Keep Your Team Digitally Secure and Safe

Keep Your Team Digitally Secure and Safe

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Every member of your team must be responsible for their own digital security and safety. Cyber crimes happen every day. When they are online, team members need to practice the same level of vigilance that they do when they are interacting in the real world. They must be slow to trust new people, and implement security software and other precautions to protect their information.

Digital security and safety requires users to monitor email attachments, use strong passwords, back up files, and update software. Taking these steps will make your team proactive in their digital citizenship and protect their personal information online.

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TBAE will customize a virtual team building event for your remote team in line with the desired outcomes, values and ethos of your company and number of remote staff to participate in the event.

Don’t Trust Anyone You Don’t Know

The Internet is just like any other place. It is possible to meet wonderful people and develop useful contact online. There are, however, many malicious people who are looking for opportunities to steal and exploit personal information. When your team is online, they must not put their trust in anyone they do not know. Internet scammers are professionals, and are very good at manipulating people.

Signs of a scammer:

  • You are asked to download something.
  • You are given a link to something.
  • An offer seems too good to be true.
  • You are asked for money.
  • You are asked for personal information.
  • You are promised money.

Enable 2-Step Verification Processes

Password accounts are commonly hacked, and you do not have to be a computer genius to hack emails. In fact, there are numerous online tutorials on how to hack an email account.

There are precautions that your team can take to limit their risk online. Many email accounts and other sites offer a 2-step verification process. If your team has access to this service, they must use it. The process is simple, and it helps prevent the theft of your passwords. After signing up, you will enter your password, and a verification code will be sent to your phone. You will only be able to access your account after entering the code. It is possible to establish your home computer and request that the code not be needed to log in on it. The code would still be required from other locations, making it difficult for someone else to hack your account.

Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is great for the person on the go. Your team members must, however, take extra precautions when using public Wi-Fi. This type of connection does not have the same security that a personal Internet account does because there are numerous users. When your team uses public Wi-Fi, they must avoid accessing sensitive information, like their bank account.

Public Computers

With the popularity of laptops and smartphones, it is often possible to avoid using public computers. There may be times, however, when team members find themselves using public computers. There are a few tips to help your team keep their information secure:

  • Do not save login information: Always choose the option not to save your login name or password, and make sure that you log out when done.
  • Erase your history: Disable settings that save passwords and delete your Internet history when done.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Do not leave the computer unattended, and keep an eye out for people watching your screen.
  • Mind what you do: Never enter personal or sensitive information, like credit card info, on a public computer.

Email and Attachments

We use email for work and personal reasons every day. Emails and their attachments, however, are regularly used to hack computers. Just because you receive an email from someone you know, does not mean that the email is safe. Once an account is hacked, it is used to send messages to the contact list. If any of your team members receive an email that seems odd, they must contact the sender before clicking on any links or opening any attachments.

Once you download an attachment, the damage is done. Before downloading or clicking on anything, they can hover over the link and check to see that the link they see and the link they are being directed to match. They should never click a link or download an attachment unless they are sure that they are safe. If they accidentally click something, they must run a virus scan, preferably in Safe Mode.

Password Rules

Hacking often occurs because people choose the wrong passwords. Using the same password for everything, using easy passwords, and keeping the same passwords for years will put your account at risk. There are a few key points to choosing strong passwords. Typically an eight character password minimum with ten characters a normal recommendation. They must include:

  • Uppercase letters
  • Lowercase letters
  • Numbers
  • Symbols/characters

Back Up Your Files

It is essential for your team members to back up their files regularly. You never know when a computer will crash, or if your computer will be stolen. Backing up files protects their information. How often they back up your files will depend on how regularly you use their computer. Files should be backed up daily, weekly, or monthly. There are different backups.

  • Full back up – This type of backup takes the most time and storage space. It is the fastest to restore.
  • Incremental backup – These backups changes made after the latest backup. It is faster to backup, but it takes longer to restore.
  • Differential backup – The backup occurs after the latest full backup. It does not take long to backup, and it restores slower than full and incremental backup.
  • Mirror – Files deleted in the computer are also deleted on the backup.
  • Local – Backups in the same building such as external hard drives, etc.
  • Online – It is possible to backup files online. It is safe in the case of natural disasters but it is slow to restore.

Update Your Software

It is important for your team to update their software regularly. Software companies frequently update their programs to fix bugs and address security threats. If your team members do not update their software regularly, they risk their programs running slower than normal and contracting malware and viruses. They should check for updates regularly. A good rule of thumb is to check for updates every time that they turn on your computer for the day. This way, they will have any updates completed before they begin their work.

 

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How Your Team Members Can Become Good Digital Citizens

How Your Team Members Can Be Good Digital Citizens

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Good digital citizenship in its essence is using technology responsibly and appropriately. Anyone on your team who interacts regularly online automatically becomes a digital citizen. Like any other community, digital citizenship requires your team members to behave in a mature and civil manner. Good citizens ensure that digital users have safe and pleasurable experiences.

Being a good citizen is important both online and off. The rules of citizenship for each are similar. When using digital technology, encourage your team members to be positive and helpful, and apply what works in real life in the digital realm.

