Team building is more difficult – and more important than ever – during social distancing


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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The desire to create effective teams has been around since the beginning of time. Teams can get much more done, but more importantly, they also make life meaningful and fulfilling. This explains why team building is one of the few universal concepts that every society, in every country, and every culture understands and values. 

In any group or cause, whether it be a church, charity, family, or enterprise, getting people to work together towards a common goal is one of the core fundamentals of success. When teams are firing on all cylinders, people feed off each other’s energy, ideas, strengths, and experiences, and the shared commitment, effort, and accountability offer a greater sense of purpose. Plus, being on a close-knit team adds sweetness to the victories, while taking the sting out of setbacks. 

Team building is critical. But how do you do it in today’s work-from-home (WFH) environment and social distancing? Is it even possible? 

The answer is yes, but most leaders aren’t even trying. The few that are seem to be making the same mistake. Video conferencing (i.e. the Zoom Call), was once considered a communication tool, but in today’s COVID-19 world, many leaders now think of it as a team building tool. FYI – IT’S NOT! At least not in and of itself. But it can be. 

Team building in today’s new reality requires a revolutionary approach and understanding of the difference between Synchronous vs Asynchronous activities.

Traditional team building has typically been achieved through Synchronous events, which is something everyone does together at the same time. This explains why many people now categorize a “Zoom Call” as a team building event. After all, everyone is on the call at the same time, getting the same information, seeing the same faces and chats, etc. Where a video conference call falls short, however, is in the customary interaction. Sure, common information is being shared, but there is little to no inclusion of the elements that build interpersonal relationships, such as emotion, personal stories, experiences, insights, motivational drivers, etc..

Asynchronous team building events, on the other hand, are those where everyone completes the same activity but not at the same time. Having everyone read the same book, for example, is an asynchronous activity. Everyone is reading the same information, (assuming they actually crack the book), but everyone is on a different page, chapter, and pace. Some are ready to discuss the book after a few days; some still aren’t ready after a few months. Another example is computer-based learning platforms. Yes, everyone is getting the same training, but it’s difficult to garner any enthusiasm or momentum because of the sporadic engagement. 

Since in today’s WFH environment it is only possible to bring everyone together virtually, if you want to keep your team members engaged and connected, you need a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous activity. It can be something you coordinate yourself, or a platform can do it for you.

For example, turn your current problems and recognition interests into opportunities to build your team. Then schedule follow up calls to share ideas, activity, feedback, and updates to keep everyone on the team engaged. Here are a couple of ways you can build your team despite separation and working from home. 

During a conference call ask your team to each email you something they would like to see improved in their work setting. It could be a resource they need, a roadblock in the work-flow process, or an issue that undermines their performance. Post the list to the group and have everyone vote on the one they think is most important, (excluding their own submission). Once a consensus is reached and a key problem is identified, schedule another call to brainstorm ideas and delegate activity, followed by subsequent calls to get updates and assess your approach and progress. This not only gets everyone involved, building the team, it actually solves a key problem that makes everyone’s life and job better! Voila! Synchronous and asynchronous activity that adds value, gets everyone involved and working together, and provides an interpersonal connection.

Have your team members each identify someone that does important work for your team but seldom gets any attention or recognition, then schedule a call to brainstorm creative ways to show them some love. An easy approach is to simply have everyone provide a scanned imaged of their signature, (or printed name if privacy is a concern). Then randomly place the signatures on a PowerPoint® slide as if everyone met somewhere to sign the card. Add the person’s name and what you are recognizing them for at the top and then send it to them with a message articulating your team’s sincere appreciation for all they do. The beauty of this approach is that every time you want to send a team thank you to someone, all you have to do is change the name and text on the slide and you’re good to go! Easy Peasy! If you have a little budget money available, consider getting them a small gift card or something to remind them how important they are every time they use it. 

It may seem counter-intuitive but in this era of social distancing, teambuilding is more important than ever.  The way we do business has changed but people haven’t.  We all need interaction and connection.  Team activities like those above will unify your team, create a world-class working culture, and catapult your team’s reputation throughout your organization.


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Doug Hanson


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