Remote Team Building Activities
Team building has always been an integral part of managing a team, whether that’s in the office or in a remote setting. But it’s easy to overlook it. Especially if you’re working under tight deadlines and the pressure is on. It’s one of those areas where we already have a good idea of what is needed, but in fact, the strategies and reasoning behind it go a lot deeper than you probably think.
Maybe it’s your first time managing a remote team, or perhaps you’re already a seasoned veteran. Looking for the latest tips and tricks in team building is always a good idea, regardless of how long you’ve been working in the remote world. If you’re struggling to keep your team energized, on track, and enthusiastic, then it’s time to take a look at some more innovative methods to help your team.
Without proper team management and building, there are a few pitfalls that are easy to fall into for remote workers. Not balancing work and personal-time and dealing with loneliness are the two biggest challenges faced by remote workers. According to the State of Remote Work 2020 report, 38% of their sample base reported them as the top of their list.
Team building can help you to make sure that your team has the best chance to avoid some of the most common problems. In fact, there are specific activities out there that can help with individual issues that the team might be facing. There are also multiple stages that your team will go through during their work on a project. Even these will affect how you approach teambuilding to get the most out of your activities.
We now all work in an environment that is hugely tech-based. It also depends so much on social interactions done over the internet. Communication is so critical for all of us to work outside the office, and team building is a great way to improve the skills people need to communicate efficiently.
In the State of Remote Report 2020 from Buffer, 20% of their survey put communication and collaboration as their biggest struggle. All these top issues will significantly affect how well your team operates. Spending time on team building may seem inefficient to begin with, but they actually save time in the long run.
To really make your teambuilding beneficial for your remote team, you need to take complete advantage of the new tools and methods of communication that are available. Without them, your team just won’t be up to the standard that is needed to make remote work a success. Once you manage to put the team together, there is really no looking back. It’s rewarding, a whole lot of fun, and an absolute pleasure to work in once you’ve managed to achieve it.
We’ll start by taking a little look at why we need to think so carefully about the team building before we get into the more specifics. Best of luck!
Why team building is important
Team Building has got a bit of a bad reputation. What springs to mind for most people are boring team-building exercises and forced socializing events without much fun. It’s a shame though that people think of it like this. When it works, it’s so important in helping people create fantastic work together.
Bad teams exist in all working environments, regardless of whether you’re in an office or working remotely. Personality clashes, bad management, and inadequate communication can all ruin the relationship you need between teammates. Spending time to build up your team and encouraging good habits can help to avoid all of this.
It isn’t just about helping people to work better together either. It also builds up the social bonds between your teammates. A team that interacts better together on a social level will also find their work more rewarding and enjoy themselves. Let’s have a deeper look at some of the reasons as to why it’s so important in the workplace:
It improves overall communication
This is one of the most important areas in remote work, as it’s all you have to rely on when interacting with your team members. Of course, nothing beats having a good communication policy set in place, but it helps to build on these skills in different ways… not just by following the rules and policies! A lot of the exercises you will introduce as a remote manager will be about improving trust and communication in the team.
It improves creativity within the team
If you end up choosing tasks which have a more creative spin to them, you will help foster and improve creativity in your team. As creativity can be split into its different components, including cognitive, emotional, spontaneous, and deliberate, you can begin to target what your team needs most. Not all tasks will rely on every aspect, so once you’ve identified what is needed you can really begin to tailor your team building exercises.
Breaks down barriers and silos
This is important for small teams who may have a disconnect with management or large teams which have some team members working in small silos. If you increase trust between everyone, especially with management, you’ll have a positive overall is really no looking back. It’s rewarding, a whole lot of fun, and an absolute pleasure to work in once you’ve managed to achieve it. We’ll start by taking a little look at why we need to think so carefully about the team building before we get into the more specifics. Best of luck! The Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Building Activities 5 effect on work. You can as a manager help people to see you more as a colleague, rather than as someone handing down orders.
It reveals hidden talents
This is one that isn’t thought about much but can actually really change the dynamic of a team. When going through your team-building activities, you may find that somebody has a hidden or maybe even unknown talent. More reserved team members may see a team-building exercise also as an opportunity to demonstrate a skill they haven’t had the opportunity to use in their work. This benefits everyone in the team, so it’s a real winner!
People learn to resolve conflicts better
Many activities might introduce potentially conflicting situations to the team. This gives them time to practice their skills and understand how each team member deals with conflict. They can then use this knowledge when conflicts arise in their normal work. You’ll read more about this later when we go through the different team stages. Also, by building up social bonds in the team, you might find that you have less conflict in the team when they work together on projects.
It builds up trust between your team members
When working on a project that has a lot of dependencies between team members, trust plays a huge role in effective collaboration. If you have a deadline looming over your head, trusting that your other teammates will produce their work on time and to a good standard is key to managing your own workload. Team building exercises that put people in positions where they have to trust their coworkers will go a long way in helping to develop this. Socialising also will help here too. Trust doesn’t just happen overnight though, so regular team building that concentrates on this is the best way to get the results you want.
Team building is different in a remote environment
Team building in a remote environment is in a lot of ways similar to the office, but different in how you achieve the goals you want. We all want the same thing regardless of where you work: To have a team that can collaborate well, has close personal bonds, and helps each other out when needed. All of this doesn’t just happen by itself though.
You have to nurture it with good management, team-building activities, and regular support and feedback for your team. So what is different then? Well, the way that you do all these has to be done in an online environment. Team Building exercises can’t take advantage of the fact that you are all in the same room together, and feedback sessions can’t happen as organically as bumping into someone in the office.
An office’s culture is also a natural way of making your team feel more united that can be easier to foster in a shared physical space. A remote company can struggle here without putting a lot of effort into making a strong culture. So, to pick up the slack that can sometimes be there, you need to be more intentional about team building
Remoters can feel a bit isolated and left out of the picture when working from home. Their work can be up to scratch and on time meeting deadlines, but they struggle to feel like they’re really part of a team. Especially when the opportunities for socialising more naturally aren’t really there to take advantage of
We can also take a look at how team building is done through remote channels. It takes quite a lot more planning to successfully execute all the exercises and plans you have to help build up team bonds. It could be that everyone is working in different time zones, or that it’s difficult to get people to engage as much when speaking through video chat.
Once you’ve taken in all these differences and planned accordingly, a distributed team can be even more productive and powerful than one in the office (we know it from the experience!). It takes more effort to do, but the results are much greater. When you get it right, dedicated remote teams are committed, and don’t rely on having to physically be with their teammates to get awesome work done.
Types of distributed teams
Not all distributed teams have the same kind of makeup. This can depend a lot on the company you are working where, and what their remote conditions are already like. Especially now that a lot of firms are beginning to experiment with having distributed teams, you might find that not everyone will be working remotely. It can also be that your team has to be distributed within a specific country, or that only the remote workers you have are abroad.
Let’s take a look at the most common ones you’ll find, and see what matches your situation the most:
A distributed team will mainly be working from an office location, but they may not be the same offices. It can also be that some of the employees are working completely remote from outside an office.
- For example, your marketing team may be all working together from one office location at your HQ or local hub. You may have a graphic designer working with the team, who is working completely remote from home or another location.
- Another example is a team that is distributed but works from multiple office locations. This is common in larger companies that are working internationally.
A hybrid remote team has a mixture of both working conditions, but the balance can be a lot different between promoters and office workers.
