We are not a team because we work together. We are a team because we respect, trust, and care about each other.
A simple but meaningful sentence, isn’t it?
It is well-known, but likely not well-recognized enough, that teams made up of supporting and trusting relationships help people stay motivated and maintain a sense of belonging at a team/company. Even better if you’re able to build stronger friendships, as the bonds between individuals create deeper motivation and collaboration amongst one another. Some of the benefits to mention are that people will likely feel more comfortable asking for help and will find it easier to work together on a feature or project, and giving constructive peer feedback will be better received amongst close teammates.
Inevitably, spending time together makes getting closer much easier, however, during a period where face-to-face meetings are impossible, how do we continue (or even start) to connect with our teammates?
I was discussing this situation with my team one day when one of them said, “We should have a non-work meeting some time, where we take work out of the agenda.” What a simple and great idea! As managers, it’s important that we listen to our team’s suggestions and that they feel heard, so I began to plan immediately.
It can’t be a pointless meeting with no agenda, or else it might get boring and even awkward, I thought. We need to share something valuable and enriching that will boost our team spirit, and it must have a meaning and a purpose where everyone can feel like they can take something away from it. We should leverage this time to share moments that will encourage our team to bond and get to know each other a bit more.
Though it may seem like a lot of work, investing in your team’s relationships is on par with delivering great results for your clients. In fact, when social connections are supported in the workplace, it helps form strong relationships that are said to build a successful workforce – so investing in your team is really adding value to the work produced for your clients.
With a close team, everyone will be aware that the joint efforts are for the project’s sake, therefore, synchrony will be evident for the clients.
Creating non-work meetings for your team
Below we’ll get into the variables that will help you plan your non-work meetings:
Let’s first find out what our team would most benefit from if we were to choose a main focus. Communication, integrity, honesty, commitment, passion, accountability, ownership, quality? Is there a specific value that your team needs to reinforce? After you identify what that is, you’ll want to set up preparations around it so you can incorporate exercises that show your team in a very practical way how they can improve the team dynamic and which situations you could apply it to.
Timing: let your team decide.
Only by making your team part of the whole process will you be able to ensure they enjoy it and that it’s also their own. Your team might have time preferences depending on their mood or their personal schedules, so make sure you give them options so that they can choose the time that works best for them to get together.
For many, food is a great symbol for coming together to enjoy something. Whether you have the budget to send everyone something to their homes or not, it’s about taking a break from everything for a while and enjoying quality time with your colleagues.
If you do have the budget, put together a shared document where each person can fill out their contact information and preferred meal (from a given menu, for ease). If not, no problem! Suggest to your team that they can come prepared to the meeting with drinks and snacks; you can always share a coffee, cookies or whatever you all have in your house. Just the collective enjoyment of a more casual event will make things feel relaxed.
You’ll want to set up the environment in a positive, happy, and meaningful way. Be sure you have a clear agenda that you share with your team once the meeting starts. Don’t forget to let them know in anticipation if they need to bring anything to the call.
An example agenda could look like this:
- Music; start with some music, and make sure you pick uplifting pieces. This sets a positive tone for when everyone enters the meeting.
- Announcements: If you need, take five minutes to share important announcements or news.
- Meeting objectives: Ensure everyone is aware of the value or focus you are reinforcing, and what the ultimate goal is.
- Group dynamic: This will be a group dynamic or exercise in which the team will be able to participate in together. (We will dive further into this idea later).
- Kudos: Highlight the efforts and completed goals of any individuals that helped the team reach any achievements or lead to a great performance.
- Reflection: All team members share their experiences and learnings from the activity.
Let’s get into the agenda in more detail below.
YES! It’s the central topic; the main tool you will use to reinforce your team spirit and morale. I would like to share five examples below, and keep in mind that they can be applied for whichever values you decide to focus on:
- Dictate a drawing: Select a drawing of geometric figures. It can be anything, but it must be a flat image to draw so that you can easily describe it to your team. Dictate what you are drawing, and have your team draw it as they understand it from your explanation. The ultimate goal is to see everyone’s final result and compare them to the original one, discussing the challenges of communication and hearing others’ interpretations.
- Draw together (Pictionary!): Using an online tool, take turns drawing something while the rest of the team guesses what it is. A bit of fun and competition will engage your team and boost their creativity.
- Two truths & one lie: Knowing your colleagues will be an advantage both for this game and while working together, and if anyone is able to tell which fact is true or not, it definitely will be a win!
- Personality Quiz: You can find many fun personality tests online to take. Once everyone finishes, they can share one thing they agree and disagree with from the generated results. Why is this great? You can get more familiar with your teammates and their own perceptions, as well as become closer to them when finding things in common! Here’s a list of personality tests you can take online.
- Who is this?: Have everyone write a unique, strange, or unexpected fact about themselves using an online tool, like sli.do. Then, share your screen and allow the team to try to guess which person the fact belongs to. After this, the owner should identify themselves and give more context if needed. This is a good way to learn surprising new things about each other.
Setting the tone.
Be sure you are the first one who joins the meeting, and start playing the music so everyone can hear it playing when they join.
Ending the meeting: Learnings and reflections.
Everyone should participate in this portion of the meeting. Whether it’s for feedback or to share their personal experience, it’s important that the whole team talk about how the meeting went and if they think anything could be improved. Take some time for reflection and listen to your team’s learnings from the activity, as those conclusions will be inputs for your team spirit improvement plan and also for your next team-building meeting.
Involve every team member.
If you really want each person to enjoy and feel part of these meetings, you will need to let them participate. Whether it’s to select the playlist, give ideas of new dynamics, or suggest the food, by letting them make decisions and suggestions you can ensure they will enjoy some ownership within the process.
Here are some testimonials from my team about their experiences with these meetings:
“I’ve been enjoying these team activities a lot. By the name of it, it may sound boring, but we’ve been given the space to relax a little since projects can become demanding sometimes. I believe it’s a good idea since this increases the psychological safety of the group. Sharing moments together helps us have more empathy for each other and increases the mindset of ‘We are in this together’.”
Carlos Lobo, Frontend Developer
“Team building is the time we get to make to get closer in a non-work environment. I started working during the pandemic, so this is even more valuable to me. Sharing with my team and getting to know each other better is the perfect opportunity to improve our team dynamic when achieving the project’s goals. Thanks for these great moments.”
Alejandra Villa, QA Analyst
“I see this time as a reward for hard work. We can actually enjoy with our teammates in a different context, share our points of view and get in a place of mutual understanding, which is definitely a facilitator of teamwork.
Also, we get the chance to evaluate our soft skills and learn tips for improving them.”
Diego Gamboa, Backend Developer
Moving forward as a closer team.
Non-work-related meetings are necessary – especially during these times of social distancing. Although face-to-face time is not possible, it’s important that we find alternatives to propitiate the right environment where our team can still find ways to become closer.
We don’t have the chance to meet and enjoy meals, beers or outings together, so we need to leverage technology to simulate and prioritize those ‘real’ moments within our teams. Always make sure you have moments of reflection at the end of each session so you can share significant learnings that will improve your connection as a team, and ultimately improve the dynamic of work all together.
If you’re interested in joining our team or can see yourself working at Zemoga, get in touch today!