What Most Teams Get Wrong about Virtual Team Building Activities

It all comes down to remembering what team building means.

When Coronavirus became a global pandemic in March 2020 and most teams were forced to work from home, the term “virtual happy hour” skyrocketed on Google search. Many managers and employees were searching for team building activities to stay connected with their teams during the difficult times.

Source: Google Trend

But the trend faded out after a short 4 months. What happened?

It turned out that social activities with colleagues were great ideas in the beginning when traditional get-together in offices was no longer viable. People needed a sense of belonging and togetherness to adapt to a critical change in the world.

Over time, though, people’s priorities shifted towards other things that are beyond work like family, kids, hobbies, etc. Virtual socializing with colleagues became a low priority and people didn’t see the long-term benefits of it.

When that happened, comments like these started to show up on the Internet.

Reddit user on virtual team building
Source: Reddit forums

Why do teams keep organizing team activities when employees do not enjoy them?

Managers tend to have the urge to bring the team together and motivate them, so that they can create an environment of mutual support and aligned goals. It was their jobs as leaders to initiate team activities.

But instead of organizing team building activities that could improve how the team worked together, many chose to organize social activities such as virtual happy hour, virtual cocktail party, virtual gaming, etc. 

This is because most managers mix up team building activities with social activities and think that they’re interchangeable.

Are they the same? Let’s find out

First, let’s get to know team building activities

Team building activities help a team work in harmony.

The concept of team building is more than bringing people together. Despite a fun approach, it is meant to provide the skills, training, and resources that help a team work in harmony.

Team building activities are designed to focus on behaviors at the workplace and to help employees learn how to work with each other. Often departments and personalities are mixed to let people collaborate with someone they’re less acquainted with. And through team building activities, they develop empathy and compassion that improve their collaboration at work.

An example of a team building activity is a physical scavenger hunt for groups of 2-6 people.  The groups come up with strategies together to win the race and they need to work together to complete their tasks.

When traditional team building activities are no longer viable, teams opt for virtual team building activities to replicate the experience that can achieve the same outcome.

Then, what about social activities?

Socializing with remote teams
Social activities among team focus on having conversations and fun.

Social activities are about bringing the team together in a different setting than work. Unlike team building activities, they don’t have particular learning outcomes, but they give employees a place to have fun and learn more about one another.

An example would be office happy hours where employees come together to have a drink, chat, and have fun. These activities usually happen towards the end of a working day and can go into after-work hours.

When teams moved online, virtual social activities were in huge demand. Teams opted for easy-to-setup games like Skribbl where each person takes turns to draw and the rest guesses. Or games like 2 Truths 1 Lie to take turns sharing personal stories.

But why do teams focus on social but not team building?

“It is hard to set up”

Like physical team building activities, good virtual team building activities require extensive program design. The program has to elevate the team’s strength and cohesiveness and point out the team’s weakness for reflection.

During difficult and crunch times, it is even harder to get someone on the team to create a program internally. And this is why most remote teams host social activities like virtual happy hours. They’re extremely easy to set up. Everyone can show up with their own drinks and  the group mingles.

Most remote teams neglect team building as they believe social activities are sufficient to hold the team up.

What they don’t know is that there are well-designed virtual team building programs with clear learning outcomes. They’re designed by trainers and adult educators and have clear structures and outputs. The only thing required is finding a date and time to bring together the team. And employees can split into small groups and participate via video conferencing.

What used to be hard to set up is now simplified and streamlined virtually at everyone’s convenience.

“It is expensive. Only teams with a big budget can do it”

Organizing physical team building activity takes a lot of work. It includes hiring a team building company, finding a venue, arranging transportation, sourcing catering options, and most importantly, taking away a lot of productive time from employees.

The seemingly low return on investment to organize it means it is an unattractive proposal!

But running virtual team building activities is exactly the opposite. While the outcome stays the same to level up the team’s understanding and collaboration with one another, all the work that goes into planning and the expensive investment are not required.

A team building company with physical facilitators, not needed. Venue and catering, not needed. Transportation, not needed. Finally, instead of taking a full day out of everyone’s work day, only 60-120 minutes are needed from everyone. And within minutes upon finishing the activities, the team can be back to focusing on their important work.

“Our team doesn’t like it”

When social activities happen too frequently, people get tired of them. This is especially true if such activities are after working hours and mandatory. It is also not obvious how socializing with colleagues yields better work productivity, so employees often want to prioritize sleep, family, hobbies, etc.

But this doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate team activities. When the objective of an activity is clear in helping them improve communication and collaboration within the team, most are willing to take an active participation to level up their skills.

Therefore, it is important to make sure you plan for team building and socializing separately and also let your team know the difference.

Not too late to shift your focus towards team building

Now that you know how virtual team building can play an important role in your remote team, there is one particular activity that stands out from the rest.

It is a type of virtual escape room that is collaborative, mission-driven, and comes with great learning outcomes. It is designed to level up your team’s communication and collaboration. You can cross check whether an escape room offers these key learnings to find out if it is suitable for your team.

And when it comes to escape rooms, most people see them as fun activities that get the sweat and laughter out. But a new kind of escape room like what Skyrocket Your Team offers is completely different.

Instead of traditional escape rooms that encourage internal competition and leave some group members out, Skyrocket Your Team offers a collaborative experience where each person gets into a 3-5 pax group with their own role. And the puzzles are designed so that every single group member must be involved to solve them, leaving no one behind.

The puzzles also trigger a set of emotions, feelings, and situations that turn into learning outcomes among colleagues.

After completing, the group gathers in a debriefing session to talk about what happened, how they felt, what they saw in themselves and their team members, etc. These reflections can instantly be translated into ways to improve their work.

If this sounds like the perfect way to move from socializing to team building, here is a website you can find out more.

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