- A hybrid-remote team can have a majority of employees working primarily remotely and some employees working primarily from one or more offices
- Another hybrid-remote team could have an even number of employees working primarily remotely and employees working primarily from one or more offices
- And finally the last possibility, a hybrid-remote team with a majority of employees working primarily from one or more offices and some employees working primarily remotely
What your company chooses to have depends a lot on their location, areas where they do business, and the talent that they have decided to hire in the company.
A fully remote team will be made up of team members who all work outside of the office. There is also almost no need or requirement to meet with your teammates physically, other than perhaps the occasional retreat or conference. It’s a really exciting and new setup to work in and is getting more popular every day. These teams will likely be in companies that have always been fully remote, usually in the technology or services sector. A fully remote team can be distributed across many time zones or concentrated in one geographical region.
The development of a remote team
Just like remote work itself, teams are constantly developing and evolving. There really isn’t a one size fits all policy (unfortunately), so you will have to carefully pick the right methods and tools to manage and lead your team.
Building up your team with all the right skills they need will take time and effort. But, there are recognizable stages that you will be able to identify that will help you choose the correct path to take. Bringing together people who may be from all around the globe and different cultures is no easy feat!
One of the best tools is your kit to use here will be the Bruce Tuckman TeamDevelopment Model. It was developed in 1965 and still holds today as a great way of describing the journey that a team will go through. It’s also got a pretty catchy description too! Forming, storming, norming, and performing.
Tuckman was a psychological researcher from the US who spent a lot of time analyzing teams. He realized that for a team to really grow and develop, they have to move through the phases mentioned above. It’s a whole process of working, solving problems, tackling challenges, and communicating that will happen throughout the lifecycle of a team. It’s been developed and worked on over the years but has stayed as an important theory in team building. In fact, Tuckman added in one last phase, adjourning and transforming, to complete the full journey.
So how does this fit in with building up our team? Well, the activities and management choices you make will depend a lot on what stage your team is in. For example, it’s not the best idea to do an ice breaker exercise like “show your virtual office” when your team has already been working together for months. This example might be pretty obvious, but there are other choices and decisions to be made that aren’t as easy to make.
If we analyze what stage a team is in, we can then design and implement exercises that match with the team’s development. This way you will get the most effective results and not waste time on exercises that aren’t suitable. Remember how we mentioned earlier about bad team-building experiences we’ve most likely all had? Well, it’s likely because they weren’t applied to the specific needs of the team in their stage of development.
The forming phase is stage 1 of the Tuckman model, and takes place when you have just created your new distributed team. At this point in time, you will have people working together who may not have collaborated before. Your first meeting will probably consist of setting goals and discussing challenges, which also will probably change during the development of the team.
Your team also may not even know each other, so expect them to work individually a lot whilst they become more comfortable with the rest of their team. At this stage, everyone also will try to be on their best behavior and not rock the boat too much. But don’t expect this to last too long! The only way the team can figure out its true dynamics, roles, and responsibilities is by working through conflict. This will all happen naturally as time goes on in the project.
What does all of this mean for you as a distributed manager? Primarily everyone is going to rely on you for instructions and guidance, rather than other teammates. You will have to set priorities and goals from above, as your team hasn’t yet figured out all their individual roles and responsibilities.
The methods and processes that you layout for people to use will take a while to sink in, so don’t expect people to follow your rules all the time. Questions will be directed solely to you about why you’re doing the work and the best way to do it.
If you’re working with a team where no one knows each other, then you will also have to deal with a lack of social dynamics. Interaction between the team members won’t be so high, and will not be as relaxed as when they know each other better.
After your team has spent some time working with each other, they will move into the storming stage. This can be quite challenging, as your team members will begin to work through conflict and change the boundaries and dynamics of their roles. People’s emotions will also be very different. Some may feel anxious and stressed as they haven’t quite defined their roles and tasks, while others may feel confident and eager if they have gotten off to a good start.
Team members will begin to realize that the usual way they like to work might not fit in with the way the team needs to work. Once this begins to settle however trust forms. Getting through any personality clashes or conflict is vital for the team to keep progressing. A hierarchy begins to form, and some members may fight for certain responsibilities and positions.
Tuckman notes in his paper that some teams are able to skip the stage completely and move straight into norming. Usually, this occurs with a team that has previously worked together, or already operate in similar ways due to internal processes at the company. Not every group will have real conflict either.
But for those who do end up having some, the storming stage can last for a long time until conflict is resolved. Also interestingly, it is possible for a team to revert The Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Building Activities 11 back to storming if they face a significant challenge that shakes up the group dynamics again. This can be detrimental to the overall work of the team, decrease morale, and lower motivation. This makes team building important so that you can help guide the team into the norming stage.
Once any conflicts are resolved and arguments settled, the team will begin to relax more in its well-defined roles. Team members will appreciate the strengths that others have, but also identify their weaknesses and know when to lend a helping hand. You might see some socializing going on here as well, which is good to support and foster.
This will help reduce the chance of going back into the storming stage. As we mentioned before, this is a possibility so be prepared. There can be some overlap between the storming and norming phases as new challenges and tasks arise. As a distributed manager, you will find yourself giving less feedback, as team members start to ask for constructive feedback from each other.
This is where you will start to see some real progress in the work that people are producing. But you have to be a bit wary. After a potentially stressful storming stage, your team members may be worried about raising any issues or challenges to avoid going back. This can also be bad for the team dynamic and work that the team produces.
Performing is where you will get all your best work and collaboration done. By this point, the overall aim and goals of the team should be clear to everyone and the input that you will need to give will be a lot smaller. The manager’s role is much smaller than in the beginning, so you will probably be participating in your team’s work a lot more.
Team decisions will also be made with the criteria set out by the manager at the beginning of the project. But they will come mainly from the team themselves and not from you.
All of this sounds great, right? Well, there is still the chance for conflict to occur. The way this conflict is resolved though is a lot different than in the previous stages. They will be resolved in a more constructive way and will lead to beneficial changes in the way people work. The best work will be done in this stage, as the relationships between the team and you as the distributed manager are at their most cohesive.
This final stage was added in by Tuckman in 1975, after his initial work on team development stages. He realized that teams, in fact, have one more final stage in their journey, after the work has been completed. This stage is also sometimes called the mourning stage, as the team parts ways and members move onto other projects.
After the work is finished, your team will normally be on a high if the project’s goals have been achieved. But there can also be some difficulty in the change over to new work. This is especially so if your team members have formed tight bonds, enjoyed the process, and are unsure about what they will be doing now the project is done.
There will certainly be conflicting emotions… so calling it mourning makes sense! Your role as a manager will be to make sure that any final tasks are completed, as your team can get distracted with the feelings they might have. Some of these tasks might be boring and mundane, such as documenting and making records of what was achieved. So, you have to make sure the team still completes them while going through the adjourning process.
Hopefully, at the end of this step, everyone has learned from the experience and is ready to take their learning onto the next project they’re in.
Team building activities
Team building exercises for the forming stage
When you’re looking for team-building exercises to run in the forming stage, your goal is to try and begin to create bonds between the individual members of your team. It could be that none of the team have worked directly with each other before, or even that they don’t even know each other if you work in a larger company.
You will also get a much better idea of the roles and tasks that each person should be working on, who will work well together, and even possible conflicts you might have to deal with in the future. Don’t forget that at this point in the Tuckman development model, your team will be relying mainly on you to give guidance and instructions. This means you should be prepared to encourage people to take part more in these team-building exercises. Be a good example and really be enthusiastic in the activities and tasks you set.
So what exactly do you need to do at this stage as a remote manager?
- You really need to be in charge and giving direct leadership whilst everyone figures out their roles.
- Providing structure is key in the norming stage. You’ll be setting meetings, creating the agenda, and probably running them all too.
