How to bond even when your team members are far away.

3 Ways MuseumHack Encourages Team Bonding with a Distributed Team

Posted February 22, 2016 by Museum Hack in Managing Your Team
Finding ways to help your distributed team bond isn't always easy. Here are some ice breakers that may help.

Today’s post is brought to you by Museum Hack. Museum Hack does fun company team building events at the best museums in NYC, DC and SF.

Team building activities are an important contributor to company culture and growth. However, “team building” isn’t usually at the top of an HR manager or CEO’s to-do list. Instead, we prioritize perks like hiring bonuses, unlimited massages, and new hardware — items that are a flashier way to attract top talent.

But company team building isn’t meant to compete with these perks, it’s meant to complement them. While an organic salad bar can be a cool way to bring people in, it’s team building events that keep people around and happy. Some of the direct benefits of spending time on team building include increased employee retention and loyalty, productivity and communication boosts, and the development of a unique culture that spreads by word of mouth.

If your team shares an office, you likely benefit from the natural camaraderie that happens in a shared space. But if you are a distributed team, or have remote team members, then you need to make a more intentional effort. Here are three proven exercises you can start using today to accomplish team building with a remote team.

Distributed Team Bonding

Exercise 1: Icebreakers at Every Meeting

You’ve likely attended a class or event where the organizers started with team building icebreakers. It usually goes something like this: “Go around the circle, introduce yourself, where you are from, and what you hope to get out of this.”

Instructors and event organizers use icebreaker exercises for a few reasons. First, it gives everybody present a chance to share something about themselves. Later, these tidbits of information can be an easy way to start a conversation or even an opportunity to provide value to that new contact. E.g., “You said you have an office in Vancouver, wow! I have a cousin there who is a really talented designer…” Second, the icebreakers on their own give people an opportunity to quickly get to know the group, and it instantly becomes a friendlier environment.

Team building icebreakers are even more powerful in a work setting. When you incorporate a question round into each meeting, including virtual meetings, you see deep bonds created and “co-workers” turning into genuine friendships. Every question you ask can be another bond between your staff, so we recommend incorporating icebreakers as often as possible — it only takes a few minutes and it's free. Here are some questions you can start with:

  • What is something you are planning to do this year that you’ve never done before?
  • What is one thing you’re excited about right now?
  • What is your “go-to meal” after a long day at work?
  • What is the last book you read and enjoyed?
  • Do you have a favorite restaurant?
  • Do you have a favorite place to work from?
  • Do you have a productivity tip that saves you a lot of time?

You can easily generate your own list of questions by thinking, “What would I ask a new friend to get to know them better?”

Exercise 2: Send Multimedia ‘Hellos’

Another way to improve team dynamics with remote staff is to include them in your local gatherings. If a plane ticket is in your budget, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. But often, just a quick “hello” from the local team can be a positive boost. This message could be a 15-second video you share on Facebook, a captioned image you post to Slack, or even individual emails.

There are zero rules on what to say and how to say it, but one best practice is to include each recipient by name and to give them genuine acknowledgement. Also, these messages do NOT need to be polished. The team building power is in the act of inclusion — so don’t get hung up on the technical bits. Here’s an example from one of our recent team hangouts in NYC. 

Action Step: Next time you get together with team members, record a quick video or write a postcard signed by everyone saying “Wish you were here.”

Exercise 3: Start a Mr. Rogers Group

One of the most effective techniques we’ve used to develop great working relationships with our remote staff is with a Mr. Rogers group. Here’s how it works:

  • We have a private channel on Slack called “Mister Rogers” with all of our remote staff as members
  • Each week every member is paired with a new match and they do a ~30 minute “get to know you” call together
  • After the call, each member writes a mini summary about their conversation partner to share with the group 

Mr. Rogers works to increase communication and teamwork because it is intentional, dedicated time to “non-work” subjects. Instead of just functioning together to get projects done, your people get to know each other on a deeper level — like you would over coffee or lunch. This is paid time at Museum Hack, so it’s not a freebie, but the ROI is obvious — a passionate team that cares about each other and the mission we are working on together.

Next Step: Take Action

Team building can exponentially improve your team, culture, working relationships and more. We recommend getting started ASAP so you can see the benefits for yourself. Team building icebreakers, “hellos”, and conversation partners are all cost effective and easy to implement. You just have to start. 

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.