Go Team! Top Tips for Virtual Team Building

Get your virtual team fired up, united and working together with these team building tips

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

When American football coaching legend Vince Lombardi described his philosophy on teamwork, he certainly knew what he was talking about. But he probably wasn’t thinking about virtual business teams. He couldn’t have imagined that in the new millennium, people from all over the world would be able to collaborate, create, produce and navigate complex projects without even being in the same room!

Although Lombardi’s philosophy still rings true, today’s business managers are faced with building winning teams and soliciting individual commitment to group projects without the traditional advantages of face-to-face training sessions or inspirational, in-person pep talks.

Luckily, there are plenty of researchers, experts and business coaches out there who are figuring out what helps with building a solid virtual team. Here are some of the top virtual team building tips, all in one place:

Develop Good Habits

So what exactly do successful virtual teams do? That was one of the questions that Unify (formerly knowns as Siemens Enterprise Communications) set out to answer in its report, “Unify New Way to Work Index: The Habits of Successful Virtual Teams.”

Not surprisingly, much of a virtual team’s success revolves around communication. For instance, teams that make personal engagement and conversations a part of their everyday culture are more successful. In addition, virtual team meetings that are collaborative and interactive were found to be more effective.

And while it’s easy to rely on scheduled conference calls to connect your group, a different approach works better. According to Unify, “Successful teams do about a quarter of their collaboration in scheduled meetings. The rest happens more spontaneously and in smaller groups.” The suggestion is to use instant messaging to ask colleagues for a minute to discuss an idea or problem. “Then dial the phone and talk. It’s how we work together in an office. There’s no reason not to do it on virtual teams.”

Additional tips include:

  • Take an interest in your colleagues.
  • If your team calls are too big for a few minutes of chat, change your calls.
  • Know the difference between a discussion and a briefing. A discussion is an open dialogue in which ideas are exchanged, and a briefing is when information or ideas on a topic is fed to attendees.
  • If you need a discussion, keep the group small.
  • Schedule virtual coffee breaks.

Build Virtual Team Spirit

Virtual team managers are kind of like modern-day cheerleaders: part of the job is to rally the players and demonstrate enthusiasm. Having fun and feeling excited helps boost morale and strengthen personal bonds. But short of waving around pom-poms and hiring a marching band, how exactly can you build virtual team spirit?

Start by, “… tapping into the creativity and lighthearted nature buried within our business minds,” suggests Carmela Sperlazza Southers, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Here are her suggestions for building team spirit:

Celebrate. There’s a reason to celebrate on almost every given day of the year. Whether it’s a serious national event, or a quirky, too-funny-to-be-taken-seriously kind of holiday, there’s always an excuse to get happy. Since the way we celebrate is a reflection of our individuality, try spotlighting one or two group members at a time who are celebrating a special day. Invite them to share stories, photos or memorabilia, and any other details that illustrate their experience.

Plan activities. Initiating special games or activities is a way to get everyone involved at once. One idea is to play Guess the Desk, and ask all team members to snap a picture of their desk or work space and send it in to a designated moderator. Start a discussion (online or during a video conference) by showing each photo, and discussing what the items on the desk reveal about its owner. After the discussion, allow participants to guess the desk owner’s name. Let the owner reveal his or her identity and respond to group observations.

Initiate conversations. Sometimes the best way to build team unity and spirit is by starting meaningful conversations that reveal personal details. One way to do this is by including them as part of team meetings. When you distribute your agenda, include some open-ended statements for participants to consider ahead of time. Then state the topic during the meeting as an icebreaker, asking everyone to finish the sentences. Here are some examples:

The most unusual thing I ever ate …
The most unusual place I ever visited …
The most unusual event I ever witnessed …

Bridge the Gap

When it comes to team building, one of the biggest obstacles for virtual team managers is the obvious one: how do you get a team to bond and strengthen when its members are rarely (if ever) in the same room? You need to bridge the gap and build a strong company culture, according to John Stelmach, President and CFO of Computhink. Here are his suggestions:

Use the right tools. Make sure the right digital and social tools are in place, making it easy for your team to get and stay in touch. Just as you would expect an employee to physically show up at a business office, require a regular presence on corporate communication channels.

Make engagement an expectation. It’s easy for virtual workers to feel isolated and alone, which is why managers need to make them feel wanted and needed. One way to do this is by encouraging (and even rewarding) regular interactions between remote and in-office employees via phone calls or other types of communication.

Bring people together. Spare the expense when possible, and get your team in the same room at the same time. Even if it’s for a simple dinner and sit-down meeting a few times a year, experiencing a face-to-face connection helps remote workers feel important … and they are!

Encourage community involvement. Your virtual employees can be your best advertisers, advocates or business developers. Ask your team members to get involved in their local Chamber of Commerce or business organizations, and pay the membership fees. Purchase tickets to networking or social events held in their respective areas, and ask them to attend. This will add virtual growth to your company, and allow you to learn more about potential markets or business trends.

Virtual Team Building Ideas

When it comes to virtual team building ideas or tips, are there any special activities or processes you use to get your group excited and involved? Do you have any best practices for effective communication or creating a company culture? We’d love to hear about them – leave your comments here!