7 ways to
knit a virtual
team together

According to a 2015 survey by Polycom conducted among 25,000 workers in 12 countries, 32% of employees work remotely, while 62% are “regularly taking advantage of flexible working practices offered to them.”

The companies have been riding the wave and welcome distributed teams in their workforce more than ever before. This presents a challenge for Agile coaches and Scrum masters brought in to establish a culture of innovation and build effective teams, relying, in spite of their location, on trust.

We wondered how they cope with the new reality and asked all the burning questions to Gerard Chiva, a well-known Agile Transformation coach with a solid technical background and 20 years of experience in the field, holding management roles in international corporate environments. One of the many things we learned about was using the icebreakers Gerard often applies to create close-knit virtual teams. Here he talks us through the selection of his favorites and explains their value.

What it is really like
to coach a virtual team

From my experience, the success and performance of virtual teams depend on overcoming two potential issues: one issue to deal with is distance, and the other is trust.

With distance, it’s pure biology. The human brain is wired to like and accept something tangible rather than something that is remote – we need to consciously overcome that every time. With regards to trust, I would say that it is important to have in any sort of team, but with virtual teams, I think, it’s key.

Interestingly, building trust within a virtual team requires the same things you would do for a co-located team, but done more intensely. You can minimize the risk of struggling from both of these issues by using icebreaker exercises. I rely on them heavily in my projects to build trust and develop culture within new agile teams.

I recommend practicing icebreaker exercises often within a virtual team. As I mentioned earlier, if we cannot see or feel the person, our brain doesn’t accept them as easily. So, you need to get creative and familiarize virtual teammates with each other as much as you can. At least for the first few months, you may want to warm up the team every day. Remind yourself of the importance and be insistent. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Obviously, as the team becomes more trusting, you don’t need to practice as intensely. Doing it from time to time, you may offer the participants the option to choose the exercises they prefer:  “Hey, guys, what can we do today?”

What is an icebreaker exercise?

Icebreakers are warming-up team exercises to encourage vulnerability and, subsequently, form trust – a key aspect for any performing team. Trust grows naturally in co-located teams, but with virtual teams you must commit to building that culture and team feeling.

There are many exercises to choose from.
Here are some of my favorites.

As you can see, virtual ice breaker exercises can be both useful and fun. Keep in mind that when the team has grown in trust, there is no need to practise everyday. But, compared with co-located teams, virtual teams at the starting point require more intense and frequent work to build trust. Remember that and try to exercise.

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