- You should give direct instructions to all team members. This will change in the future as people understand the objectives of their work more, but for the meantime, you’ll be doing a lot of direct management.
- You will have to explain the objectives of the project and get people enthusiastic about completing it. This means you need to clearly explain the mission and why it’s so important. This will help to generate buy in.
- Keep a note of the different strengths that each team member has, how they work, and where there are possible synergies between team members.
Virtual Office Tour
For a distributed team, this one sounds a little bit strange. Isn’t the whole point of remote work that you don’t have to be located in an office? Well yes… and no. So you guys probably won’t all have a shared office space, but everyone is working from somewhere. Whether it’s in their home setup, in a coworking space, or from a hotel lounge or cafe if traveling.
- Start by finding a suitable time for everyone to join a group conference call.
- It’s important that everyone makes sure that their webcam is working, so make sure you put this in the calendar invite too.
- After joining the call, give a mini tour of where you’re working that day and some info about the place you’re in. Make sure to take some time for questions if anyone has any too.
- After you’ve finished, get your team members to take it in turns to do the same.
This exercise works especially well when your distributed team is working all across the world. Seeing your teammate’s home office in Mumbai, or somebody else’s coworking space in Madrid is a quick and easy way for your team to build up interest in each other’s background and circumstances.
This will help everyone begin to understand each other a bit better if they don’t reveal much about themselves personally. You can already begin to build up a bit of a better picture of someone from the place that they choose to work.
Virtual coffee breaks
Again, this one sounds a bit odd. How can you have a coffee break when you’re not even in the same room as your team? So… it’s not exactly the same as a real life coffee break, but here we’re trying to replicate the same outcome that a coffee break has in the workplace. It’s not about the coffee here, it’s about the socializing that happens! The spontaneous chats and interactions that happen in an office are a lot more difficult to make happen in the remote world. So, to make it happen we have to organize the team a bit more and give them the opportunity to take breaks in their day to have a virtual coffee break.
You can do this in groups, to begin with and get people feeling more comfortable with the situation. Not everyone wants to have a 1 on 1 straight away, but the better the team knows each other the easier it gets.
To begin with, you should set a theme or topic to help break the ice when people don’t know each other so well. Maybe you’ll talk about how they’re going on with their work, maybe they’ll talk about the soccer match that was on TV the night before. Either way, what happens here is you help to build bonds and relationships between the team.
Another great example is to set up a dedicated voice chat channel for your virtual coffee break. When you have a spare 5 minutes, move yourself to the channel and see if anyone else joins. If you find though that your team still isn’t taking the time to have a break, you can even schedule it for them in their calendars as a reminder. As with all team building exercises, you will have to experiment a bit to find out what really works for your team.
So, the clue here is really in the name. You prepare a list of random questions that you will get your teammates to ask each other.
- What’s your least favorite food?
- What’s the one country you want to visit the most?
- If you could be any animal, what would you be?
- What’s your most embarrassing nickname?
- What’s still on your bucket list?
- What’s your weirdest talent?
The key here is to make the questions entertaining so that the answers you get stimulate discussion and socialising in your distributed team.
Team building exercises for the storming stage
Once you’ve gone through the forming stage, you’ll need to change your team-building activities to fit in with the new challenges you’ll find in the storming stage. Everything here is about trying to help people get through conflict, understand why people make certain decisions, and establish what roles people will be performing. This is the most difficult stage of them all, both emotionally and in terms of your work, so guiding your team in the correct way is incredibly important.
Make sure that you set aside time in everyone’s schedule to get involved with the exercises and tools you’ll implement, even if people are busy. It may take an hour to do now, but it saves hours of work in the future by helping establish roles and relationships early on.
Your management style will have to change from the forming stage, but here are the key points to look out for:
- Your role will be much more like a coach here, as you listen to the problems people are having and try to resolve conflicts. Hearing people out really does help to calm the storm a bit.
- You should give more guidance on how people are working together, without micromanaging too much. If you keep in control of everything, it’s difficult to move to the norming stage.
- You will still need to have some authority though to help guide the team through the process. But this will be in combination with listening to what the team has to say, and noticing already where things are working well.
- You need to keep emphasizing the purpose and goal of what you’re doing. The team is still a long way from the finishing line, so they need that drive to keep going through this difficult stage.
Myers Briggs Type Indicator
It’s more than likely that most of you are already familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (known as 16 personalities test), or have completed one at some point in your life. It’s a questionnaire that helps you identify exactly how you experience and perceive the world. Obviously, not everyone is the same in how they deal with events, so this test attempts to help you understand better your values and needs. There are 16 different possible combinations, which combine different categories of sensation, feeling, thinking, and intuition. Let’s have a look at how you might organise this:
- Send out a link in advance where people can access the Myers Brigg Type Indicator test online. Make sure you give people enough warning, as it can take some time to complete.
- Find a time where everyone is available to join a group call and ask them to send their results beforehand.
- Begin the call by showing the map of personalities of your team members.
- Prepare guiding questions to better analyze your personalities together like: What type of work do I enjoy? What makes me frustrated? What is my aim in life etc.?
- Discuss your results and answer guiding questions. Going first in these exercises is a great way to demonstrate how it works, and reduce the nervousness some people can have. If you’re dealing with a bigger team you might want to send people to breakout rooms so they can discuss the results in a closer environment.
The key here is to spark the discussion and get to know each other on a deeper level, so make sure that you are ready to jump in and ask questions if people aren’t so enthusiastic to begin with.
Your teammates should find it fairly easy to talk about themselves, and whether the results fit their expectations or not. This will help everyone get to know each other much better than the test results themselves. As they compare their personality type with how they really are, you will find out what drives each person, how they like to interact, and what their possible strengths and weaknesses will be. By doing it this way, you can get a much more genuine answer than just by asking them in a more straightforward way.
The True Colours Personality Test
This is an alternative test you can do with your team, lesser known and much simpler than the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Through a series of questions that ask about your likes and dislikes, the test rates your personality as either a blue, green, orange, or gold personality type. After completing the test, you are presented with two dominant colours that most reflect your personality.
Green types are good independent thinkers, orange are action-orientated and spontaneous, blue are compassionate and empathetic, and gold are price and organised.
After completing the test, have some discussion about the results. It’s also much easier to use it on a daily basis referring to some situations and mentioning that “it makes sense, you’re blue”. While your teammates might not always agree, it will remind them and build on the team building exercise they have already completed. Working in little refreshers like this and bringing up previous results from team building exercises is an easy and quick way to keep the team building process going.
Hofstede Cultural Dimensions
Reading up on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is highly recommended for your team if it’s made up of people from different cultural backgrounds. You can turn discovering cultural dimensions into a great team-building activity that helps your team understand each other better. This is so important in the storming phase, especially if conflicts are happening due to bad intercultural communication.
Hofstede originally outlined 5 different dimensions that make up a country’s national culture. These dimensions can be used to characterise the way that people will interact with others in their day to day lives. The dimensions include:
- Power Distance Index: A measurement of how much inequality in power is accepted by the least powerful in society. A high index means that unequal societal hierarchies are widely accepted.
- Individualism vs. Collectivism
- Uncertainty Avoidance
- Masculinity vs Femininity
- Long-term Orientation vs. Short-term Orientation: A lower measurement here means that traditions are strict and upheld.
- Indulgence vs Restraint
Countries are scored nationally for each dimension, which can then be compared. Even in the truly global world that we live in now, big cultural differences exist. To be able to communicate and work well with people from different countries, it is crucial to understand what these differences are. To turn this into a group team building exercise, think about doing the following:
- Give an explanation or quick presentation in a group call with your team explaining what the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions are. You can also send it out before the meeting and ask people to come prepared.
