Online team building

We covered the topic of routines for digital teams in a webinar. You will find the most important content in this blog article. You can also watch the recorded webinar here. Have fun!

If your team works online, it needs digital team building! Most people who choose to get involved digitally don’t do it because they are hermits. On the contrary: even people who work from home are team players. They want to be connected and exchange ideas. Therefore, online team building plays a very important role.

We all learned how to build a team and do team building offline. And that is mainly through daily social interaction. Be it at kindergarten age, with friends or with colleagues in the office. Unfortunately, we can only partially draw on this experience in the online area. We need to relearn how to work with others. Most people work differently in the digital realm than offline. Even if you already know your team members from offline, it doesn’t mean that your team dynamic will be the same online. So be aware that you work together in a fundamentally different way and adapt to it.

Needs in online team building

It is often difficult to communicate needs, especially online. Therefore, it can help you to have an overview of the most important needs that each team has:

  1. Routines: For example the greeting in the morning, regular contact or common, recurring tasks. It has been scientifically proven that teams with routines work better and are more resilient. You can find more information about routines in digital teams here.
  2. Communication: The communication channels should be as simple as possible. Ideally, offer different channels for important and urgent information. It is particularly important that everyone in the team is clear which channels are intended for which information.
  3. Motivation: Precisely because there is no direct contact with colleagues, your own inner motivation becomes all the more important.
  4. Social interaction: Even if personal interaction is limited, your work should not only consist of emails and to-dos.

Your task as a leader in online team building

Online team building must be designed proactively because it cannot take place by itself in the coffee kitchen or over a beer together after work. Team building thus becomes an explicit management task. As a manager, you should therefore consciously give your team space for personal exchange and getting to know each other. New team members in particular should definitely be introduced and given time to get used to the team. Your work as a manager is made more difficult by the fact that you have little control over your team members’ environment. While some may be sitting alone at home in front of their desks, other team members may have children who need attention or are out and about. So keep in mind that not everyone has the same working conditions.

The communication in the team

There are some communication barriers online. For example, through long waiting times for answers, fewer communication channels and a limited perception of body language, gestures and facial expressions. Therefore, misunderstandings are more common, which makes good communication and different communication channels crucial.

There are also different types of communication in every team. Surely you have already noticed differences in the way people communicate. Some like to read and write a lot and therefore react to e-mails. Others like to make phone calls and others are very active in video conferences. The best way to find out what type of communication you are dealing with is through observation. Basically, you reach each of these guys through different channels. If you have important information, you should therefore try to use as many channels as possible.

It’s best to be open about your team communications with your team, asking yourself the following questions: Which channel serves which type of information? Where is space for private exchange? How are decisions made? Where are discussions taking place? If you have found binding answers to these questions, there is almost nothing standing in the way of your communication.

individuals in the team

In order to be able to meet the needs of each team member and form an inclusive team, it is important to pay attention to the environment in which the person is currently working. You should take that into account and be lenient if things don’t go as ideally as you would like.

In any case, online work makes collaboration easier and offers many advantages. There are no longer any commutes, you save a lot of time and everyone can set up their workplace according to their own needs. Many volunteers also want to be digitally involved after Corona because they have found that it can be better integrated into their everyday life.

But online team building also has its limitations. Team building can only be done with people who also want to be part of a team. Not everyone is interested in online team building, and that’s perfectly fine. After all, there are enough tasks that can be done alone. It is also important that your team accepts and embraces online work. It helps to be aware of the motivation of the team. If you notice a lack of motivation in your team, address it and try to remind your team what originally motivated them to get involved.

This is what your meetings need for online team building

How can you make your meetings become moments of encounter? Because they have to be as they are the only place your team can get together. Every meeting consists of three phases: preparation, implementation and follow-up. You’ve probably been to a bad online meeting. This is usually because one of the phases wasn’t done well. Most meetings are very full in terms of content and aim to be short and compact so that they can be integrated into everyday life for everyone. In this short time, a lot of content often has to be packed, but also team building measures!

Before

In order to save time in your meeting and so that everyone can prepare well, you should send the agenda and all necessary documents to your team in advance. It’s also nice if you can prepare something visual. Maybe a small presentation on an input, or a photo of the last action? Make it a routine for your team to log in 15 minutes before the start. So there is enough time to get technical problems out of the way and to settle into the group and have small talks. That would probably take place while getting a coffee and unfortunately often doesn’t happen in the digital space. You also need a certain mental transition period. Checking email up to the last minute before the meeting is not recommended. Instead, take time to prepare for the upcoming topics.

During the meeting

In the meeting itself, there should first be an introductory round to arrive. Ask how everyone is doing or use icebreaker questions like “Where are you right now?” “What were you doing before the meeting?” “What was the last thing you ate?”. If the group is too large for this, you can also use small groups for this. In any case, it is an added value for the meeting if as many people as possible can turn on the camera so that you can also express reactions through your facial expressions. In addition, you can also express approval and rejection with hand signals (thumbs up/down). This ensures physical activity and can shorten discussions.

Also make sure you stick to the time frame. This shows that you respect the time of your team members. You should also clearly define the use of the chat. Can questions be asked here? Are contributions to the discussion in good hands here? Here you have to find a solution that suits you and make it binding.

You should also use the meeting to say thank you. Unfortunately, this also often gets lost in the online area, because otherwise it can also take place in unofficial exchange. In any case, the appreciation of the performance of your team deserves to have its place in your meetings.