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TBAE will customize a virtual team building event for your remote team in line with the desired outcomes, values and ethos of your company and number of remote staff to participate in the event.

What Is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizens all belong to the digital society, and they need to adhere to the norms and rules that have been established. There are nine elements that people experience when they interact online. These interactions define what occurs in digital citizenship.

Nine Normal Elements:

  • Access – Citizens have different levels of access. Full access should be a goal of citizenship.
  • Commerce – Buying and selling online is increasing, and consumers need to be aware of what the purchase and the legality of their purchases.
  • Communication – There are numerous ways to communicate online, and citizens need to make wise decisions in what and how they communicate.
  • Literacy – Technological literacy requires people to keep up with digital changes.
  • Etiquette – Citizenship comes with a responsibility to follow etiquette when communicating with others.
  • Law – Citizens have a responsibility to behave ethically and be aware of laws governing them.
  • Rights and Responsibilities – The rights of users are shared equally. These rights come with responsibilities.
  • Health and wellness – Physical and psychological issues can occur when ergonomics and other problems are not addressed.
  • Security – Citizens must take action to protect their information online.

Engaging with Others

Digital media allows your team members to communicate, collaborate, learn, and share online. When engaging with others online, it is important to behave as though they are in the room with you.

Tips to Engage:

  • Be patient – Build relationships slowly. Aggressive attempts at communication can make people uncomfortable.
  • Dialogue Ask and answer questions to begin discussions.
  • Share sparingly – It is important to share information, but be careful not to spam people.
  • Maintain relationships – Build new friendships, but be sure to pay attention to existing relationships.
  • Be respectful – Unless you are video chatting, it is difficult to convey tone. If you are not sure if something is respectful, do not type or say it.

It’s a Moving Target

Our digital lives are constantly evolving. The changes in technology are rapidly occurring, and our lives are shifting at a great pace. Over the past few decades, technology has changed the way we work, shop, and communicate. Social media is relatively new, but it is an integral part of society. As technology changes, the way your team interact change along with it. It is imperative that we pay attention as our tools change in order to remain relevant in our work and social lives. The target of technology is constantly changing, and we need to change with it.

Belonging to a Community

The ability to communicate is easy, inexpensive, and instantaneous in a digital world. Distance no longer limits our communication.

Methods of communication:

  • Text
  • FaceTime
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Instant messaging

Because communication is essential to any community, the digital world can help improve communities. Digital citizens are citizens of the Internet, and they are citizens of their personal and professional communities. When you are part of any community, you have a responsibility to communicate respectfully and expand relationships. Your team member must invest in their digital relationships with their time and interest. Remember that it takes time for a strong community to develop.

Build It Up

Your team members’ tone will define their digital presence. No matter the content that they produce or communication they make, it is essential that they attempt to remain positive. Build up their community, and avoid negativity. Positive content generates more traffic than negative content. This is because people will share positive content with their friends and family, which grows your community.

Your team will draw people if they feel that that team is able to help them. Provide useful information and tips. Invite people to ask questions, and develop a respectful dialogue. This cements relationships and leads to repeat viewings and communication. When your team members are good digital citizens, they encourage good citizenship in others.

Real World Influences

Real world influences are useful when examining your digital citizenship. If your team members are good citizens in real life, they will be good digital citizens. Consider what makes a good public citizen. Examples include participation, civility, meeting responsibilities, and obeying laws. Translate real world ideas into conduct online.

Use Technology Appropriately

Technology needs to be used responsibly. All activity needs to be both legal and ethical. How you use technology will depend on where your team members are and what they are doing. For example, it is unethical to download and play games at work, but it is perfectly acceptable to do so at home.

There are basic rules and laws that govern digital citizenship. For example, the Internet is not free. Using a neighbor’s connection is not only illegal; it is inconsiderate because it slows the Internet speed for paying customers. Additionally, your team should avoid pirated software, music, movies, etc. These downloads are illegal, and some questionable websites increase their chance of contracting a computer virus.

The Golden Rule

Treating others the way that you would like to be treated is the golden rule. This should be applied in all areas of life, including digital life. Encourage your team members to treat themselves and others with respect. They should not communicate in a way that they would consider rude or disrespectful as the receiver. Obeying the golden rule sounds easy, but many problems occur because this rule is ignored. Your team members should think before they communicate; they should not act out of emotion.

 

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How to Conduct an Engaging Virtual Team Meeting

Hosting a Virtual Team Meeting

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Hosting a virtual team meeting for remote workers often requires that the way in which content is discussed or presented is altered so that everyone is actively engaged, even though the content may remain the same.

There has been a recent rise in the need for remote working and there are many options such as Zoom, WebEx or Join Me available to host meetings. All companies have different needs, but using a platform that permits audio, video and screen sharing allows for far better engagement than a conference call.

Ask your team members to provide feedback on how the virtual meetings can be improved. Technical glitches and awkward pauses are inevitable. Stay calm and use them to learn. Practice makes perfect!

Here are some tips on how to conduct an engaging virtual team meeting.

