Team and organizations development

How you can support team collaboration virtually

As a virtual team, it is often a challenge to keep the team spirit and encourage social interactions. When we are offline, we can meet in a hallway, have coffee or lunch together, or go to someones table for a chat. To have this kind of informal chat online, you need to send an invitation in the calendar with the link to the meeting. And that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. So a leader's job is to create a space for these kinds of informal activities, where team members can get to know each other better, talk about things other than work, and have fun.

So here's the list of my favourite online activities for remote teams.

Check in before a meeting:

Instead of jumping in to the meeting agenda straight away, spend some time connecting with the team members. Ask one simple question and request everyone to share an answer either verbally on in a chat. The question could be something like?

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How do you like the weather?
  • What great / funny / surprising happened to you today?
  • What makes you proud / happy today?

Choose the question that you feel will be appropriate for your team culture and invite everyone to share their answers.

Team gratitude:

When we work together, we tend to take each other for granted. That's why it's good when we take time as a team to remember what we value about each other and what we're grateful for. Research shows that gratitude is best when it's shared. Use this Miro template to share your appreciation with your teammates.

Think about what you appreciate most about your teammates. What're you grateful for? Think about each person on your team and write it under each name. You can do this anonymously. Or you can assign each line to a team member and share your appreciation openly.

Read what everyone wrote for you. After this exercise, take some time to talk about your feelings.

Spreadsheet Pixel Art

If you want to have some fun with your team, try this free Google spreadsheet template. I like to use it with my leadership students at the beginning of the course. They form teams of 5-6 people and spend the next 10-15 minutes recreating the Mona Lisa or a dancing unicorn. This spreadsheet is color formatted, so when you enter a number from 1 to 9 in any cell, the cell turns a certain color.

Here's a free template: Spreadsheet Pixel Art.

How are you feeling today?

I do this activity before every team session. It helps to feel the temperature of the group, acknowledge emotions, and break the ice at the beginning. It also helps the team get used to an online board if they use it for the first time. Here is how you can do it.

Create online post-it notes and invite each group member to write their name on them. One note per person. You can also ask them to add their title, birth month, or favourite ice cream flavour to make it more fun. Then ask each team member to find an emoji that expresses how they feel today and add it on the card with their name on the board.

Live Remote Coworking

Since your team is distributed, it's probably not possible for everyone to meet at one workstation. And while working from home has many benefits, it lacks the social accountability that a team in one location has.

To change this, you can introduce remote coworking, which can help your team be more productive. To set up a meeting for your team, simply create an online meeting room that anyone can join during the day. Anyone can participate in this video call, and the purpose of the call is to get work done.

Icebreaker questions

Icebreaker questions are a simple way to get to know your team members better. You can use them before the meeting or after a break. Icebreakers are easy to incorporate into virtual meetings. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of this activity.

- Start with the simple questions. It can take some time to build trust and open up for a team. So start with simple questions like "holiday plans," "tea or coffee," "cats or dogs."

- Create an order for people to answer to avoid confusion.

- Keep it short - 30 seconds per person, 5 minutes for the whole exercise.

- Go first and show an example

Here's the super list of great icebreaker questions.