- You can find scores online for different countries, so prepare the scores for each country that your team members come from.
- Begin by looking at your own country and giving your opinion on whether it’s correct or not. Again, try to generate some discussion here by sharing how you feel about your heritage, some characteristics of your nationality, etc.
- After this, you can give the results of each team member’s country and ask their opinion. You want to see how accurately they think it reflects themselves and discover their roots.
After going through this process, your team will get a much deeper understanding of each other and their backgrounds. This is key in helping avoid conflicts in the future that can happen due to cultural differences. You can also refer to these results later like we mentioned with the colours test. It’s quick, easy, and will give you results without putting in much more effort.
Fun facts about your culture
Getting everyone to prepare some interesting facts about where they’re from and their culture goes really well with the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions. It’s recommended to try to do these two together or around the same time, as you can compare what people have said with the scores from Hofstede.
Team building exercises centered around culture always work well in remote teams as they’re usually so international. Don’t worry if people think their facts are boring… quite often the small differences in how people live are much more interesting to people not from that culture.
Team building exercises for the norming stage
For your team building here, the key is to help build on the relationships formed in the storming stage and avoid slipping back into bad habits or conflict. Your team will finally be more comfortable in what they’re doing, and you’ll have more time yourself not having to manage every situation. So, make the most of it! You’ll be working a lot more yourself, but you will also have time to keep building up the team through exercises or other strategies.
In terms of management style, you will need to step back a bit from the more direct role that you had in the beginning:
- Place a focus on building up the confidence of each team member, now you have seen where their strengths lie. It’s also a good time to give people more difficult and complicated tasks.
- Let your team work more autonomously, but be prepared to challenge the methods they’re using and way they work. Play the devil’s advocate!
- Collaborate more with the team on the tasks they’re doing. It’s time for you to manage less and work more.
- Help develop processes that are already beginning to form. Support the good ones and discourage the bad.
Virtual coffee break – ask your team to take the lead!
We’ve already talked about this, but it’s worth another mention especially in the norming phase. At this point, we’re trying to foster the socializing that probably has already started to take place by itself. If you’ve already been running virtual coffee breaks then great, keep going and ask your team to take the lead!
By this point, your team will already have had quite a few virtual coffee breaks. It’s always good to shake things up a bit and to help meet your new goals for this stage The Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Building Activities 20 of development. We mentioned previously that it is a good idea to begin with to have virtual coffee breaks as a team or in small groups.
If you haven’t switched to one on one breaks then give it a go now in the norming stage. If you’ve already done this, then another possible step is cross department coffee breaks. More often than not, your team will be working on a project that also is linked to another department. Try to get them to socialise together a bit to help break down silos, and also for everyone to get a better understanding of the end goal.
If you haven’t started virtual coffee breaks with your team then now really is a good time to do it. Beginning them in the performing stage really won’t help you as much in the development cycle. We don’t want to slip back into the storming phase if we can avoid it, and getting your team to know each other better will help resolve and avoid conflicts in the future.
In this stage, you should think about the goals of your 1 on 1 sessions with each member of your team. You should really be doing these individual meetings from the start, but in the norming stage your goals and objective will change slightly. At the beginning, you’ll be focused on getting to know each team member and how they will fit into the team. You’ll probably be dealing with a lot of worries too or possible conflicts they are facing. In the norming stage though, their roles will be much more defined. Now is the time to focus more on personal goals and their future growth.
We mentioned before that in the norming phase, some people might be hesitant to bring up any issues or challenges they have to avoid going back into the storming stage. This is a good opportunity to find out if there is anything people want to get off their chest.
Pairing up for common working sessions
Organizing your team into pairs for regular working sessions in the norming stage will help avoid slipping back into the storming stage of development and tighten these bonds that have begun to form. By this point, your team will have gotten over some major conflicts and will be beginning to collaborate better together.
There’s no better way really to build on and encourage this than by pairing people up to work together. They may not even be working on related tasks, but it still gives them the time to chat and get to know each other like in a normal office.
All of this can happen organically if you use voice chat channels, but this isn’t so common in a lot of companies. What’s better is that you organize the sessions, pick the pairs, and then schedule it in the calendar at a time that works for everyone. It can just be an hour too, it doesn’t need to be long. You just have to ask your team members to hop on a call, turn on their cameras and… start working!
Post a goal
In this exercise, you help build up the team by focusing everyone on achieving their goals. Everyone has them, but we don’t always share them… so let’s try and change that! By asking people to share them, you build up accountability and the drive that’s needed to achieve them.
- Organize a meeting at a time that is suitable for everyone. Let them know that the plan is to share their goals, both work related and personal. Ask everyone to come prepared.
- As per usual, make sure that you go first so you can give an example of what everyone is expected to do.
- Start relaying your work goals, as well as personal ones that are suitable to share with the team.
- After you’re finished, everyone should take it in turns to do the same, explaining why they want to do it and how long they expect it to take.
- Now for the tricky part! To make this really work, you need for your team to put their goals into a shared calendar, with an expected date of when it should be done.
- At regular intervals, maybe every week, have a recap and see how everyone is doing. This can be a bit stressful for some, so keep this in mind and don’t put too much pressure on more introverted team members.
By simply putting these goals in the calendar, it can lead to a real drive to achieve them. Even if they’re not achieved, they stay at the forefront of people’s minds and this can help to give real focus.
The norming stage is really about supporting the roles that people have begun to develop and find. Putting these work related wishes into a more structured format will also help with the transition into performing. Including personal goals too also encourages people to get to know each other better. It’s really a win-win situation all round!
Team building exercises for the performing stage
Once your team is performing and at this stage in their development, it can seem like your work is done already. Don’t fall into the trap though, you still need to make an active effort in keeping everyone on track and making sure that good working relationships are maintained.
Luckily for you, it isn’t as much work as in the previous stages. Here you want to be encouraging and reinforcing all the good things your team has done already. It’s all about letting people know that what they have done is good, but also not letting them fall back into bad habits or get complacent.
Let’s take a brief look at how you should change your management style:
- Your team will be working fairly autonomously now. You should concentrate then on feedback and performance indicators, rather than giving direct instructions.
- You should have a close look at the identity and relationships that the team has formed. This is good for any future projects you have, as you can recommend people for roles in a new team.
- You should be self reflecting too. At this stage spend more time looking at what you do, and how this has affected the work and outcomes of the distributed team.
When you’re finally in the performing stage, it’s great to keep morale high by letting people know when they’ve done a good job. It’s an obvious part of your job as a distributed team manager. But praise from your boss or team lead can sometimes go over people’s heads.
What really counts is getting praise and positive feedback from other team members. You should really encourage people to let everyone know when someone has done an amazing job. Simply put it into your routine if you have all team meetings and ask if anyone wants to give a shout out. Don’t make everyone do it though! Forcing it won’t give you the effect that we’re looking for here.
Guess the owner
This exercise is similar to the random facts one we covered earlier. But, the difference is that now everyone knows each other a lot better. Apart from being great for team building, it’s also a lot of fun to do! It’s also even more surprising when you think you know someone, but you find out something super surprising!
- Ask your team members to prepare pictures from childhood, unknown facts about themselves, or some other quirky piece of information that the rest of the team won’t know about.
- Each member of your team then sends it to a moderator, which more likely than not will be you as the team manager.
- The moderator then needs to collect all the info into a presentation. It doesn’t have to fancy, just one fact, picture, or piece of information per slide.