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TBAE will customize a virtual team building event for your remote team in line with the desired outcomes, values and ethos of your company and number of remote staff to participate in the event.

Implement Rules for the Virtual Team Meeting

A visual slide is a good way of setting expectations for virtual meetings with large groups.

Remember to record the meeting if you need to refer back to it at a later stage.

Communicate to your team members about your expectations on how engage in the virtual team meeting.

Common etiquette such as not eating during meetings or leaving the desk needs to be communicated as well.

Remaining muted in a virtual meeting until team members are answering a question or presenting is a good way to prevent background noise and creates an indication of someone wanting to speak.

Non-verbal communication and body language is an important part for an engaging meeting. Encourage team members to use the video feed.

Virtual Team Meeting Ice breakers

Virtual team meeting ice breakers are short activities that are designed to ease into a discussion or conversation. They could be discussions or games that break down walls between people in a group. It is always easier to start conversations when the people in the group are more relaxed and comfortable with each other.

Ice breakers also help people to get to know each other before working together in a team setting or project. Better trust and communication is developed when there is a secure understanding.

Structure of the Virtual Team Meeting

Communicating the structure of the virtual team meeting ensures that there is a flow to the meeting. Make use of a signal to allow team members to indicate that they want to provide input or ask a question. Most virtual meeting platforms also have tools that allow this.

Most virtual team meeting platforms also have a chat feature that allows you to get quick feedback from all team members without wasting time on individual video feedback.

Using Visuals in the Virtual Team Meeting

You can make use of visual tools such as: Share your screen, Jamboard, LucidChart, and Miro to ensure that everyone is clear about the ideas and information being presented.

Virtual Team Meeting Agenda

An agenda is important for a virtual team meeting just like a normal meeting. It helps you to keep the meeting on course and on time and communicate what topics, expectations, preparation and outcomes are aimed for.

Don’t rush through the meeting agenda. Allow an opportunity for team members to take in the information or jump in. Some team members may also be working with slower Wi-Fi connections, and a pause helps them to stay on course with the virtual meeting.

 

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26 Ice Breakers for Your Virtual Team Meetings

Ice Breakers for Virtual Team Meetings

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Virtual Team Meeting ice breakers are short activities that are designed to ease the participants into your virtual team meeting. They could include discussions or games that break down walls between the people in your virtual team. It is always easier to start conversations when the participants of your virtual team meeting are more relaxed and comfortable with each other.

With more people working remotely these days, using ice breakers at the start of a virtual team meeting is vital in breaking down barriers and generating a connected and open discussion. Remote workers often have a feeling of loneliness and creating a space for interactions is crucial. Virtual team meeting ice breakers lightens the mood and helps keep the attention of your remote working team throughout the meeting.

The following are examples of ice breakers you can use that will help your next virtual team meeting be an engaged and energized experience.

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My Story in Six Words

In this ice-breaker, the virtual team members have to creatively explain their life story using only six words, and the other team members can join in and discuss their choice. For example, a team member can say: “The greatest encounters can occur randomly” for when they met their favorite celebrity. This is a creative way to encourage the team members to want to know more about each other.

Unmatched

In this ice-breaker activity for virtual team meetings, participants get to find out something unique about each other while sharing something unique about them. It could be something as simple as a holiday, hobby, or award. One by one the team members try to come up with something that is the most unique without anyone else also having done that. Once a unique fact has been found, it is the next team member’s turn.

Follow Me

In this ice-breaker one of the virtual team meeting participants have to take the lead and make everyone else follow their movements, but only if the leader says: “Follow Me” beforehand. When the movements increase in pace, the participants will start to forget about the phrase and just go along with the movements. These people are eliminated, and the last person standing wins.

What’s your preference?

Help your remote working team get to know each other by having them answer some light and fun personal questions. Use your company culture to choose what questions to ask some of these questions:

What is the best way to eat pizza? What talent or skill do you wish you had? What is your favourite sound? Who is your favourite villain?

Team members will feel closer to each other once they find out that they share common ideas and interests.

Emoji Greet

Each team member selects an emoji that describes their current feelings when checking in or about a project.

Questions in Colour

Each virtual team member needs to answer a work or non-work related question based on a randomly generated colour.

Embarrassing Photos

Get to know your team members on a personal level with plenty of laughs by finding an embarrassing or funny photo on your phone, album, or bookshelf and share it with your team.

Quickfire Questions

Get to know your team with prepared quick questions. Each team member answers the question and everybody gets to know each other.

Where would you be right now?

As the title suggests, simply ask the question: “Where would you be right now?” The remote working team members can answer using tools such as Google Maps, images or simply just saying where.

Let me give you the tour

In this virtual team ice-breaker, the participants become tour guides giving the rest of the team members a virtual tour of their immediate surroundings. This ice-breaker will give your team a feeling of being connected physically, even though they are working remotely.

Image Charades

This ice-breaker for virtual team meetings is the same as traditional charades, except that you may only use 5 images to try and explain your book, movie, celebrity, etc.

