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5 Icebreaker Tips Every Virtual Team Needs

5 Icebreaker Tips Every Virtual Team Needs

5 Icebreaker Tips Every Virtual Team NeedsDid you know that if your team members are separated by as little as 90 feet, you have a virtual team? Physical separation between team members can lead to challenges that teams working in closer proximity simply don’t face.

Before we share some our favorite icebreakers, I am going to get on my soapbox and tell you that icebreakers are only the tip of the iceberg. Icebreakers alone do not build long-term, sustainable relationships. Building relationships is an ongoing process that requires time, attention, authenticity and trust.

That said, icebreakers do play a role in building relationships, but different ones serve different purposes for different teams. Ask yourself, “Exactly what kind of ice needs to be broken?” Here are the top five icebreaker tips you need to know for your virtual team:

1. Sharing is bonding

We’ve all been in a web conference with a group of faceless voices. Who exactly is everyone speaking to? What do they know about each other? If you are bringing people together who are working on a common goal the ice that you are melting may result in creating a bond.

Icebreaker Idea

It’s In The Mail is an activity for groups of up to 25. Before the meeting, team members should email a unique and unknown fact about themselves to the meeting facilitator. At the start of the session or during a lull in the meeting, the facilitator will pick an email to read and have the other attendees guess who the email belongs to.

2. Make time for face time

Even if you are bringing together like-minded people, the “ice” may simply reflect the fact that people have not yet met – and where teams are dispersed across different offices or continents, they may never do so in person.

Icebreaker Idea

Match Box is for groups up to 10 people. Prior to the meeting, create a slide with everyone’s pictures and post the slide onto the whiteboard. Ensure that each picture is numbered.

Then match people’s voices to their faces. Choose one picture at a time and ask the team to guess who they think it is. You can use the raised hand feature, chat or by giving verbal responses.

3. Anticipate culture shock

If you are bringing together people of different backgrounds, cultures and outlooks within your virtual team then the “ice” may come from people’s perceptions of each other.

Icebreaker Idea

Metaphor Magic is for groups up to 10 people. Have your team members come up with a list of words or phrases that have different interpretations or meanings. Ask your team members to define what they think that word or phrase means.

4. Know your team

Teams have different needs and preferences. Some teams may gravitate towards “fun” activities while others may be more inclined to link the activity to a purpose such as brainstorming or problem solving. Remember to personalize the activity for the needs of your virtual team.

5. Use the tools available to you

Web conferencing platforms enable your team members to express themselves and collaborate in new and creative ways, but many teams never use anything but the basic conference call functionality. Leverage interactive tools such as white boards, paired chat, the raised hand feature and polling to give everyone a variety of ways to engage with one another.

Interested in learning more about icebreakers for your virtual team? Register for our free webinar Building Relationships at a Distance for detailed advice and best practices, and get the most out of your virtual team. For a deeper dive, purchase the informative book Across the Hall, Around the World: Teambuilding Tips for Distributed Business from the Virtual Team Builders marketplace.

 

By : Michal Spiar /January 27, 2017 /Blog, CEO concerns, Motivating Your Virtual Team, virtual introductions /0 Comment Read More

How Can You Make Real Connections in Virtual Teams?

How do genuine human connections built through virtual communication relate to virtual teams? In our last blog post, we talked about how it’s possible to make genuine human connections through virtual communication. Now let’s explore how it operates in virtual workspaces.

Human connection is powerful. If leaders of virtual teams ignore this power, they miss out on an immense potential for fulfilling and rewarding work. By itself, this isn’t exactly news: if you Google “virtual teams”, you’ll get an endless list of articles that talk about the need to grow human connections for virtual teams to succeed. But, these articles often don’t address what this advice actually implies. After all: what does it really mean to connect with someone in a virtual team?

Going Beyond Band-Aid Solutions to Build Human Connections

Text box about employee engagement in virtual workplaces: Real connections don't begin in classes but with presence.Unfortunately, we’ve seen many leaders try to encourage human connections by slapping on activities, much like a coat of paint, and getting back to work. And, while certain activities like ice-breakers are one helpful way to start growing connections, just using ice-breakers skims the surface of the real issues we need to tackle.

