Team Building for Virtual Teams

What can Team Building do for virtual teams?

Strengthened communication, innovative thinking and energy resurgence are only a few of the benefits of face-to-face team-building events. While various workplace configurations such as remote, co-located and hybrid teams all reap rewards from these exercises, fully virtual teams often have the most to gain.

As companies continue to expand their global footprint, they are able to leverage talent across regions to mobilize teams comprised of people who have never actually met one another. Each team member brings a unique set of skills and knowledge, but these contemporary team structures bring challenges as well. To appreciate the value of team building events that bring these disparate teams together, one only has to consider the inherent complexities of diverse remote teams alongside the goals of in-person team building.

Virtual teams are prime beneficiaries of team-building activities

An article in PM times points out that “When working in a virtual environment, it is very challenging to establish a trusting environment, achieve ‘interactional certainty’ and therefore, foster trusting relationships.” Interaction uncertainty is the tendency of experienced team members to bring biases to a new team and hold back ideas until they learn enough about each other to evaluate the perceived risk of sharing information. During face-to-face team-building events, the connection formed through extraprofessional activities helps to build helps to eliminate this interaction uncertainty by accelerating the process of interacting with and learning about each other. Exposing strengths and weaknesses through exercises as well as simple socializing both contribute to a team that is closer and better able to share amongst its members.

In addition to being geographically scattered, off-site teams are culturally diverse. This brings a richness and fresh perspective to the group. However, transforming a uniquely diverse team into a unified outfit requires that members understand each other’s communication and working style. Team-building activities raise this awareness and reveal ways to support one another toward a common goal. An example would be a community service event. Banding together on-site at a food pantry or as part of a community clean-up effort is an enlightening experience that transcends cultural and language barriers.=

Having work buddies can contribute to productivity by improving morale and promoting interdependency. When it comes to socialization and networking, fully remote teams are at a disadvantage. They rely on technology, which can be frustrating at times, as illustrated through Tripp and Tyler’s conference call video. Skype for Business, Microsoft Office Teams, WebEx and other technologies enable employees to communicate, but in-person participation in a common enterprise can establishes a familiarity that can be difficult to foster within the constraints of communication & team applications. Furthermore, it creates a foundation for a team to begin to self-identify as an entity.

Working remotely, it is easy to withdraw and feel isolated. That often leads to working in a silo, putting group dynamics at risk. A fun, organized outing facilitates socialization. Throw in matching company t-shirts, a common mission, a sense of humor and some healthy competition, and the results are often team spirit, demonstration of tenacity and a bonding experience. It’s also an opportunity to learn how people manage success and failure. The thrill of celebrating achievements and cheering each other brings a cascade of positivity.

Team members who have never been face-to-face may be reticent to discuss roadblocks, exchange ideas or explore solutions. Limited modes of communication and time zone differences tend to further inhibit dialogue beyond essential information. It takes a high comfort level to express new ideas and jointly resolve problems diplomatically. Events that require creativity ease tension, whether it’s cooking, painting or making a video. When co-workers become more comfortable with each other personally, it inevitably carries over to workplace collaboration.

Plan for annual team events

“Team-building strategies are particularly valuable when team members operate from remote locations without the benefit of face-to-face contact,” as reinforced by the “Project Management Body of Knowledge.” The publication also points out that team-building is a never-ending process. In short, the benefits of budgeting in a regular, in-person team building event are more tangible than one might expect.