Successful team building is about more than just throwing the right group of people together and hoping for the best. Fostering teamwork, group cohesion, and strong team dynamics requires deliberate guidance, effective leadership, and good communication — whether you are building your team virtually or in person.
High-performing teams require effective team building
It seems obvious to emphasize the importance of team building and team cohesion, but our “go-it-alone” mentality can sometimes fail to emphasize the importance of teamwork and team cohesion on the productivity of a company. Research from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University reveals companies whose employees feel isolated experience almost 37% higher absenteeism and 16% lower profitability.
Your team is your most important (and most vulnerable) asset
The classic management book, Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco, makes the case that most of the time, when something goes wrong it’s not a problem with your systems and processes, but with the psychology of your team members, and that’s where you need to start and focus your efforts.
A Stanford study from 2014 found that teams that worked together persisted longer on challenging tasks, enjoyed those tasks more, required less effort to persist in the task, and performed better on the task overall. According to the study, “the results suggest that cues of working together can inspire intrinsic motivation, turning work into play”. Another study from MIT researchers found that the best predictor of a team’s productivity was its “energy and engagement outside of meetings.”
Adapting to remote and hybrid work presents a challenge
The benefits of creating a team-oriented work environment are clear, but how to get there can be less clear, especially as more and more companies make the shift to hybrid or remote work.
That being said, the same principles that make an in-person team bond apply to virtual teams, and committing to these principles early will make your business stronger and allow your teams to excel.
Team building basics
Generally speaking, hiring the best people possible, empowering them with the information and authority they need, and getting out of their ways once they've achieved the appropriate level of proficiency is the right policy. Still, a business needs structure and guide rails to make sure everyone is pointed in the right direction.
Team building begins before your first hire
The basic elements of team building should be in place before you even begin hiring — in fact, intelligent hiring is one of the key elements of building a strong team, virtual or otherwise, but you can’t hire well if you don’t have a clear direction for the team that you’re putting together.
For best results, the purpose and role of the entire team should be mapped out in detail before you even begin hiring. Do you know exactly what the team needs right now? Consider drawing out a full organization chart to help guide your decision-making process. Decide on all of the roles you’re trying to fill and map those roles to the specific skills needed to get the job done.
Here are the aspects of team building that you need to consider:
'Every person in your company is a vector. Your progress is determined by the product of all vectors.' - Elon Musk
Your team needs to be pointed in the same direction for best results ― that should be task #1. No matter what the purpose or desired output of your team is, you need to have a clear roadmap for where it’s going. Before you do anything else, make sure that the team has a crystal-clear purpose and an understanding of what the goals and expectations are. Set clear qualitative goals and quantitative metrics at each level of the company — for the business as a whole, each team, and each individual, and then revisit them constantly, and iterate as needed.
It may seem cliché to talk about values, but if you don’t implement them at the beginning, your team will develop values of their own, and that can lead to friction down the line. Establish early on what expectations you have and what cultural values you want to encourage on your team, and reward or nurture those values wherever possible.
Nothing will crush team cohesion and impede team building more effectively than bad leadership, so it’s important that management takes this responsibility seriously. Just as much as you don’t want to be entirely hands-off, micromanaging your team is likely to crush spirits and dampen productivity, and there are a host of bad boss behaviors that hurt morale.
Remember, trust is the foundation of any healthy team, and people who don’t trust each other can’t work together. Leaders can generate trust by exhibiting consistency, authenticity, reliability, and transparency (CART).
The key to all of this is, of course, good communication — your team being able to actively, effectively, and frequently communicate with each other and with leadership. With virtual teams, this is even more critical — make sure that your team has good systems in place and simple, easy avenues of communication and interaction.
Virtual team-building activities & techniques
Now that you’ve considered and implemented some of the high-level foundational steps before even thinking about team building, it’s time to drill down on what’s important specifically for virtual teams, and what sorts of activities to use to make sure that your team performs at a high level, even when working remotely.
“Team building activities” often evokes images of rope courses, trust falls, and other intense, physically challenging, potentially humiliating activities, but not only can those activities be unpleasant, they’re often ineffective — and of course they won’t work for most virtual, hybrid, or otherwise distributed teams. With that in mind, here’s a list of potential virtual team-building activities that will both build team cohesion and not risk any broken bones:
- Virtual lunches and happy hours
- Icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities — good ideas include “Where are you joining from?”, highlight/failure of the month, two truths and a lie, never have I ever, and photo contests
- Brainstorming or whiteboarding
- Virtual games like (poker, codenames, Pictionary, and charades are some that work well in virtual spaces)
- Trivia, quizzes, or other brainteasers — topics like internet culture, technology, urban dictionary, beer, world foods, and television are usually big hits
- Hosted or facilitated activities (i.e., murder mysteries, scavenger hunts, roleplaying)
- A virtual escape room
Virtual team building activities should be fun , easy to participate in, and relatively low-investment — you want your team members to enjoy taking part but not feel obligated to do so.
Build your virtual team with a virtual office
Of course, all of these techniques are easier to implement with an actual office, but you don’t necessarily need a physical space to build strong teams any more. Tools like Teamflow let you replicate an office environment virtually, creating the same feel and team cohesion as you would get with a real-world office space. Rafael Sanches of Anycart summed it up precisely:
“We want to imitate a real office environment as much as we can. Teamflow provides the tool to make that easy, and on top of that, we’re living by the same social rules that we’d apply to an in-person office space.”
Try out the virtual office solution favored by top businesses the world over, and start building stronger teams right now.