In face-to-face work, genuine human connections develop alongside our work routines. In an office, as colleagues work, they connect. They start conversations around the water cooler. They eat together. They share news of their family and get to know each other as people. This built-in “space” for bonding isn’t just something “nice-to-have”; it’s a necessity for a healthy workplace.

But in the virtual world, this space for connection isn’t built-in in the same way. Instead, we need to intentionally create and nurture connections throughout the life-cycle of the team.

Now let’s discuss how to start creating these connections. Real connections don’t begin with classes, five-step programs, or one-liners. Instead, they begin with presence.

What Does It Mean to Be Present?

Think for a moment: can you tell when someone is really with you in a conversation—even if they’re virtual? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?

It doesn’t matter if it’s virtual or face-to-face: when someone is really paying attention to us, we feel respected, and the quality of conversation goes up. In virtual communication, when someone is truly present, they pay attention to the speaker, without being distracted by the environment. They ask pertinent questions, and they communicate through words, tone of voice, and even silences, that they are invested in you and what you have to say.

Text box about employee engagement in virtual teams: In virtual communication, when someone is truly present...they are invested in you and what you have to say. On the other hand, we can also tell when someone isn’t really paying attention to us. When someone is tuned out, they check their phones, type on their keyboards, and reply with monosyllabic huh’s, yep’s, and how-about-that’s. It doesn’t feel good at all. If you show this non-presence to your virtual team, you show that you’re disengaged from them.

Are You Truly Present in Your Virtual Relationships?

Take a few minutes to think about the following:

  • How do you currently show up to virtual meetings with your team?
  • How do you want to show up to meetings?

If you weren’t sure about either answer, don’t worry. Most of us aren’t even aware of how we show up for our colleagues or employees, or how we can improve.

Steps to Become More Present in Your Virtual Workspace

From now on, we suggest you start to become aware of how you show up, and how you prepare yourself. Before your next virtual meeting or one-on-one conversation, think about how you can prepare yourself to show up:

  • Take 30 seconds to one minute to sit quietly, take some deep breaths and be aware of the present moment before running to the next task.
  • Put away your smartphone so you won’t be tempted to check or respond to messages as they arise.
  • Ask yourself: are you focusing and listening to what your team needs, or are you absorbed in the work you need to get done?

These exercises should help you start to show engagement and presence within your virtual team. When you show that you’re engaged with your team, they’ll begin to engage with you. And out of this presence, you can start forging strong, genuine connections.

 

By : Claire Sookman /April 20, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Building Empathy in a Virtual Environment /1 Comment Read More

Are you ready to be the virtual leader or team member that you have the potential to be?

In our last post, we challenged you to assess how you show up, how you want to show up and how others think you show up to your virtual workspace. Because most of us all have blind spots to the attitude and awareness we bring to the table, it’s sometimes difficult to assess what our team members find challenging about the behaviours we show up with behind our screens or on the phone.

If you answered all the self-reflection questions fully and honestly, congratulations! If you didn’t get around to taking stock of how you show up, take a couple minutes and think about the following:

  • When I’m on a phone meeting and not face-to-face with others, am I actively participating in the conversation? Yes/No
  • Before responding to a team member who hasn’t been performing well, do I call and email him/her right away or do I step away from the situation to assess before responding? Take a moment here to think of a specific situation and spend a few moments reflecting before answering. Yes/No
  • I am easily distracted by my emails Yes/No Take some extra time here and reflect on how much time you spend checking personal emails and updates on social networks or other websites.
  • Do I respond with awareness in most situations? Yes/No Write down some virtual interactions (email, telephone, video conference) you’ve had in the last couple weeks and think about your level of awareness in each situation.
  • Do I generally react with my first thought, opinion or judgment? Yes/No
  • Do I take time each day for myself to do one healthy and stress relieving activity – meditation, yoga, and/or physical exercise? Yes/No

Would one of your team members agree or disagree with your answers? Copy and paste these questions into an email and ask someone on your team you trust if you have not done so already.