After the meeting

After the meeting, you should pick up any team members who couldn’t be there. You can do this by sending out minutes and a list of the to-dos you discussed. In the course of the next meeting, you can also ask about the status of the tasks if necessary.

Phases of online team building

A team goes through a few phases until it really feels like a team. Each phase creates different needs in the team and presents you as a manager with new challenges. Especially in the voluntary sector, this process does not always run as straightforward as it is presented here, and the process sometimes starts all over again, especially with new team members. Nevertheless, this procedure provides a good orientation.

The forming phase

In the forming phase you have not yet become a team, you are still a group of individuals. Communication is still dependent and everyone has yet to get to know and appreciate the other people in the team. You can support your team in this phase by providing guidance and all the information they need. At this stage, the ice should be broken. Getting to know each other in person improves team dynamics because you are more attuned to the idiosyncrasies of the other team members. Ideally, at the end of the phase, everyone should know who to turn to for help in which area. You can then better assess the other person and develop understanding.

Even if new members join later, you should welcome them, let the team know and create an opportunity to get to know each other. With a successful onboarding, all important information is also provided on the vision, your mission, your goals and the history of the organization. Also point out important dates in the year and refer to contact persons in the team for specific questions.

A particular challenge in this phase is the lack of a first impression. The lack of team spirit can also create an impression of isolation and loneliness. This is where getting to know each other helps. The success of the forming phase depends heavily on the team leader. So try to be present here and responsive to the needs of your team.

Tools such as presentation walls, which you can create with Padlet , for example, can support you. You can also provide contact options here. The information should be both private and commitment-related. You can use Microsoft Sway for onboarding or refer to your web and social media presence. However, this cannot replace a personal conversation.

The storming phase

The actual group formation takes place in the storming phase. This leads to conflicts and misunderstandings. This shouldn’t discourage you, though, as it’s part of every group building process. Conflicts can strengthen the team if they are well managed. In most cases, the cause lies in different understandings of work and communication. The team members have yet to find their role and are beginning to question the project goals.

The storming phase is particularly challenging online because conflicts are harder to spot. Also, there may be no netiquette yet or not everyone is familiar with it. There are also technical hurdles. As a team leader, you should recognize conflicts and act as a mediator. And make sure that you keep looking away from conflicts and towards your project goal. That should eventually unite you all. Despite everything, the storming phase is exciting and very important for the team building process. This is where the basis for the work culture is laid.

As a team leader, you can support your team by promoting transparency and direct communication. Task management should also be made transparent by establishing regular status updates. You can also create shared workspaces for this. You should also manage conflicts. Do not ignore the elephant in the room, ask lots of questions and also involve reluctant participants. Be present and approachable and signal your goodwill towards the team. If you feel overwhelmed at this stage, don’t hesitate to get help.

The normalization phase

This phase is all about teamwork and establishing routines and standards. You should agree on the rules of the game and adapt the work culture and communication guidelines. Processes and task management can now be standardized. Now is also a good time to set SMART goals. These are Specific, Measurable , Activating , Realistic and T erminated . Set goals for both the organization as a whole and for each team.

The main challenge in this phase is that you need a high degree of flexibility, as well as discussions and participatory decision-making processes. As a team leader, you should promote your routines and reflect on your way of working and communication. During challenges, you can now direct the team’s gaze to the positive, such as your achievements from the storming phase. In this phase, explicitly take time for team building. You can find some ideas for this here (insert the link to the other blog post).

Performance

In a way, the performing phase is the goal of online team building. In this phase you are a digital we. You take care of yourself as a team and know your strengths and weaknesses. As an experienced team, you can work in a focused, independent and goal-oriented manner. Responsibility can be transferred well here. However, sometimes there are fluctuations in motivation, so make sure that you don’t lose sight of team building completely. Connect different workspaces and workgroups within the organization. Show trust and also delegate tasks. Show further training opportunities and other benefits.

You can keep up motivation by expressing appreciation through birthday wishes and Christmas mail. And congratulations on personal events such as graduations, job changes or weddings.

Unfortunately, even the best teams have to say goodbye at some point. This can happen either in a planned manner due to the expiry of terms of office or the end of a project, or unplanned due to the resignation of individual members. Try to create suitable time windows for the exit, so you ensure more planning security for you and the team. You also prevent so-called ghosting, where team members simply no longer report. Ideally, there should be a celebratory conclusion to appreciate the joint work and the good time. Also, evaluate the process and identify any reasons for dropping out in order to improve your work in the future.

A challenge in the digital area is that successes are often not visible because one is often alone at the time of success. Therefore, you have to make these successes visible. The following applies: the more invisible the progress, the greater the thanks! You should pass on feedback and clarify milestones that have been achieved. You can also use them for your public relations.

Mourning/Adjourning

You should also make sure that all data has been backed up and that the person leaving is not holding any relevant data. Try to organize a handover with the next person and organize a personal farewell talk with the contact person. You should also remove the person from your communication channels, since “dead files” will disturb the overview of the team in the long run.

Online team building for your team

Team building means much more than just drinking coffee together. There are a lot of challenges and also frustrating phases. But especially in the digital area, team building is of enormous importance for motivation. Therefore, take the time to deal with the team and its needs. In the long run, this will lead to a better way of working and also relieves you as a team leader.

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