10 Shared Things

In this ice-breaker activity, you ask your team to come up with 10 things that everyone in the group has in common – we are all wearing shoes, we all have a notepad, etc. This virtual ice breaker can be varied by asking the team members to find 10 things in common in their immediate areas.

Where are you from?

A great virtual ice breaker for teams located in a wide range of areas. Initiate the meeting with the question: “Where are you from?”  As the team members post their locations, give them a shout-out.

Team Portrait

Take a screenshot of everyone’s funny face, gesture, etc in the meeting and share your team portrait.

One Word Summary

Ask the team members to summarize their feelings about a project or the team. You can also ask them to summarize their feelings with one colour. A fun ice breaker that also gives you an overall picture of how the team is feeling.

Remote Body Language

Create visual signals such as handshakes, hearts, or thumbs up that help team members to express themselves without needing to un-mute the microphone.

Quiz Show

This is a fun ice-breaker that energises the team and makes team members excited for the next virtual meeting. Start with one to three questions at the start of every meeting

Mood Scale

Check the overall feeling and mood of your team at the start of the virtual meeting. Ask them how they feel on a scale of 1 – 10 and use the results to further the discussion and allow team members to share their thoughts.

Time to get physical

Simple physical exercises do a lot to get team members to fire up and to clear their heads for a short while. It does not need to be strenuous. Allow a team member to lead a few quick stretch exercises or ask them to stand a jump a few times.

Honours

Everyone needs a morale boost now and then and even more so when working remotely. Honour the team members who went the extra mile. Ask team members to vote for their hero this month. Start your next meeting by honouring the effort of your team.

Highlights

Highlights is another great ice breaker that you can use to lift the morale of your team. Get team members to post their top achievements before the meeting. When the meeting starts, display all of the achievements in your team and give a shout out to each one. It is always good to remind people of the great work that they are doing.

Remote Coffee Break

Before the meeting, have a video chat with your team members for an informal catch-up. Socialising helps those working remotely, even if it is through a screen.

Spot the Lie

Get to know each other better with this fun ice breaker. Gather one false fact along with two true facts of each team member and put them into a multiple-choice poll. Team members then need to guess which fact of the particular team member is a lie. Also, ask the team member to share a story behind the facts.

Remote Fashion Police

There is a myth that people only wear pyjamas all day long when working remotely. Have a fun poll to lighten the atmosphere and loosen people up by letting them check up on team members’ work clothes. You could also ask them to take pictures of their shoes!

Virtual DJ

Music always helps people loosen up a little. Choose a team member to play some music while others join the virtual team meeting. Some team members might even start dancing!

Doodles

It is said that doodling helps people be more creative as well as attentive. Ask your team members to get a pen and paper and get them to doodle some pictures. After the meeting, have them share their unique artwork by showing it to their cameras.

13 Bad Habits to Avoid When Working Remotely

13 Bad Habits to Avoid When Working Remotely

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Many people are finding themselves in the position of having to work from home for the first time in their careers. Although there are many benefits of working remotely, there are also pitfalls that you need to avoid to remain effective in your profession.

The following are a list of bad habits to avoid when working from home that will not only affect your productivity but in many cases your mental health.

  1. Being accessible and available for everyone 24/7.
  2. Not taking regular breaks.
  3. Not having a break for lunch but eating in front of your computer.
  4. Holding yourself to the same high standard every day.
  5. Always wanting to look busy due to fear of looking “lazy”.
  6. Not getting enough sleep.
  7. Agreeing to take calls at inconvenient times because you want to be seen as agreeable.
  8. Not maintaining a healthy work-life balance and not separating work and life enough.
  9. Allowing your schedule to become too flexible.
  10. Checking your phone that one more time before going to bed.
  11. Getting involved in things that need to be done in the house in the time set aside for work.
  12. Sending one more email or making one more call when you are supposed to log off for the day.
  13. Never seeing your friends or family.

…And all the other things we regularly do because we feel obligated to do even if they are not realistically possible.

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10 Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

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Technology has made remote working a popular option and with it the need for effective online virtual team building games.

For all the benefits of working with virtual teams, one of the major challenges of working remotely is the lack of social interaction. Members of virtual teams often feel isolated and it can be challenging to create and maintain team morale for remote workers. To overcome these challenges, virtual team building games are essential.

The approach to remote team building is different from in-person team building as your team is never in the same room together. But virtual team building games can be just as effective as in-person team building games. Remote team building games promote employee happiness, staff retention, and increase productivity.

The following are some of our favorite online virtual team building games that can easily be applied to most virtual team situations.

  1. Live Virtual Office
  2. Show and Tell
  3. Stranded on an Island
  4. How Well do You Know Me?
  5. Virtual Scavenger Hunt
  6. Art Instructions
  7. Surprise Craft Challenge
  8. Desk Gardens
  9. What Do I Have Here?
  10. That’s Right John

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Virtual Team Building Games

 

1. Live Virtual Office

Live Virtual Office Virtual Team Building Game

Setting up a Live Virtual Office will help your virtual team members experience the office feel without physically being in an office.