- After this, get the team to guess which fact belongs to who. You can even do this with a tool like sli.do so that people get the chance to vote.
The objective here is to keep on improving the more personal relationships between your team members. By this time, everyone will know each other much better than when the project began… so the older exercises based on getting to know each other won’t work so well. Guess the owner really shakes it up by asking your team to think of things that no one would guess.
Virtual hall of fame
Having a virtual hall of fame doesn’t take much time to do, but can really help your team feel proud of their achievements. You need to be reinforcing the great things that your team has done in order to get to the performing stage, and there’s nothing better than a record of all their achievements to date.
- Begin by identifying all the different milestones that your team has completed while working together on your project.
- Summarise them all in a one pager, and share it with everyone on your team.
- As soon as you complete another milestone, update or add it to the list.
- Make this a cause for celebration! Share it with your group through whatever medium works best. This could be a group call, whatsapp message, or an email.
- You can even celebrate individual achievements by making funny “diplomas” and placing them in some shared folder.
At the end of the project, there’s nothing better than sending out your virtual hall of fame to remind everyone of the great things that you have achieved together. At this point, you want everyone to take on the skills they’ve learnt to their next project. Having a document or a shared drive that outlines everything they’ve done is an easy way to help people remember the challenges they’ve overcome.
Engaging team into monthly/weekly reports
It can be easy to think that when everything is going well, you don’t need to run team-building exercises anymore. This is so wrong though! People can get comfortable, bad habits can creep in, and what was a high performing team can begin to slow down.
So, the least you can do is start engaging your team in monthly or weekly reports. You can ask them to create slides, deliver the meeting or moderate it. They have to put themselves in the position where they are responsible for the whole team.
This serves two different purposes. First of all, everyone gets a better idea of what’s going on in the team and what people are struggling with. Secondly, it acts as a regular way of getting the whole team together. This is always good for improving bonds in the team, especially when team members can end up a bit siloed whilst working remotely.
Tried and tested team building exercises
The best team building exercises are ones that have been already implemented with success by managers and employees all around the world. We’ve collected together with the help of our partners useful tasks, tips, and exercises to help you guide and build up your remote team. Make sure to give these a try too, or adapt them to the ways that you and your team work. We’ve got a broad range of companies from multiple different industries to contribute, so you’re sure to find something here that will suit your team.
Guess that desk!
For this activity, ask each teammate to take a photo of their desk setup and send it to the game organizer. Encourage team members to include typical objects found on their desk in the photo besides their laptop, including clocks, keyboards, artwork and anything else!
The game organizer prepares a presentation of all the images arranged in a random order (one image per slide) and later shares their screen with the rest of the team. Next, everyone guesses whose desk belongs to whom and the teammate with the most correct guesses wins!
Create and share a corresponding spreadsheet to allow each teammate to record their guesses for each desk so it’s easy to identify the winner at the end. This activity is a great way to learn a little more about how people on your team work and is a fun way to kick-start a company meeting!
Submitted by: Toggl Plan
11 – 50 employees
Remote Team Coffee Talks
Since the FinanceBuzz office regularly hosts team get-togethers, they decided to do the same on the remote side. They have a distributed team split between their headquarters (office based in Delray Beach, Florida) and remote employees around the world. They began having biweekly “Remote Team Coffee Talks”. They set up a Zoom link for 1 hour and put it on the All Team Calendar so anyone can join. The team usually starts with an icebreaker question, then sees where the conversation takes them.
It’s always interesting, filled with lots of laughs, and encourages team bonding even when they don’t all work together on a day-to-day basis. During their latest Remote Team Coffee Talk, a few team members were visiting our office in-person for meetings. They took it upon themselves to reserve a conference room and still join everyone to chat! It was a great testament to their company’s culture in caring about each other not only as coworkers but as people.
Submitted by: FinanceBuzz
11 – 50 employees
The Energists make a point to have a working lunch every month. Everyone gets a lunch stipend to order food from their favorite local restaurant, and they sit around and chat about upcoming projects. It’s fun because everyone lives in different parts of the country, so the team gets to talk about regional foods. Everyone learns something, and it creates a sense of camaraderie that remote teams often lack.
Submitted by: The Energists
1 – 10 employees
At Wellthon’s last milestone celebration (remote) event, they played PowerPoint Karaoke. Everyone had a random deck of random slides and needed to do a 5 minutes presentation based on that, without having seen those slides beforehand. One nice thing with this activity is that it’s well suited for remote teams, doesn’t require any particular skills, and isn’t competitive.
Tip from the team: “I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a really fresh team, where people might not feel yet comfortable looking like a fool and doing improvisation in front of the team. You’d need to do some more ice breaking stuff first. But after that, it really helps get the team to jell and break down any barrier that could remain. For us, it was really great and everyone had a good laugh. We’ll be doing that again in the future once we have new team members!”
Submitted by: Wellthon
1 – 10 employees
X or Y?
Every week, Wellthon has a simple question shared in Twist. What’s your favorite taco? Best book you’ve read / movie you’ve seen lately? Pepsi or Coke? These kinds of questions that everyone needs to answer. Over time, without much effort, you end up knowing a lot more about your coworkers. They use that weekly question to kickstart a company wide discussion, and this creates a deadline and incentivizes people to answer the question. This discussion usually ends up talking about random stuff too, but the question and answers provide a nice and simple way to get the discussion moving.
They then let the whole group talk for some time, and branch into random 1-on1s, where everyone is paired with someone else different each week. Again, the question and initial group discussion help break the ice for people that don’t often talk to each other. This is a great opportunity to create a personal connection with everyone, even if you don’t interact with that person on a day to day basis
Submitted by: Wellthon
1 – 10 employees
Celebrating international holidays
RemoteTeam uses their team members’ holidays as learning and fun sessions. Since they’re located in different countries, the holidays of each member, when combined, make a lot of days and an opportunity to do something. So when a team member has a special holiday in their country, their software automatically notifies everyone. With this, each team member will go and find great info about the holiday. Then after the holiday, RemoteTeam has a short video call where they talk about the holiday in a way that everyone understands. The team also gets to hear about any fun stuff during the holiday from the team member celebrating it. This makes them learn more about other cultures and brings the team together, especially in the early stages.
Submitted by: RemoteTeam
1 – 10 employees
Once a week, airfocus sets aside one hour for talks with their small team. Every week, they pick a different topic and one member of our team has an hour to talk about whatever they please. For example, one of their team members talked about their home country’s best dishes. Another time, someone else talked about cars, which was their favorite interest. The idea is, take a topic you love and talk about it, while the rest of the team listens and adds comments.
The idea is to learn more about the people you work with as you listen to them speak about their favorite topics. It’s great for building company culture and learning more about the people you work with. When you work remotely, it’s difficult to get that feeling of being together with your coworkers, instead of being a bunch of strangers working from their homes every day. You can get those watercooler moments without flying the entire team in for a retreat every week.
Submitted by: airfocus
11 – 50 employees
Each day 4Patriots announces in their chat room that it’s dinner roll (pun intended) and asks what everyone is making for dinner that day. It’s really fun because they have people from all over, and people get ideas on what to make themselves, and even share recipes. It gets conversations going about whether the dish is cultural, regional, etc., and seriously, who doesn’t like talking about food?
Submitted by: 4Patriots
51 – 200 employees
Together as a group, the team at Buffer took a personality test called 16Personalities, which takes concepts from Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs test (here’s a bit more on that). They took the tests together in real-time and then taped them to a large poster board. We were sure to include our teammates who couldn’t be at the retreat as well by having them fill out the test in advance.
