By Mark Samuel –
While many companies are starting to plan their journeys back to the office, many are making coming back to work optional for their employees and some organizations are simply staying virtual.
In my 35 years of helping organizations build high-functioning teams, I never once thought virtual team building was possible, let alone effective. But over the last year I have been proven wholly and completely wrong. Virtual team building is not only effective, but can often be more effective than in-person team building!
In this article I will share what I have found to be the best virtual team building activities.
Related article: No In-Person Meetings? 14 Ways Stay In Touch With Team Members
1. Show & Tell
Show & tell is one of my favorite virtual team building activities, because it brings the home or personal life together with our work lives.
When we’re working from home, it’s inevitable that we’ll be more casual than we would at the office and it’s likely that we’ll experience small disruptions here or there in the form of nosy kids, pets, or other things that go on in the home. Actively and purposefully bringing elements of the home into our virtual meetings and events can break the ice and give us compassion for our teammates.
The Activity: Spend 1 minute going around your home or office to find something personal that you’d like to share with the group – generally a hobby that you love. It could be a picture or an object or even a pet! Then, once everyone has their item, split into breakout rooms of 2-3 people and give everyone 2 minutes to share their item. If you have more time and a smaller team, you can have everyone share in the main group.
Time: 5-25 minutes.
2. Meet the Family
Sharing the people we love and getting to know the people our coworkers love can be a great way to build bonds.
The Activity: Have each person get a picture of their family or favorite group of friends (or even their pets!) and share them with the team. You can share their names, relationship, how you met, favorite memory, or something you love about them.
Time: 5-25 minutes
3. Introduce a Teammate
Even though we may have worked with our team for many years, there’s still so much we don’t know about them! When given the opportunity to share about hobbies or things we might not know about our teammates, we can form closer, more personal bonds that can help us relate with more compassion and understanding.
The Activity: Split the team up into groups of two and send them into breakout rooms. Have them interview each other, learning a skill, hobby, accomplishment, goal, or experience that the other teammate doesn’t know. You can have the team members ask specific questions (ie Where do you live? What did you love to do as a kid? What’s your biggest accomplishment?) or you can have them just wing the interview.
After the interviews are complete (3-5 minutes per person), have everyone come back into the main room and introduce their partner to the group. This activity is really fun, both for new teams and for teams who have been working together for years.
1. Happy Hour
Just because we can get together in person again doesn’t mean we don’t still have the opportunity to get together virtually. For many, this is a more convenient way to stay connected, especially if members of the team live in different cities, states, or even countries, or for members of the team who are busy parents or have other reasons for not easily being able to meet at a bar or a restaurant.
The Activity: Set a time and have everyone show up to their computer with some food, snacks, or drinks. You can dress up or come casually dressed! You can use the time to discuss work or non-work topics, just like you would if you were going out together.
Time: 30-90 minutes
2. Chat, Drink, & Draw
This idea is based on wine & paint events and classes. In the virtual version, you can bring something to eat or drink and some art supplies and all you need is for someone to be able to share their screen.
The Activity: Have someone pick a drawing, painting, or photograph. You can easily find one on the internet. Have that person share their screen so everyone can see it. Then, you can chat while everyone draws or paints the picture! At the end, share your pictures or paintings to see how similar or different they are! This is a fun way to hang out while also doing an activity.
Timing: 30-90 minutes
Effective Team Building
These activities are ones that will enhance your teamwork at work, rather than just bringing people together socially and interpersonally.
Related article: Tips for Developing a Cross-Functional Team 
1. Work together, but virtually.
One of the aspects of being at work that people miss so much is being able to socialize, take little breaks to talk to your work neighbor, or be able to quickly ask a question to the person 10 feet away from you. Unfortunately, we can’t do any of that when we’re working from home…or can we?
The Activity: Get on a video call with your coworker(s), whether it’s Zoom, MS Teams, or Google Meet. Then all you have to do is just hang out on the call while you’re working. You don’t need to talk to each other or even be working together, but you have each other to talk to as if you were working in the same location, and if you need something from each other, you can easily ask.
Time: 30 minutes – 8 hours!
Mentimeter is one of my favorite virtual team building tools. It’s an interactive software that allows a presenter to ask different kinds of questions and get anonymous answers back from the group. They show up visually for the group to see and they’re a great way of making a point, getting the temperature of the group, and making the team building event more fun and interactive. You can find them at www.mentimeter.com
The Activity: Sign up for a mentimeter account and pick whichever type of question makes the most sense for the purposes of your activity. They have word clouds, bar graphs, and various fun options for live polling and quizzes.
Time: 5 minutes
Miro is another favorite team building tool, especially for project teams and groups that are planning, creating roadmaps, brainstorming, and workstreams. Using this app you can create, collaborate and centralize communication across your team or organization.
The Activity: Sign up for a Miro account and pick whichever type of function that makes the most sense for the purposes of your activity. This can include: Mind Map, Kanban, Entity-Relationship Diagram, Service Blueprint, Ice Breaker, Daily Standup, Event Planning, Team Meeting Agenda, One-on-One Meeting, or Parking Lot Matrix.
4. Create a Team Picture of Success
Creating a Picture of Success is part of the Breakthrough Leadership Team System that I use with my clients. We used to do it in-person, but we can do it just as easily if not more easily in a virtual setting. The Picture of Success is not a vision statement or a mission statement to be shared with anyone outside of the team, but a specific and behavior-driven North Star that will paint a picture of how the team will think and behave in order to reach their goals.
The Activity: Based on external drivers and desired outcomes, determine how the team would need to behave differently to reach those outcomes a year from now. Split up into three groups (in breakout rooms) and have each group work on a section of the POS. Each group should focus on something specific such as reputation (with employees or external customers), teamwork, and the benefit & value the team will provide the company. These areas or topics can change based on the needs of the team.
Then, once each group has completed their part and determined that it’s a stretch, come back together, go over each part to make sure everyone is in agreement and there’s nothing to add or remove, and then put it all together.
Do this in a Google Doc or other type of shared document so that the team can easily edit.
Time: 1-2 hours
5. Create and Share Individual Pictures of Success
The Activity: Each person on the team takes time to develop their own Picture of Success. In their individual Picture of Success, each team member describes what they are doing differently one year later to perform at a high level, improve their communication, enhance their teamwork and anything else they would be doing differently for supporting themselves, supporting other team members and supporting other teams.
Each person shares their Individual Picture of Success during a virtual team meeting while other team members share their acknowledgement of each other creating a positive team atmosphere.