts with a simple sentence that sets a scenario. Then each group member takes a turn to add to the story. The kicker is that players alternate starting their sentence with either “Fortunately…” or “Unfortunately.” Works best with an odd number of players so members can play both good and bad. It might sound like this:
Leader: Johnny raced across the parking lot to his prized cherry-red Camaro. He had only minutes to make it to his job interview.
Player 1: Unfortunately, when he reached the car, he realized that he had left the keys inside, and the doors were locked.
Player 2: Fortunately, his car was a convertible, and the top was down. Johnny jumped in, turned the key, and the engine roared to life….
Spicing up the Virtual Meeting
Even if you don’t have dedicated time set aside for virtual team building activities, you can still weave them into your weekly routine.
Use these ideas to add variety and interest to your virtual meetings while getting to know your teammates better.
Post a funny Picture. Ask group members to share funny pictures from their week and explain how they came into being.
Guess the owner. Jesse Sussman at Museumhack suggests having group members take a photo of something that uniquely describes a part of their personality or interest. Send the photos to the moderator, who shows them one at a time while members try to guess who it belongs to.
Variation: Everyone sends in their version of the same thing: shoes they wear, favorite coffee mug, wrist watch, work space, pets…
Joke of the week. Each member comes prepared to share a short joke or story. You can open the meeting with all of them, or cue the next jokester between agenda items. Save the best one for last.
Watch the same movie together….apart. Agree to watch the same movie or TV episode during the week, then challenge members to share and compare something about what they saw. It could be suggested alternate endings, favorite character, an early plot twist that would negate the whole point of the show, or anything else your imagination suggests.
Useless-est Gadget. Challenge members to surf the internet to find the most useless gadget. Take turns showing a picture of the item while giving a one-minute pitch about why your teammates should buy this thing immediately.
Geographic Fun Facts. Dave Nevogt at Hubstaff Blog suggests asking members to be ready to share three unusual fun-facts about the city/state/country they live in that aren’t commonly known. This can be a good way to learn something new, while improving understanding of the location and cultural environment where your teammates work. Extra credit: Show a one page slide that includes a map and symbols to represent each fact.
Shout-Outs. Make it a point to have each member give a shout-out. This is a chance for them to share how some other member of the group did something positive that week that was helpful to the team. It’s a good way to keep the positive vibe going and to emphasize the importance of collaboration. Reinforcing the positive is never a bad thing.
Buzzword Bingo. An idea from Matt Krumrie at Remote Management is to choose a few words or phrases that are banned for the duration of the meeting. When someone uses the word, they get a point. Fewest points at the end of the meeting wins. This can help keep people attentive, while reinforcing the need to speak clearly and simply for best effect.
My Favorite _______. Tara Duggan at AZCentral suggests that leading up to the meeting you can send out a question asking about a favorite something. It could range from their favorite toy as a child, TV series from the 1990s, movie, or inspirational leader. During the meeting, ask for each person to share what their favorite is and why.
Post a goal. Another good idea from Hubstaff Blog is to help each other achieve their goals. Encourage each person to share a non-work related goal that they want to achieve, why it’s important to them, and the date they want to accomplish it by (a-la SMART Goals). Post it to the team’s shared calendar. As the date approaches, ask for updates and encourage them. This can be a good way to help build in some accountability as they strive to reach their goals.
Virtual Team Building – The Takeaway
Just because your people are distributed over eight states, two continents, and seven time zones doesn’t mean you can’t be a team. Like leading any team, if you want to build the bonds of trust and collaboration, you have to work at it.
When you set aside some dedicated time for focused virtual team building, and integrate activities like these into your weekly routine, you will find your team growing stronger and better day by day.
And who knows, you might even have some fun.
Want to learn more about how to lead a strong, engaged virtual team? Check out the Leading Virtual Teams Course: Keys to Leadership Success in the Virtual World.