Submitted by: Buffer
51 – 200 employees
10up runs a remote version of ‘Articulate’ for their team building! They play this usually once a week in a ‘team meeting’ – we don’t play every week, but everyone has fun when we do. Everyone is given a list of 10 words to describe to everyone else, without saying the actual word. Others have to guess the describing word without using phrases like “sounds like” or “starts with the letter”. Some words are ‘action’ words, so ending in ‘ing, example ‘laughing’ – for these it’s fine to say “action word”. Each participant has 1 minute to describe as many words as possible.
Example lists of words:
- Bruce Willis
- A bench
- Hong Kong
- A road
- A squirrel
- A van
- King Tutankhamun
- The Golden Gate Bridge
Submitted by: 10up
51 – 200 employees
A quiz about employees
Komando Tech likes to introduce their new members in the team with a short interview about them. Periodically, they mix the few fun facts of several employees and create quizzes to see who was following. Different connections are continually being made, with people connecting one-on-one based on the things they’ve learned from the quizzes and interviews.
Submitted by: Komando Tech
1 – 10 employees
Movie marathon challenge
One activity that has made the Sleeping Lucid team even more close and united is by doing weekly movie marathon challenges. Each team member suggests one movie that the others have to watch and we make sure to talk about it after. This activity has made us look deeper into each other’s personalities and understand each other more through our movie tastes. A few of the movies they’ve seen together are: The Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and many more.
Submitted by: Sleeping Lucid
1 – 10 employees
This is an optional activity for staff members at Exposure Ninja. Those who want to be part of the buddy scheme will be paired with a team member from another department so the two individuals can work together to perform informal crossdepartment training. When people are initially paired up they give the teams talking points to discuss to kickstart the process. The idea is that it will give their team greater knowledge about the digital marketing industry as a whole and encourage communication between individuals that get little opportunity to interact otherwise.
Submitted by: Exposure Ninja
51 – 200 employees
Similar to “employee of the month”, Exposure Ninja also runs Ninja of The Month where individuals are picked from different departments based on their monthly work performance. This is announced over Slack and their design and HR teams work together to create bespoke certificates. Those awarded can choose from a range of gifts, with a charitable donation being the most popular prize.
Submitted by: Exposure Ninja
51 – 200 employees
Employee photo contest
Friendly competition is fun, and Ampjar gets to see moments and places from their teammates’ homes and lives. Entries range from cell phone snapshots of pets to serious photography hobbyists and getting to see everyone’s pictures is a great time. It’s not extremely serious, but they do have a small prize, usually a gift card or similar.
Ampjar has “judged” the content in a couple of different ways, including audience voting and a “panel” of team leaders. Themes are loose. They usually suggest something like “your summer travels,” or “home,” or similar. The key is to keep it low-key and make sure it’s really easy to participate. There are usually some offtopic pictures, but if people have something they really want to share, then great!
Submitted by: Ampjar
11 – 50 employees
“Shitty ideas” brainstorming sessions
These are brainstorming sessions and the WebSpero Solutions team calls it shitty ideas to make sure no one feels that they can’t present their idea. They have gotten into some really cool things from these ideas. It’s normally run every 2 weeks on Fridays. Anyone can suggest a topic for the next meeting, and the voting decides what topic will be picked up in the next meeting.
For example: here are their last 3 topics that were discussed
- How to make it more fun for new joinees
- What kind of partnerships should we venture into?
- New opportunities/ experiments that the company can do
The agenda is prepared by the host along with the team member whose topic has gotten the maximum votes
Submitted by: WebSpero Solutions
51 – 200 employees
Mr. Rogers Calls.
Team Building’s most successful remote team-building initiative is something they call “Mr. Rogers Calls”. Here’s how it works. Twice each month, a Slack bot automatically matches team members for a 30-minute video call. The only guideline for the calls is that you aren’t allowed to talk about work. Team members use this time to chat about their personal lives, projects, plans, pets, and otherwise.
The end result is that colleagues know each other better. These relationships help fuel productive collaboration on projects, confidence in sharing new ideas, and retention. Working with people you know and like is a crucial ingredient for building company culture.
Submitted by: Team Building
11 – 50 employees
Board Game day
The best thing that’s worked for Sellmax is actually having board game style days once in awhile. So, instead of tuning into work for a day, they have a relaxed day online where people can chat on slack and play their online games. So, some people will play chess, or checkers against each other. Others might play League of Legends and various other games. In addition, they give everyone a bit of a stipend to go out and purchase some snacks, and drinks (and yes beer is allowed). Everyone tends to have a blast and it’s a good way for people within the team to get to know each other. Even though it’s done online, you still get to learn about your team members outside of work.
Submitted by: Sellmax
11 – 50 employees
GIFs for team spirit
Brainity wanted to make each team member feel like their success/struggles were recognized, but didn’t want to get everyone together for time-wasting meetings that would get bogged down in gory details of tasks that weren’t relevant to the others. In order to find the balance between concise updates and feeling understood they each share a gif in Slack at the end of their team meeting to represent the sprint. It might sound like a pathetic HR gimmick but the power of the exercise is its simplicity. When a programmer tells sales about a difficult bug fix and shares a gif of a puppy slowly falling off a couch while desperately kicking its tiny legs as it tries to stay up… their frustrations are validated with an empathetic laugh from every department, even though the details of the experience aren’t fully understood.
Submitted by: Brainity
1 – 10 employees
Each week the team at Litmus add to a new, collaborative Spotify playlist with a theme, such as Bands We’ve Seen Live. On Friday they all listen together with a Jukebox app that a teammate built. So even though people are remote, everyone is listening to the same song at the same time! They also chat in our Jukebox slack channel.
Submitted by: Litmus
201 – 500 employees
Wins & Miseries Call
Convert has a weekly “Wins & Miseries Call” that’s open to everyone to attend. Their culture is “video on”, so they are sharing personal and professional wins and learnings. They can all see everyone; they laugh, support each other and try to learn to do better.
However, the annual favorite (aside from an in-person retreat!) is their Holiday Party! Convert gets everyone together and plays games using trivia and Kahoot! Everyone can join in and they’ve discovered just how competitive the team is! They also encourage people to dress up and decorate their workspaces for the party! Sharing local traditions is part of the fun!
Submitted by: Convert
11 – 50 employees
Homebrew Advice runs adventure games for the team to work together on. Team members are divided into teams and given the quests that they need to decipher and search for online. They get one task at a time before they’re allowed to ‘level up’. A few examples of these tasks are deciphering and decoding messages with the ‘decoding rules’ shrouded in a poem. The first team to figure out the rules from the poem and decode the message wins the task. Other tasks can include looking for the funniest gifs or creating a funny poem. The number of tasks in a quest can vary as long as it’s fun and active. Whoever wins the most tasks are given advantage points for the next quest.
Submitted by: Homebrew Advice
1 – 10 employees
The “Media Club” is Hot Jar’s longest-running remote team building activity. They use a dedicated Slack channel to share movie suggestions and vote on one to watch that month, which is discussed during a video call.
Their experience with the Media Club has given everyone so much pleasure over the years. The team has seen movies they normally might have skipped, and had deep discussions about values and history and food! But, the best is that everyone has developed deeper friendships with their colleagues around the world. They’ve learned so much about their cultures, their personalities, and life experiences. Being remote means Hot Jar doesn’t have the usual “water cooler chats”, which can be where real friendships are made at work. The Media Club is part of their water cooler.
Tips for starting your own Media Club:
- Set a regular date and time. Put it in a shared calendar. Keep it to an hour or less.