Perception vs. reality

We’d all like to think we’re giving our team members and projects we’re working on 100 per cent attention 100 per cent of the time, but that is neither realistic, nor attainable. Emotions, to-do lists, personal obligations, energy levels, etc. are constantly battling for our attention. However, by bringing a few mindful moments of awareness to each situation we can communicate in a less reactive and more influential way.

Think of it this way, when you’re driving a car there is always a blind spot. You know the blind spot is there, but what about those times you’re not consciously bringing your awareness to it. You check your mirror but you don’t shoulder check and wham, you might hit another car and crash.

The same thing happens in the virtual workplace. You’re half listening, thinking about what you need to get done later, checking your smartphone and only giving half of your focus to your project. Sooner or later, you’re team members start to pull back, maybe they quit responding to your requests in a timely manner, or maybe conflict and animosity start surfacing.

While you may think you’re doing everything right, you’re subconsciously letting others on your team down and conflict arises because you haven’t paid attention to the whole picture.

If you don’t know, how can you change?

Now that you have some basic levels of awareness on how you’re currently showing up, it’s time to paint an entire picture of the situation, not only your perception. Try sending your virtual team members a confidential survey to garner honest feedback with the following types of questions:

  • What behaviours am I exhibiting? For example:

o   Does it seem like I’m genuinely interested in what people on the call have to say?

o   Do I respond in a timely manner to emails and phone calls?

o   Do you feel that I’m listening when I respond to your phone calls?

o   How does my behaviour at work impact you and the team?

  • What would you like me to start doing that I have not been doing?
  • What would you like me to be stop doing that has been getting in the way of your productivity?
  • What would you like me to continue doing that has been helpful in your career growth?

Once you’ve collected this information from your team, what will you do with it?

Look again at the questions and determine the one that makes you most uncomfortable. Nine times out of 10 the one that gives you the most discomfort when you read it is the area you need to change the most. Now you will need to take action.Unless you take that first step and then the following ones, nothing will happen to help you reach your desired outcomes, no matter how clearly they’re defined.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or send us an email at info@virtualteambuilders.com.

 

 

By : Claire Sookman /October 08, 2014 /Blog, Resiliency in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

7 Ways To Build Empathy and Maximize Success

Developing empathy is a great way to generate open communication, increase trust, and build a virtual team that is strong and efficient. You may think that demonstrating empathy is challenging at first because it takes time and effort to develop awareness and compassion. However, understanding and sharing the feelings of others in the virtual workplace is far less abstract than it may seem.

The building of empathetic relationships benefits much from the assistance of visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. We can gain a better sense of one’s feelings when we can see the messages being conveyed through their eyes, for example. Similarly, a certain posture may lead us to conclude that a person is angry, sad, or confused. When we consider all that is conveyed through body language we can see why the mere presence of an individual in front of us gives us a sense of the emotions running through their minds. But we do not only go about building empathy based on what we see. In fact, it is possible to build empathy in a virtual team where such visual cues are often unavailable.

There are 7 ways to build empathy within your team:

1. The first thing we can do toward becoming empathetic is to listen. The next time you are conversing with a colleague, instead of thinking about what you will say next and waiting for a time to interject—listen. This also means that when you are speaking with someone you will avoid multitasking. Be fully present with your colleague and refrain from checking your phone, answering emails, doing other work, or taking other calls. Give the person your speaking to your undivided attention.

2. Tune into non-verbal cues such as hesitations and silences. Is your colleague taking long pauses between statements? Are they sounding uneasy when expressing their opinion on a subject? Listen in and ask yourself if your colleague’s tone sounds different from how it is typical for them to sound. If a manager senses that something is “off” with a team member, they can make it a point to get in touch directly with that team member after a meeting so that they may check in with them privately.