The Live Virtual Office game is set up using video chat. The first team member to go online for work starts a video chat that the rest of the team can join. As the rest of the team goes online, they join the video chat. As they join the chat they are essentially arriving at the virtual office.

The Live Virtual Office game mimic’s an office environment, offering a virtual place where members are working on their tasks but still feeling part of a bigger team. Seeing other members of the team hard at work will inspire and motivate all the virtual team members to stay focused and productive.

2. Show and Tell

Show and Tell Virtual Team Building Game

In the “Show and Tell” virtual team building game, the virtual team members show each other their homes. This is usually a very effective and often funny way for remote team members to get to know each other better.

It is relatively easy to implement with the only requirement being that each virtual team member take a short video tour of their home and some of their prized possessions.

It is a very effective way to help virtual team members to get to know each other on a more personal level, creating feelings of belonging and friendship in the team.

Instead of everybody showing their videos at one meeting, you can also allow one team member to show their home at the beginning of each week’s virtual team meeting.

3. Stranded on an Island

Stranded on an Island Virtual Team Building Game

In the “Stranded on an Island” virtual team building game, the team members are told that they are stranded on an island with seven objects, but they can only choose three. The objects should be chosen in such a way that the team members are challenged to think and strategize. Some examples of items are vegetable seeds, 2 liters of kerosene, a pocket knife, a bag of fruit, a bed sheet, etc.

You can also split the team into groups to allow them to work together to decide what items to choose. When all the team members have made their choice, arrange a team video chat where the members can share what they choose and why they choose those objects.

This virtual team building game will help create a sense of teamwork and excitement in the team. It also demonstrates to the team how working together can help your team produce better results.

4. How Well Do You Know Me?

How Well Do You Know Me Virtual Team Building Game

The “How Do You Know Me” virtual team building game is another effective way for virtual team members to get to know each other better. The game helps in particular for team members to learn more about each other’s interests outside of work.

Each virtual team member receives a list of personal facts. Next to each personal fact is an empty column where each employee will guess which team member the fact belongs to.

After every team member submitted their guesses, the answers are sent through to the team members so that they can see how well they guessed.

You can also use a group video chat for this activity. As the facilitator, you will open the sheet on your computer and share your screen while the other team members try to guess the answers. As the answer is guessed correctly, you can fill in the empty column.

5. Virtual Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt Virtual Team Building Activity

The “Virtual Scavenger Hunt” virtual team building game starts by dividing the team into groups. Each team receives an identical list of tasks to complete. The groups can then divide the tasks among themselves and go on the hunt to complete each task. A photo must be sent through to prove that a task was completed by a team member. You can have all the teams submit their photos to the company chat group.

Some examples of tasks are: taking a photo of your reflection, getting a stranger to do a yoga pose with you, wearing a funny hat or other pieces of clothing, etc.

This virtual team building activity is a fun way for your team to collaborate and boost team spirit. Team members also get to know each other better and learn to utilize each other’s strengths and skills.

6. Art Instructions

Art Instructions Virtual Team Building Activity

The “Art Instructions” virtual team building game is usually played in a virtual conference room. One person is nominated to be the instructor and the rest of the team will be the artists.

Using a random image generator, the art instructor must describe the image to the rest of the team in such a way that they can draw it successfully.  The catch is that the instructor may only use geometric shapes to describe the image. For example, the image of the letter “E” can be described as “draw a large circle and then three triangles horizontally below each other”.

The importance of effective online communication is highlighted in this virtual team building game. The instructor needs to exercise accurate communication and the artists need to listen and interpret the instructions. This is a really fun way for virtual teams to practice their communication skills.

7. Surprise Craft Challenge

Surprise Craft Challenge Virtual Team Building Activity

The “Surprise Craft Challenge” virtual team building game begins with bringing all the team members on a virtual call. You then let them know that each team member has 30 minutes to build something from the materials that they have available at home.

Team members could make pasta art, a doodle or a poem. The idea is not to make something worthy of display in the art gallery, but to get your team’s creative juices following and encourage them to interact with each other.

8. Desk Gardens

Desk Garden Virtual Team Building Game

In the “Desk Gardens” virtual team building game, your team members have to plant and cultivate a “scrappy garden” form scratch. You can make this a competition for over a month. They can sow seeds from fruit snacks, propagate vegetables or flowers.

By the end of the month, you can see who has green fingers and your virtual team’s desks will be a little greener.

9. What Do I Have Here?

What Do I Have Here Virtual Team Building Game

The “What Do I Have Here?” virtual team building game is a quick and easy storytelling game. While on a virtual team call, each team member grabs a random object in arms-length and creates a story about it.

The story should be an exaggeration about what makes that object amazing. For example, an alarm clock could be described as a relic from ancient Egypt which you discovered on an archaeological expedition.

10. That’s Right John

That's Right John Virtual Team Building Game

The “That’s Right John” is a quick online virtual team building game. In the game, everyone on the team work’s at the same news station that has a wild and creative story to tell.

The first team member shares a simple news story with no more than a sentence or two, for example, “the cat was stuck in the tree”. The next team member must then say “that’s right John”, repeat the original and then ads to it. Each team member continues to add to the story until it becomes too long to repeat or you call for a commercial break.