- Discuss and choose your sources. (Streaming services? In theaters?)
- Post your pick with enough time for everyone to see the movie. Hot Jar normally tries to run the poll Wednesday-Friday and announce it the following Monday.
- All are welcome, whether you’ve seen the movie in its entirety or not.
Coffee & learn sessions
“I’ve been running ‘coffee & learn’ sessions for the Hotjar marketing team since 2018. ‘Coffee & learns’ are informal, 15-minute sessions where we take turns sharing something we do, something we are, or something we’ve learned with the rest of the team. Coffee is optional, but encouraged if people enjoy it I started this tradition because I wanted to bring the team together less as a group of coworkers working on the same project, and more as a group of humans who are sharing 40 hours a week with one another. We’ve covered topics that range from the very practical (how to practice leadership, how to ask good customer questions) to the very personal (how to recover from burnout, what we have learned in our life as remote workers). The principle behind it is that there’s something extremely valuable in the regular practice of coming together to learn from, about, and with each other: I believe that trust is created and maintained when we keep coming together in a supportive environment with a willingness to share and to receive.” – Fio Dossetto, Senior Editor at Hotjar.
Submitted by: Hotjar
51 – 200 employees
Everyone loves to eat! And everyone gets the munchies – especially when you’re at home a lot and the fridge is haunting you. Food brings people together. This is no different within a remote team. At Topcontent, when you get the munchies, they want to know about it. Which is why they have created a team activity called The Munchies.
When a Topcontent team member is munching down on something they want to share with others, they quickly snap a photo and share it to the slack channel. It’s really cool seeing what other people, from different countries and cultures, are eating. At the end of each month, everyone draws a name and that person wins lunch on Topcontent. They get to go and buy lunch, the company pays for it, and of course, they need to upload a selfie of them eating their lunch.
Submitted by: Topcontent
51 – 200 employees
The birth map game
95% of the Topcontent team all work from different countries in their own homes. So pretty much everyone was born in a different country or a different town/city at least. They decided to play the Birth Map Game. Everyone had to send in a fun The Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Building Activities 36 fact or a weird legend about the place where they were born. It could be about the actual town or the actual country – they left it open! Everyone sent in their facts and Topcontent sent them to everyone so people could vote on who had presented the best fact about their birth place. The winner scored a whopping 9 out of 14 votes!
Submitted by: Topcontent
51 – 200 employees
With a distributed fully remote merchant support team working from home in many different countries, the challenge of personal connection is real – but it can be handled. Shopify uses the concept of Pop-Up Offices as an opportunity for remote Shopify employees to connect with others in their area on a consistent basis. These are currently held in 16 cities around the globe where they have a higher concentration of remote employees.
Shopify takes up space for a day and organises an in-person workday. The location could be a co-working site or a hotel conference room. Attendance is discretionary, not mandatory. It is a break from the work-from-home routine for a day, and attendees do pretty much the exact same as they would do if they were at home, with the added sense of camaraderie and togetherness that working side by side with their colleagues brings.
Lunch, coffee and snacks are provided as is a small stipend for travel/parking. The sessions usually end with some social interaction – board games, movie night, bowling or simply heading to a coffee shop or a bar.
Submitted by: Shopify
More than 1000 employees
Interactive All-hands meetings
During their monthly all-hands meetings, Slido uses live polling in order to reengage and give a voice to everyone on the team, including the colleagues who work remotely.
Since all-hands meetings are about and for the people, the Slido team likes to run a Silent Hero activity using a word cloud poll. Each member of the team nominates a colleague who, in their opinion, went the extra mile last month and submits their name into Slido. As the names start to come in, the names appear on the screen in a word cloud.
Slido’s CEO, Peter Komornik, often uses live polls to present company numbers and stats. He runs a multiple choice poll, giving their colleagues a chance to guess at how well the company did last month and vote in real-time.
Also, during the meetings that happen at the end of a quarter or year, Peter likes to turn the company highlights into a quiz and run a fun competition using Slido’s newest feature – Quizzes. Since Slido’s team is scattered around the world, hosting an interactive quiz is a great team-building activity that allows everyone to be
Submitted by: Slido
51 – 200 employees
Troop talks are Help Scout’s version of a virtual group hang out. When they first tried to do a group hangout in 2014, it was awkward. There would be these long silences and then two people would start talking and then stop to let the other one talk, and then talk over each other again. They’ve learned a thing or two about remote culture since then, though, and when they revisited the idea, it was obvious that a virtual group hangout also needed the secret sauce of deliberate planning and structure. Now, each month, People Ops Extraordinaire Leah Knobler chooses a theme and sets a date and time so folks have time to think about what they might want to share. This is an especially nice touch for the more introverted among them who like to take time to think through things instead of being put on the spot.
- Bon-App-etite – What is your most used, favorite app on your phone? Come share how it improves your life and what you did before you discovered it. At the end, we’ll have an App Essentials list to share with the team!
- Book Report – What book changed your life? Made you laugh and cry? Come share a teaser of that book. If you come to this troop talk, you’ll get a curated list of books to add to your shelf. Yay.
- Recipe Party – What’s your favorite recipe and why? Come and tell us all about it and we’ll have a little Help Scout cookbook to share after.
- Gratitude Share – More and more research shows that cultivating a practice of gratitude can increase our well-being. Come and share a story about someone you feel grateful for.
Submitted by: Help Scout
51 – 200 employees
One of Best Response Media’s most successful team-building exercises is their brmactivityclub channel in Slack. The activity club was actually an idea talked about at their Global Gathering way back in June 2018 and it has been going strong ever since! The concept is that the winner of each month chooses an activity to perform. Everyone has an entire month to post photographic evidence of their contribution and in the end, the entire company votes on a winner. We have had some really funny, artistic, and cultural activities over the months. We have had to put a few rules in place but no one is forced to participate. We have had drawing competitions, lip sync battles, arts and crafts, and even baking. Our activity club has brought them closer as a distributed workforce by giving everyone a glance into each other’s lives, cultures, and unique talents.
Submitted by: Best Response Media
11 – 50 employees
Silo Breaker is a 6-10 person group call that breaks down silos and connects staff members across teams and time zones through a fun, quarterly event. How does it work? Remote Year runs their staff list through a randomizer and adjusts it to make sure they have representation from most teams in each group. They elect ‘call captains’ to run each group, and block an hour for each group to meet, answer questions, and have fun conversations with those who they may not interact with on a day-to-day basis.
Some prompt questions are work-related, like Where are you in the world currently, what is your role, and what did you most recently accomplish that you’re proud of, and some prompts are silly, like If you were a kitchen appliance, what would you be and why? They ask their call captains to take a screenshot of the Zoom call and share fun recaps with the rest of the team.
Submitted by: Remote Year
51 – 200 employees
Remote Year also recognizes 2 individuals every month who were nominated for truly living their core values (Global Perspective, Community, Being Present, WorkLife Flexibility, Empathy, and Dreaming) in their day-to-day lives. Each Culture Club winner receives a round of applause on a team wide Zoom all-hands call, and is usually asked to give an ‘acceptance speech,’ and earns $100 USD as a prize in their next paycheck.
Submitted by: Remote Year
51 – 200 employees
“Dream Team” shout
At the closing of each Remote Year monthly all-hands call, the team all put their hands in front of their video screens, wiggle their fingers, and on the count of three, all say “Dream Team”. It’s a fun way to end the company call with a laugh and has been a tradition at Remote Year since the very beginning with fewer than 10 staff members. Now at 115 and counting, we keep the tradition alive!