3. Look into the words that you are hearing. If, for example, you find yourself in conversation with an angry colleague, refrain from absorbing their anger within yourself. Instead of responding to words delivered out of frustration, try to understand and respond to the underlying emotion. You will begin to see that behind a colleague’s irritation may be misunderstanding, judgment, detachment, stress, or other feelings. When you try to understand those feelings, rather than reacting to angry words, the person will begin to relax, open up, and trust. In doing this, you and your colleague will begin communicate openly as you both work through the challenge together.

4. If during a conversation you find yourself becoming frustrated with the person you are speaking to, remember the whole person. Do not lose sight of a colleague’s positive qualities. In the moment you find yourself becoming frustrated with someone, make it a point to remind yourself of one of his or her strengths.

5. Judge less and accept more. It is important to remember that what irritates you about a colleague is likely to be a characteristic that you possess. Simply reminding yourself of this point will allow you to be less judgmental of the words and actions of others. Before you react and judge a team member, ask yourself, “Is this something I do?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you are better prepared to address your colleague with empathy.

6. Be compassionate. We all have our flaws, and you do not have to agree with someone to empathize with them. Be open to what others have to say and how they work. In the process, chances are, you will discover a great deal about what you bring to your virtual team.

7. Mentally place yourself in the situation of the other person. Feelings of unhappiness, stress, and frustration are universal. Try to remind yourself of a time when you experienced something similar. Recall challenges you yourself have had in a virtual team. Thinking back to that situation, what would have helped you? The wisdom you gained from that experience may be of great help to your fellow colleague.

To assist you in building empathy within your virtual team, be sure to encourage everyone to contribute during meetings and acknowledge the efforts of your colleagues. Deliver genuine praise for a job well done. Additionally, take authentic interest in your team members. Show them that you care by asking them questions about their interests, challenges, and aspirations. A great way to encourage this kind of interaction within your team is by holding virtual gatherings. For example, virtual managers can hold virtual coffee breaks, pizza parties, and other casual get-togethers where no talk of work is permitted. This will allow team members a chance to open up about other aspects of their lives and create the opportunity for team members to find common ground and become more empathetic.

The process of building empathy within your virtual team takes practice. Having said that, know that if you may come up short sometimes remember to give yourself a break. As long as your intentions and efforts are in the right direction at most times, and you strive to redirect how you respond to others in difficult situations, it will all work out in the end. Remember: an empathetic virtual team is a successful team, and there are many benefits attached to fostering empathy in the virtual work place. For one, you will become more aware of how people think, feel, and react to situations. As a leader, you will become more adept at analyzing the performance of your team members, and you will be more mindful of their needs. Empathy will promote open communication and build stronger bonds of trust within your virtual team. Likewise, empathetic virtual team members will become better at resolving conflict, will deliver more effective feedback, and will make better decisions. Empathy inspires positivity and productivity in all who embody it. With a little practice your virtual team can master empathy and harness success.

By : Amir Ahmed /April 30, 2014 /Blog, Building Empathy in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

How to be Authentic in the Virtual Workplace by Building Self Awareness

The most common advice you’ve received from your childhood onward is probably to “be yourself”. This enduring instruction portrays authenticity as the key to successful social interactions, meaningful relationships, and a generally happy life. It may sound like the most natural thing in the world to do; however, it can actually be fairly difficult to become attuned to who we really are as unique individuals. Our personal and professional commitments, plus, the countless voices, images, and opinions that we see and hear every day through by mass media can prevent us from taking a moment to discover our authentic selves. However, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. Acting as our authentic selves enables our team members to perceive us as trustworthy and will ultimately lead to an increase in a team’s productivity as a whole.

Authenticity is defined is being aware of one’s core values and acting in alignment to those values. Now that we understand the meaning and importance of authenticity, especially in the workplace, the question remains: how do we discover our authentic selves? First off, the foundation of authenticity is self awareness. We become self aware when we accept every part of ourselves; our strengths, skills, and positive attributes, along with the areas of our lives we feel could use improvement. Self-awareness can be most effectively achieved when we take a moment, or a few, for ourselves.