This virtual team building game is an effective way to engage your team. It helps your team to communicate creatively. It is a quick and easy to implement and usually created a lot of laughter.

 

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Optional Ways for Your Team to Work

Optional Ways for Your Team to Work

The traditional methods of work may increase stress and imbalance in the life of your team members. Each team member is unique, and providing different work options will allow the members of your team to choose the method that helps them be their most productive and maintain their balance. While it may not be possible to provide every option, allowing for different work styles on your team will improve company culture and promote balance. Each option comes with its own pros and cons, so examine them carefully before choosing a new way to work.

Telecommuting

Given the way we use technology, telecommuting is a popular work option. This allows people to work from home and send their projects in when they are due.

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Pros:

  • Cost: Companies can reduce overhead and other costs by allowing teams to work from home.
  • Productivity: Team members who work from home are often more productive.
  • Lowers stress: Many team members benefit from losing morning commutes and distracting office team mates.
  • Personal control: Team members who work from home are able to take responsibility for their own schedules.

Cons:

  • Communication: When all communication is electronic, team members may not communicate as well as they can face-to-face. Additionally, a lack of social interaction can isolate team members and stunt company culture.
  • Motivation: Team members who are not self-driven need more accountability than telecommuting offers.
  • Longer hours: Some people work longer hours when they telecommute because there is no distinction between work and home.

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Job Sharing

Job sharing is a popular option that allows team members to balance their work and home lives. This technique allows two team members to share a job, with each one working part-time hours.

Pros:

  • Better attendance: When team members have the time to handle personal matters, they are less likely to miss work.
  • Continuity: With two team members sharing a job, there is always someone to come in and cover for a sick employee.
  • Morale: Team members who are able to find work life balance have better morale and productivity.

Cons:

  • Conflict: Team members who want to be in control may not enjoy having an equal share their responsibilities. This can cause conflicts between job sharers.
  • Inequality: If one team member is more effective than the other, that team member may shoulder too much responsibility.
  • More paper work: Team members have to double the paperwork for shared jobs.

Job Redesign

Sometimes it is necessary to redesign a team member’s position to alleviate stress. This requires analyzing and changing the scope and responsibilities of the position in a way that will motivate the team member and improve their work life balance.

The method:

  • Content: Discover what information leads to problems at work.
  • Information: Analyze job information to find inconsistencies.
  • Elements: Change the elements of the job.
  • Description: Rewrite the job description.
  • Responsibilities: Refocus responsibilities based on the description.

Flex Time

Flex time does not alter the number of hours team members work, but it does give them the flexibility to choose when they work. For example, a team member may choose to come at 7:00 am and leave at 4:00 pm to spend time with family.

Pros

  • Productivity: Team members are more productive when they know that they will be able to take care of their other obligations.
  • Morale: Everyone’s internal clock is different. Team members are happier when they can work at their optimal times.

Cons

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Ultimate Guide to Building and Managing Virtual Teams

Guide to Building and Managing Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are growing in popularity since many companies continue to grow and expand in different areas. But sometimes learning to manage a team that we can’t physically see every day can be difficult. When we learn how to manage our local teams, as well as our virtual teams, we can form a group that works together to increase productivity and provides a new perspective on any project. We will be covering the following topics in our ultimate guide to building and managing virtual teams:

  • Setting Up Your Virtual Team
  • Virtual Team Meetings
  • Communication
  • Building Trust
  • Cultural Issues
  • To Succeed With a Virtual Team
  • Dealing With Poor Team Players
  • Choosing the Right Tools

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building

Setting Up Your Virtual Team

One of the key challenges in managing a virtual team is creating one in the first place. The manager must find employees that can work well under minimal supervision and can function with different types of technology. Don’t let geographical differences hinder the team you want to create.

When employees are happy and work together, they work harder to accomplish the job. When establishing your virtual team, it’s more than just employee skills and abilities – you have to consider how they interact with each other and socialize in a group. Some of these things you may not know in the beginning, but some of them you learn along the way.

Choose Self-Motivated People with Initiative

One aspect of working on a virtual team is the ability to be self-motivated and self-disciplined enough to finish the job without someone looking over your shoulder. When building your virtual team, choose team members that show self-motivation characteristics, such as making goals and having strategies for completing assignments. If looking to utilize current employees, look for employees who have had a proven record for getting assignments done and sticking to what they want to accomplish. If hiring from outside the company, look at the person’s resume and see what kind of success they have had and how they reached it.

Characteristics of a self-motivated person:

  • They don’t fear failure
  • They have definite goals
  • They make plans
  • They are flexible when faced with a problem

Face to Face Meetings at First (Kick-off Meeting)

Even though virtual team members will be working apart from each other, it is important to start the team in the same location, usually through some type of ‘kick-off’ meeting. At this first virtual team meeting, members are introduced to each other and usually exchange contact information. The manager would then usually introduce the goals, assignments, and future projects for the group. This is the time where team members can ask questions, discuss availability, and plan for what they will be doing during the upcoming projects.