Submitted by: Remote Year
51 – 200 employees
SHubtalks – Internal Ted Talks
Each month (sometime’s more than once), speakers are invited to come along and present a 5 to 20-minute talk on a topic of their choice. Scrapinghub creates an agenda for the talk with roughly between 2 to 4 talks scheduled for each edition. Each SHubtalk session lasts 1 hour in total on Fridays at 2 PM.
SHubtalks are a great opportunity to share ideas and knowledge with one another on a whole host of topics. The talks don’t have to be work-related either and can just be a quick 5-minute talk, there is no need to prepare slides, and the format is up to you. You can speak freely or come with some slides or photos that help tell your story.
SHubtalks are hosted on zoom.us (everyone receives a company-wide calendar invitation a few days prior to the event) and recorded and published on their Internal Confluence page. Here are some examples of their favorite none work-related ones: Cultural sharing talks, Ireland, Brazil, Ukraine, Peru, Portugal, music demonstrations, flutes & Uilleann pipes, homebrewing 101, empathetic communication, how to solve a Rubik’s cube, and guided meditation.
Submitted by: Scrapinghub
51 – 200 employees
At GrowthHackers, the team likes to perform a continuous Leadership Training program available to all team members, remoters included. This is with a goal of developing authentic leaders. GrowthHackers was built on a culture that encourages everybody to work together, defy limits, be the solution, and enjoy the ride. They understand that high-performing teams require continuous development and progress is a never-ending journey.
The Leadership Training meetings happen at the GrowthHackers office and is streamed live. Once a month, a different team leader is featured to share their life story and learnings with the whole team. The program is an initiative of the People Growth team and is updated quarterly. To learn more about their Leadership Trainings and management rhythm methodology, check out this article and get access to their leadership guide.
“We have a bake-off each TaxJar anniversary with three category winners: 1) Best Overall 2) Most Creative and 3) Ugliest (side note – I won ugliest last year haha). We get on Zoom, show off our cakes, and have judges who rate the cakes. The bakers describe the cakes, ingredients, and inspiration behind their creations. Such fun!” – Heather Wilson, Program Manager at TaxJar
Submitted by: TaxJar
51 – 200 employees
Winter Cookie Exchange
TaxJar has a sign up where people send each other some creative and delicious cookies from a secret baker. They then record videos, take photographs and share opening their goodies on Basecamp. Since they love our #PetsofTaxJar so much, many bake doggy treats from scratch for the pups!
Submitted by: TaxJar
51 – 200 employees
TaxJar also likes to hold an annual Halloween contest with judges. There are three categories: 1) Scariest, 2) Most Creative, and 3) Best Duo (a lot of #PetsofTaxJar get on this action, too). It’s great fun and everyone hops on Zoom and to share what they’re doing for Halloween.
Submitted by: TaxJar
51 – 200 employees
Atos has created a team building activity that’s a combination of cloud-based team collaboration, advocacy tools, and gamification where the team scores points by responding to various challenges. This creates friendly competition among their The Ultimate Guide to Remote Team Building Activities 43 experts to contribute content, place themselves on the “leaderboard”, and gain semi-annual recognition for leading in participation.
They also gave the program and the community a special name – the “Digital Envoys”. To create a greater community and connectedness across their team of experts, they used challenges like “share a good read” and video-enabled e-coffee breaks. This was in addition to re-sharing each other’s content. After three years, the widely distributed Digital Envoy team has thrived with 380 engaged employees. The community has completed over 25,000 challenges, 34,000 acts of advocacy, and almost 8,000 social shares. Despite being located in countries like Greece, the UK, the United States, and Bulgaria, this cohesive community continues to contribute greatly to their social advocacy efforts!
Submitted by: Atos
Coats of arms
Each company retreat XWiki organizes is centered around a main theme, and all activities are connected to it. For example, the theme for the XWiki Seminar 2016 was: Task Force – Commando. For the team building exercise, they wanted to create a coat of arms to better represent their teams and company. Those that could not attend the seminar physically joined and contributed through video-conferences.
They asked everyone to follow these instructions while creating their coat of arms:
- First space: Draw something that represents a recent achievement of the team.
- Second space: Sketch a little known fact about the team.
- Third space: Represent something the team is good at doing.
- Fourth space: Draw something that represents where the company is going in the future.
- Fifth space: The mission or vision of the company.
Submitted by: XWiki
11 – 50 employees
Friday Frolic events
Kiprosh has regular Friday Frolic events (the third Friday of every month) when the whole team comes together for informative sessions and fun activities. It’s their company-wide dedicated time for learning, sharing, and bonding as one Kiprosh team. Every month, they align themselves with one of their core values, like “Integrity”, “Communication”, “Discipline” etc. They then have quizzes or games around that value.
All Remote Associates (Kiprosh believes that they are all associates & not employees) are also part of these sessions via video calls. The event is announced on their Trello board as well as on their slack channel. At the end of the session, everyone celebrates the birthdays of that month. The remote associates are sent afterwards eGift vouchers on their birthday.
Submitted by: Kiprosh
11 – 50 employees
Food with a view
Each of Prezi’s offices — in San Francisco, Budapest, and Riga — are equipped with cameras giving a view of their cafeterias. This allows coworkers to see their colleagues in real-time in other offices, so they can say hello or join in an impromptu, worldwide round of drinks.
Submitted by: Prezi
Show ‘n Tell
Prezi holds “Show ‘n Tells” every other week to bring its San Francisco, Budapest, and Riga offices together for company updates, product launches, and more.
People join in from their respective offices or dial in from home. Prezi makes sure that teammates in at least one other office has time to present so that the Zoom call can move around to the startup’s different locations.
For particularly special “Show ‘n Tells” when the company has an important product launch, Prezi hosts company-wide toasts with champagne and, of course, cake!
Submitted by: Prezi
Smile! You’re on camera.
Prezi’s HR team is spread across offices in San Francisco and Budapest. To avoid seeing small faces in a conference room, the team requires everyone to join in from their laptop, even if they’re based in the same office. It helps everyone truly see and connect with each other.
Submitted by: Prezi
It’s hard work building a team, but worth it in the end
Along with the correct use of technology and great comms, team building is one of the cornerstones of a good remote working environment. Without it, you’re going to struggle completing projects and managing all your distributed team members. It’s not as easy as just running a few exercises, it also requires a much deeper understanding of the stages that each team goes through.
The only way to do this is by identifying the specific and exact needs of the team, and then tailoring your approach to what you have found. Tuckman’s model is a great tool for doing this and will help you better plan out your team building. It’s really worth taking a look in more detail, to help you easily identify where you and your team are. Also, don’t forget to constantly check your team needs and struggles with them, and just respond accordingly.
If we take a look at the key takeaways, the process becomes much clearer and easier to understand in how it will benefit your team.
- Identify what part of the Tuckman model your team is in. This will give you a good start in planning and executing successful team building activities.
- Think about the specific and individual problems of your team. If you have an international team, there could be cross-cultural communication issues. If some team members are from different departments, there could be issues with team members working in silos.
- Planning and implementing team building exercises isn’t a waste of time, even with tight deadlines. Not all activities require an hour to do, and there’s always a solution that will fit into the distributed team’s schedule.
- Do your research. We all think we know what team building is, but there’s a lot more to it than you think. Look for new methods and exercises online to keep up to date with all the best strategies.
Implementing all these points to your advantage goes a long way to becoming a superstar distributed manager. This almost always leads to a superstar remote team too. Leading a group of people who are all located in different places isn’t an easy task, but team building will help make it simpler to achieve your goals and avoid all the common pitfalls you might run into.