It can be difficult to find the appropriate time to self reflect when we are the midst of contributing to business on a daily basis. It can be easy to become caught in the motions at work; you might be unconsciously performing a particular task in the same way, possibly due to the force of habit or because the pace of your business compels you to be efficient. However, it is worthwhile to create an opportunity for yourself to pause and objectively observe your work in pursuit of self awareness or the knowledge of how you can do more than just “be” in our business but strategize to take it to the next level. How does one create this opportunity?

Firstly, unplug yourself, literally, from your surroundings. Turn off your phone and set your Communicator to “Busy” or “Do Not Disturb”. Remove yourself from distractions so that you are fully able to concentrate on yourself. If you are having difficulty disengaging from the outside world: try this: close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breathing. Pay close attention to each breath. This should help you become fully present in the moment so that you are able to begin the process of self reflection. We have a series of questions that will guide you through your self reflection, which can also be considered a self evaluation.

Once you are removed from all distractions and your mind is clear, take a mental inventory of your strengths, skills, and attributes, or write them down, if this is more your style. For example, you may say “I am an attentive listener “I am well organized and always meet my deadlines; or “I am trustworthy”. If you have trouble listing your positive traits, imagine yourself as your best friend or a respected colleague, and compose the list from their point of view.

Next, reflect on the areas of your life that could stand to be improved. For example, in a virtual environment, it is very important to be a good listener, due to the fact the visual cues are often unavailable in the virtual workplace. If, as a virtual worker, you feel your listening skills could be improved, create an action plan for how you will improve them. Your action plan might go something like this: “The next time I am in a virtual meeting, I will not judge the words of my colleagues. I will pay close attention to their tone, choice of words, rhythm of speech, and the pauses in their speech. If I am unclear about what is being said, I will ask questions. Listening goes beyond hearing what someone is saying; I must discover what is underneath what they are saying in order to become an empathetic listener. I must ask myself: what is the core of their message? Lastly, if I have an issue with something someone has said or have sensed something in their speech, I will take it up with them privately after the meeting”.

In addition to being empathetic listeners, effective virtual workers need to have a certain comfort level with technology.  If you feel you could stand to be more technologically savvy, create an action plan for this area of your life as well. Say to yourself “I have a coworker who knows a lot about technology; I will ask them to coach me” or “I will take courses about computers at my community college”. Remember to be honest when evaluating yourself.

Lastly, self evaluations should also include a consideration of your values, principles, and beliefs, to give yourself a better idea of who you are at your core. Ask yourself: What do I value and why? (Examples include: honesty, integrity, reliability, compassion, and empathy, etc.) Then, ask yourself: how do I manifest my values, principles, and beliefs in my everyday life? Is there a way my behaviour can be more closely aligned with what I value? If my core values are honesty and reliability, how to I demonstrate to others that I am honest and reliable on a regular basis?

As mentioned above, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. If a virtual team member is not being their genuine or authentic self, other team members will pick up on this. As a result, the inauthentic team member will not be perceived as trustworthy. Team members may become reluctant to share pertinent information with an individual they don’t believe they can trust, will be less likely to be open about what’s going on and will probably communicate more frequently with a trustworthy team member instead. An inauthentic team member will potentially be kept out of the loop, and this situation will negatively affect the productivity of the entire team. For these reasons, it is important for each and every member of a virtual team to show up as their most authentic self.

Next week’s blog post will focus on the portion of self evaluation that can be difficult to come to terms with: the list of areas in our lives that we feel could stand to be improved. We will explain how to accept our so called “shadow selves” with the aim of becoming completely self aware.

By : Amir Ahmed /April 23, 2014 /Blog /0 Comment Read More
  • ABOUT US

    Virtual Team Builders is a training and consulting company that caters to corporations and teams who depend on effective virtual collaboration to succeed. Our training is targeted towards the unique challenges faced by teams operating in a virtual environment; challenges that are present whether members work 90 feet apart or 3000 miles apart.