Why focus on team building now? Don’t we have enough to worry about? Times certainly are tough. It feels like chaos has taken the wheel and we are offroading...blindfolded. A global pandemic hit, the US economy has taken a colossal one-two punch, and in the fight to ensure fairness and equality for all, we are up against the ropes. The collective impact of this trifecta is taking unseen and unheard tolls on everyone. This. Will. Impact. Your. Team.
I’m sure every office manager, HR staff member, and attuned CEO has seen the statistics surrounding the benefits that can come from even minimal investments in team-centric activities. When implemented, employees are engaged, less likely to leave, and companies show increases in profitability along with all kinds of positive growth indicators. All you have to do is search the benefits of team building and you will see dozens of articles addressing why companies should embrace it into their business model. So, I won’t make this a fluff piece exalting the wonders of this subject but rather we will explore what team-building looked like before the world turned upside down, and ways organizations can pivot to capture all of the positive benefits of these activities for their companies today.
(Because we want you to know how awesome group time can be, we’ve included some killer infographics for your viewing pleasure. Thanks, Clevyr Creative Team! If you’re like me, you’ll skim those first!)
Let’s move on to what team-building is to make sure we’re all on the same page. Team-building is an activity or activities NOT centered on training but on bonding and group enrichment. These activities focus on the collective and promote engagement opportunities with others within the organization regardless of role. Think “All Hands on Deck” type meetings, birthday/work anniversary recognitions, and holiday parties. These are all team building activities. They let employees have a chance to exist within the parameters of work without technically working. Awesome, right?! We think so too.
One of the reasons I joined the Clevyr team was for the amazing culture. They have taken team bonding to new heights and done so in an almost familial way. I can’t tell you how many times the team would share impromptu lunches, gather to celebrate company victories, or engage in the random Nerf gun battle. It wasn’t even a question of if we would do something for the team but when. And then everything changed… (cue my sobbing) 😭
Our company shifted to 100% remote operations in mid-March and currently remains in that mode. I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has revealed to me how much I need my team. Beyond assistance with job-related tasks, I miss the energy of being in an office. I miss the sense of community that was so readily available. Now, my days are loaded with Zoom calls and to-do lists...not to mention child wrangling! (Shout out to all the parents who are juggling!)
It’s relatively easy for remote workers or even workers who have to socially distance to feel isolated, lonely, and unsupported. That is why now, more than ever, it’s important for companies to approach team-building as a critical function necessary for success in this new now.
In this post, we will look at two approaches to team-building. Anything that comes down from leadership we will call structured and anything originating at the employee level we will call unstructured.
Something... anything really, is better than nothing in this area. If your company doesn’t have a plan, don’t worry! One easy way to start is by hosting a virtual all-team meeting. Beyond being an opportunity for organizations to share the latest news, celebrate victories, etc., these group meet-ups can be a weekly anchor-point for employees giving them opportunities to see and speak with leadership. All-team meetings are an effective way to navigate times of uncertainty by empowering employees to feel like they are part of a collective working toward a common goal.
If your organization had an active approach to team-building prior to this point there are several ways you can pivot and move that effort into the digital/virtual space.
Thank goodness for all of the platforms that foster remote communications. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the video conferencing programs available. Zoom, Google Hangouts, and others are a clear go-to for meetings but there are other platforms like Discord and Slack that employees can use as a substitute for being in the office. Companies can use platforms like these to create a “virtual breakroom” or communication channels not directly connected to work-specific topics. My personal favorites are the random and music channels our team uses in Slack. Clevyr leadership provides this platform for project-specific communication but whole-heartedly supports its use as a team-bonding tool. What tools exist within your group that can be modified to help foster team bonding? I’m sure you have a couple!
In complex adaptive systems, exists the concept of emergence. This occurs when an entity or part of a system, displays properties unique to all other parts of the system and these properties emerge only when engaging with the whole. In other words, exclusive ideas or qualities bloom when the team is functioning as a network of autonomous agents. Each agent is a contributor and those contributions are not tied solely to their role. Ever had a company potluck? These are the perfect examples of non-role related displays of unique ability. (And a personal favorite of mine!)
Employee driven team-centric activities begin when leadership expresses support without trying to shape things. Instead of the company picking activities or submitting a list of ideas, provide digital environments that foster opportunities for emergence. Having a few set activities is great, but the good stuff comes from left field! All team meetings are a great opportunity to provide space for emergence. Something as simple as carving out five minutes for free discussion might offer your team the right conditions for ideas to develop!
At Clevyr, Anne Saunders, our Business Analyst, has emerged as the resident timekeeper. What began as a daily routine turned into a team anchor-point during this ridiculously uncertain period of time.
Pre-COVID-19, every morning Anne would write the date, highlight a holiday (think National Mac and Cheese Day), and draw a picture representative of that day’s holiday on a whiteboard she kept at her desk. “It started so I would know what the date is every day. It was literally an excuse to handwrite the date in the morning,” Saunders wrote to me. We all enjoyed walking by her desk. It was a great way to highlight important causes, start conversations, or be the source of laughter. No one asked her to do it. She was just being Anne and we all benefitted.
Fast forward. “The last day in the office before quarantine, a handful of people stopped by to ask me to keep doing it, as a team/morale/togetherness thing. How could I say no?” wrote Saunders. So instead of letting this daily activity fall away becoming another routine lost to the pandemic, Anne continued her daily whiteboards. Rather than displaying them on her desk, she posts them in our “Random” Slack channel but with one addition. She still captures the date, holiday, and fantastic artwork but has added a line representing “Days in Quarantine.” It serves as a reminder of the number of days we have been apart and socially distancing. To me, this whiteboard is a beautiful example of team-bonding through emergence and adaptation.
Anne's Daily Drawings
I’m going to wrap this up with a quote from one of our developers who created one of my personal favorite after-work team activities, Bad Movie Night. “Silly times are good,” said Omid Nowrouzi, our Software Engineer. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, especially now, when many are hitting their personal terminal velocity, choosing to prioritize lighthearted activities can be just the thing organizations need to not only survive in our new now but thrive.