One of the most frequent questions I get is how to retain an organization’s culture and build teamwork when people work virtually. It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working hybrid or think that team building can’t be done virtually, or decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.
Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually; you just need to make the time.
Spend the first few minutes of virtual or hybrid meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room.
Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together.
Humans need people contact and relationships. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.
Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.
Tell your team you want to help people get to know each other better, so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.
Here are a few team building questions you can use:
What are your pet peeves at work?
What time of day do you do your best work?
Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?
If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?
What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?
What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?
Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.
Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
How many times have you sent someone five emails and become frustrated when none were returned? Or you thought an employee was happy, only to be surprised when they quit? Or you needed to talk with someone but couldn’t get their attention, so you walked by their office throughout the day, wondering if it was ok to knock? Working with other people doesn’t have to be so hard.
Taking the time to ask team building questions is much faster than recovering from missteps with other people. Ask the questions at the beginning of anything new – when you hire a new employee, get a new customer, or start a new project. And keep asking the questions as you work with people.
I use the Candor Questions below, when I onboard a new team member at Candid Culture. The questions help the entire team get to know each other better and learn how to work together.
- What will keep you working here and what would make you leave?
- What’s the best way to get information to you – voicemail, text, or email?
- What time is too early?
- What time is too late?
- Do you leave your email and/or text alerts on at night/when you go to sleep?
- Would you prefer I send all emails and text messages during regular business hours?
- What frustrates you at work?
- What are your pet peeves?
- What’s something you want to learn, skill or business wise, that you haven’t had a chance to do?
- What’s something you wish I would start, stop, or continuing doing?
We move so fast at work and are so focused on completing goals, we often don’t take the time to really get to know the people we work with. I feel very strongly that asking the team building questions above will help people work better together. We’ll make fewer ‘mistakes’ with each other, and get more done with less stress and more ease. As William Ury said in his book, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”
Asking questions about working style preferences and goals is an ongoing process, and it’s never too late. You can ask the team building questions during meetings or just slip them into your conversations. The process doesn’t have to be formal or time consuming. The point is simply, don’t guess what people need and are expecting from you, ask.
Early in my career, I worked with a woman I didn’t get along with. We were on the same team and had the same job, but didn’t see eye to eye on how to approach work or solve problems. And when we didn’t agree, things got ugly. I have to admit to being afraid of her.
The odd thing is that socially, we did fine. When our team socialized outside of work, we had fun and got along well. That’s when I realized that there was no correlation between camaraderie and working well together.
Lots of teams go bowling, to baseball games, and out for happy hour as team building activities. And while team members may enjoy being together at these events and get to know each other personally, they don’t learn how to work well together and how to resolve conflict.
Go bowling or out for happy hour, just don’t expect people to work better together as a result of those activities. If you want to do impactful team building activities, give team members a chance to learn about each other and themselves, and make agreements of how team members will work together in the future. Create occasions for candid conversations.
When I lead corporate team building activities, I put people in small groups, give the group a box of Candor Questions for Team Building and time to answer the questions. People talk about things they should have talked about when they started working together. Team members learn about each other’s working style preferences and what each person needs from both the job and each other. But most importantly, team members have permission to talk about things they normally don’t, and begin to create a climate of candor, which is essential for any group of people working together. For a team to work well together, it must be safe to tell the truth. Teams need to talk about the things that impact them most – each other.
So go bowling and out for happy hour. But also create opportunities for team members to talk about the things that matter most — how they impact each other at work.