If geography is a problem for gathering everyone together, try to find a central location that is a fair distance from everyone involved. In some cases, team members may need to be present by phone or video to be a part of the meeting. Setting up a one-time video meeting or conference may be the only way to get some face time between all participants. Having that initial face time is very important to the overall success of the team.

Diversity Will Add Value

Any team leader wants a team of employees that can all work hard and accomplish their goals, but in the same instance, a team leader needs each team member to be different in their own way and utilize what they have to offer. Each member of the team is different and has a different set of skills that they excel at. They can provide different ideas and opinions that can be shared with others and create a new, unique perspective. When we bring a diverse group of employees together, they are not only able to use their diverse skills to complement each other, but they can ensure their part of the project is done to the best of their abilities, making the overall assignment a great success.

Benefits of a diverse workgroup:

  • Various ideas and perspectives
  • Each employee excels at their skillset
  • Contributes to the group as a whole

Experienced with Technology

One of the most important aspects of a virtual team member is the need to be experienced with various types of technology. Team members will be in different locations, but will still need to keep in contact. Many ways employees accomplish this is to communicate by phone, email, fax, or even video phone. A member of a virtual team must know how to operate different forms of technology to stay connected to other employees and management.

Related: How Your Team Members Can Become Good Digital Citizens

Assignments and projects are often sent by electronic files in a variety of programs and shared among the group to edit and sent along. If team members do not have a high level of knowledge when it comes to technology, they may not be able to function well on a team that relies so much on it. Current knowledge as well as keeping up-to-date with new and emerging technologies is required for today’s teleworker.

Personality Can Count as Much as Skills

Many people can master a certain skill set or become experts in many abilities, but their personality while they do it is what can set them apart. The same thing goes for a virtual team. An accounting team full of employees that can balance a budget is great, but if their personalities don’t work together and they don’t have personality in their assignments, the experience is not as productive and can even have negative effects. When choosing employees to join your team, look at their personality and how they present themselves. These traits will speak louder than their skills alone.

Avoid negative personality types:

  • “Negative Ned/Nancy”
  • The “Downer”
  • The Gossiper
  • The Antagonist

Rules of Engagement

The rules of engagement on any team are an important base to build on. With a virtual team, it can be a crucial part of the team plan. These rules include basic concepts of who to contact and who will be in contact with them. Some organizations have nicknamed it ‘the phone tree’, in which a chart or graph is created with employee names and channels in which they can use to contact someone else. This is important to establish with your virtual team members to let them know where they can go with any problems or concerns so they don’t feel lost when they are in an area by themselves.

Example:

  • Who do the employees contact for help?
  • Who do they work with on a regular basis?
  • Who do they contact with a complaint?

Setting up Ground Rules

Ground rules are guidelines that help form appropriate group behaviour. By setting up ground rules at the beginning of your team’s formation, it will help stop some problems before they begin. Many ground rules start with employee behaviour, such as how to treat each other and some sort of ‘code of ethics’ but also include basic rules about behaviour at work, such as deadlines and basic workplace behaviours. Other areas for ground rules include project deliverables, such as following deadlines and procedures for presenting an assignment. One commonly overlooked set of ground rules are rules for employee work hours, including attendance policies, procedure for calling in sick, and rules for clocking in and out. Although there are many areas to cover when establishing these rules, the team will run smoother when everyone knows what they can and cannot do.

Related: 13 Bad Habits to Avoid When Working Remotely

Examples:

  • Email usage
  • Contact procedure
  • Project deliverables and deadlines
  • Employee respect
  • Employee acknowledgment
  • Adhering to employee schedules

Icebreakers and Introductions

Icebreakers and introductions are very important tools to use at the kick-off meeting. Introductions are especially important since it allows the team to get to know each other before they begin working together and are required to communicate back and forth. Icebreakers are a fun way to get each employee to interact with the team. This is often done with a small game or involving everyone in a group activity. In these activities, team members share their name, job title or position, and some sort of fun fact, such as their favourite hobby or vacation spot. Icebreakers and introductions allow team members to relax with one another by talking about themselves and learning things about their fellow team members.

Example Icebreaker activities:

  • Talk about favorite foods
  • Group people by common job duties
  • Compare hobbies

Related: Activities for Building Teams

Virtual Team Meetings

Virtual Team Meetings

Now that you have your virtual team assembled, the next step is to effectively hold virtual team meetings with all of them. Just because your team members aren’t at a table in front of you doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with them and guide them during a project. As with a normal meeting, there will be an issue with setting a good time, ensuring everyone shows up and making sure you deliver all the right information. The key is learning tools that can help you run a successful meeting, in person or virtually!

Scheduling Will Always Be an Issue

Virtual teams have a harder time scheduling meetings because the employees are not in the same location. Some team members are in different time zones, others work different hours while the rest may be constantly traveling. One tip for managing the employees’ time schedules is to keep a log or chart of an employee’s location, working hours and where they could be assigned later. With this tool, you can determine prime times to hold virtual meetings that won’t conflict with someone’s schedule.

