Team building in a COVID world – how to ensure the team sticks together when it’s apart

Henry Ford apparently once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Seems reasonable. And it also brings to mind Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming & performing model of team development.

But we now live in a COVID world (a situation that looks likely to continue deep into 2021): remote working, furloughs, reduced workforces (hopefully temporarily so), returning to work with restrictions, staying at home again, new variants, tiers 1, 2, 3, 4 and…? In other words, most workplace teams are scattered, in touch but not in person.

Back to Henry Ford, keeping people together to ensure progress is difficult enough, but working together for success, in these circumstances!?

And what happens when your normed and performing teams start to regress… back to storming? All the way to forming? After all, if a team is used to being physically together then the glue that keeps that team together almost certainly relies on that togetherness, to some extent.

In the past, one way of strengthening the ‘glue’ was some kind of team building activity, from simple daily rituals to in-depth residential events. Such team building options are not looking so straightforward now. There’s a need for new glue and there are plenty of ideas floating around out there.

Create new ‘watercooler moments’

A team used to all being in the same location is probably more reliant on casual interactions than it realises. Those quick chats while you’re topping up the coffee (tea, eau minerale, kombucha, etc.) may border on gossip but they’re part of how the team sticks together. Encourage the setting up of short video chats with no agenda or goal other than interaction. You can even randomly match people if you want to recreate the random element.

Fun & games – getting to know each other

Whether it’s a relatively new team or an established unit, teamwork is strengthened when people see more than just a job description or work persona when they look at a colleague. Most of the icebreaker and insight games and activities you’ve experienced on courses and team events can be done via Zoom; e.g.

  • Remote meeting bingo, with common phrases and occurrences (“is this thing on?”, camera failure, etc.)
  • Two truths and a lie (three statements about yourself and everybody has to guess which is the lie).
  • Online shared lunches or team meals.
  • Virtual reality – create a shared virtual space for the team to explore and work in.

Coping and support options

There’s also the question of taking care of individual needs within the team – different team members will respond to the circumstances in different ways, and not every activity should be for everyone (though everyone has the option to join in). For example, mental health is a current concern across all sectors and some employers are offering short mindfulness or meditation sessions online. It’s not for everyone maybe but a short session can help clarity of thought and focus, and reduce stress levels.

The immersive team experience

And then there’s the full, facilitated, team experience that seeks to develop leadership and collaboration. Familiar in the face-to-face, residential format, less so virtually. But such options do exist. For instance, immersive online team games, such as Tracking Success; an interactive, documentary, African wildlife-based team mission that draws on creativity, data-gathering, analysis, decision-making and leadership skills.

Imagine the whole team sitting round the campfire on the virtual veldt, discussing their lion-tracking progress and how they can work together more effectively tomorrow…

Keeping teams together and operating at the right level of performance is a critical challenge for any business in 2021 and many of the methods we relied on in the past are no longer fit for current circumstances. But there are plenty of other ways to get the job of team building done – we just have to try something new.


For more on remote working and team building, take a look at our website, or check out our Tracking Success programme. Any questions? Just give us a call on 01582 463465; we’re here to help.

Categories: Boardroom, Training

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