A colleague of mine asked me about
ideas for teaming activities for virtual teams – that is, ways to
reproduce the water cooler in a virtual environment. What I thought
would be a quick Google search ended up being a bit more frustrating.
I found a lot of information on
managing virtual teams. Not what I was looking for, but if you want
the short version, it's:
Make sure your team has a common
vision and goals. If possible try to have a kick-off meeting in
person to establish vision, goals and group norms.
Gain commitment from team members.
That in-person kick-off helps with that as everybody has a say in
establishing the vision, goals and norms.
communicate. Did I mention communicate?
Inclusion. A virtual team will
likely create diverse viewpoints. Make sure that everyone has an
opportunity to voice their opinions and provide input.
Establish clear roles and
responsibilities. This prevents people in four geographic areas
from working the same problem, duplicating efforts and wasting
Now that you have the highlights, back
to my colleague's question. How do you create that “team
environment” virtually? I am in no way pretending to be the expert
here, but I did find some interesting ideas around tools and
Make sure that you have good
productivity tools. This is probably the number one rule for success
of virtual teams. Remember that “good” is relative. What may
work for one team won't necessarily work for another. Some common
references to tools were:
Messaging: Most companies will have some form of IM tool in place.
These tools allow team members to communicate in real time with one
another. Kolabora has a great article called Instant
Messaging Tools and Technology: A Mini-Guide that
outlines a variety of tools – most of them free – including
features and capabilities of each
Web Conferencing capabilities: Web
Conferencing allows you to have a conference room type of meeting
over your computer. Most of these offer chat, whiteboards,
application sharing, etc. to make your team feel more involved in
the action. The Center for Learning & Performance Technology
has a great list of Screen
Sharing & Web Conferencing Tools.
If you need to conduct video calls between team members, Skype is
the way to go. Not only is it free, but the quality of calls is
pretty good as well. Just remember that people on your virtual team
need to have a video camera on their computer for this to work!
Create a group on Facebook for your team. I admit, I'm a new user
to Facebook, so I don't have a lot of details on what you can or
can't do with Facebook. I did see quite a few references to using
Facebook to keep in touch with your team, however.
Internal Wiki site or web site:
Depending upon your company's internal tools, you may be able to set
up a web site or wiki site for your team to share things like a
calendar, to-do lists, documents, discussion strings, etc. Based
upon some quick browsing on my part, wiki sites tend to be more
popular as team members can add and update information without
dealing with HTML.
Virtual Team Activities
So you've got some tools in place, but
what can you actually do to
ensure that your team feels a sense of camaraderie? How about some of
Try to hold a
video conference at least quarterly so people can “see” one
another. If you have people based at home, they can use Skype (see
Tools section above). People based on a corporate campus can use a
video equipped conference room.
Online Scavenger Hunt
Come up with a
list of 15-20 things that people need to find online (related to the
team's goal, a current project, or something else). Divide the team
into small groups, making sure office and home based people are
mixed. Have prizes for various things: fastest to complete hunt;
most interesting presentation found; most interesting video found,
Host a Teleconference Lunch
Everyone dials in
for a phone call during lunch where no “work” related talk is
allowed. People could share one non-work related goal/interest. You
do need to make sure that people on the phone have opportunities to
talk. It sounds kind of crazy, but a group of my friends had to
resort to this one for a baby shower when the mom was on bed rest in
another state. It worked!
On your team
collaboration site (facebook, wiki, web page, etc), list each team
member and his or her top 3 areas of expertise. Encourage other team
members to use their co-workers' expertise when solving problems.
Recipe Exchange/Holiday Report
understanding of other team members' cultures, have each team member
provide a recipe that their family enjoys at a particular holiday.
Team members may also want to share the importance of that holiday.
Give each team
member a half day where they can explore something of interest. At
your weekly team meeting (because you are having a weekly team
meeting, right?), pick 2-3 people to share what they learned on their
Getting to Know You
Prior to a team
meeting, have everyone provide some piece of information about
themselves. At the meeting, have a person read the description and
allow team members to match the person to the description. Some
ideas include a favorite hobby, a favorite superhero and why it's a
favorite, the best book that you've ever read and why; your favorite
job and why, etc.
Send team members
an e-card for reaching team milestones or personal milestones (e.g.
projects completed; promotions; publications; patents granted;
birthdays; anniversaries; birth of children, etc.)
On-Line GeoCaching Game
Instead of using
GSP positions, have each team member identify a cache location and
provide clues (written or pictures). Other team members need to find
the cache. Progress and results can be tracked on the team wiki (or
other collaboration site). Check out the Official
Geocaching Site or Wikipedia
if you've never heard of geocaching.
Get team members
together to play an online game – World of Warcraft, Fantasy
I also found a book that I think has
potential - More
Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Cole
Miller. The reason I liked this book is because every activity has ideas for adapting the activity for virtual teams. I didn't
read the book in its entirety, but, as I said, I think it has
potential. By the way, if your company has access to Books24x7, this
book may be available through that site.
I know that this is not anywhere close
to comprehensive, so tell me – if you work with or manage a virtual
team, what do you do to make
sure the water cooler exists?