If different meetings need to be held, plan a schedule with the team members regarding a rotation of team members staying late or coming in earlier to cover meeting times. Many employees are happy to abide by a schedule in which they can give their opinions. Be sure to remind the team members of any consequence that can occur for not sticking with the schedule or not participating in the meeting, such as written warnings and disciplinary actions on their employee record. Understand that employees may still be hard to schedule even with adjustments. So have an alternate solution handy in case a team member cannot attend team meetings. Be flexible with team members that attend meetings outside of their normal work hours, offer the next day off or maybe a half-day.

Have a Clear Objective and Agenda

An agenda is very important to have in any team meeting and is more so in a virtual meeting because it keeps everyone on the same track. Outline what you want to discuss and accomplish from the meeting and jot down ideas on how you can make them happen. Include specific topics that need to be reviewed and events that have happened with the team. Team members need to know there a clear objective to the meeting and that it is not a waste of their production time. Share your agenda with the rest of the team so they can be aware of the purpose of the meeting and what they can contribute.

Tips for sharing your agenda:

  • Include it in a mass email so team members can read ahead of time.
  • On video calls, have the agenda displayed at all times on the screen.
  • For conference call meetings, read over the agenda first and allow team members to take notes.

Solicit Additional Topics in Advance

Soliciting ideas before the actual meeting is an important tool to use when creating your agenda for the meeting. Speak with your team members and ask if they have any additional topics they would like included in the meeting agenda. Sometimes after the team members are aware of the original agenda, ideas or topics are added to the plate, either by management or other employees. However, don’t leave these new topics as a surprise for the other meeting attendees.

It is important to share these additional topics with team members before they ‘arrive’ at the meeting so that they can be prepared and don’t feel as though they were blind-sided. When employees know of the meeting topics ahead of time, they can research the topic ahead of time and be able to make a meaningful contribution when they participate in the next meeting.

Discourage Just Being a Status Report

Status report type information can be sent through email or other electronic messages because it often does not include much of a response from the team members. It is generally one-sided information that is meant to be informative, not discussed in depth. One of the problems of a virtual team meeting is that the moderator will do most of the talking and presenting, leaving the other team members feeling as though they are only there to hear the latest status report. The same can go for team members that come to the meeting to share their information and then sit out for the rest of the time. Encourage team members to ask questions and take notes of the information given. Set aside time for team members to share ideas and engage in conversation or debate about the meeting topics. These meetings are meant to be a time of learning and interaction, not just one-sided information sharing.

Communication

Communication in Virtual Teams

Effective communication is a key component to any successful business. It is especially important when managing a virtual team because not only do you deal with traditional communication problems with employees, but virtual teams can face more obstacles trying to keep in touch. Learning helpful tools and techniques for effective communication can take any virtual team a long way.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Poor communication among team members and team members has been shown to cause low employee morale and a decrease in productivity. Sometimes team members can feel unsure about approaching you or are not sure what to do when they have a problem. Encourage your team members to engage in two way communication and ask questions when they receive new information. When they know who they can come to in a jam, they will feel more comfortable communicating their needs.

Early and Often

Early communication means not waiting for a problem to happen before addressing it. Check-in with your team members regularly, whether by phone, email, conference, etc. Don’t let the team members struggle through a problem over a long period. Don’t wait for them to contact you; reach out to them to offer help. Contact each team member often and follow up after any problems they have reported. Keeping in touch with each team member not only cuts down on large problems, but it shows your support in the employee and can boost their morale substantially.

Tips:

  • Create a regular schedule to check in with team members
  • Find what methods work best for each team member
  • Keep track of small problems that arise early to prevent bigger ones later

Rules of Responsiveness

Communication is a two-way street and can shut down when one side doesn’t contribute or doesn’t act on their responsibility. When outlining communication techniques with your virtual team, one aspect to cover is the rules of responsiveness. Determine which forms of response are appropriate in various situations. Do you need a response right away? Is it something they can reply to later? Will you need a short or long response? When sending communication to team members, let them know how soon they need a reply and how soon you expect to hear from them. Team members need to understand that the communication you exchange with them is very important and that they need to respond promptly.

Face to Face When Possible

Sometimes communication needs to be made in person or face to face. Communication over the phone or email can often be skewed because there is a loss of tone and body language. Although this can be hard with a virtual team, there are ways the manager and employees can work together. If distance is somewhat small, arrange a time for team members to meet either at your office or theirs. If the distance is too great, the next best option is to use some sort of video message system, such as Skype. Although it does not replace in-person meetings, it allows the manager and team members to talk ‘face to face’ and monitor their tone and body language signals. Sometimes long-distance communication just can’t deliver an effective message – so never underestimate the power of talking in person.

Choose the Best Tool

Every form of communication has an appropriate tool to use with it. Some information can be delivered by informal methods, such as email or telephone calls. Informal methods are great to use when a short or quick answer is needed rather than a longer response. Participants can share information quickly and then continue with their work. Other messages should be delivered more formally, such as face to face talks or even in a team meeting.

Formal methods are better used for in-depth messages and descriptions. The information is often lengthy and may require explanations or presentations. Formal methods also allow participants to ask questions or add their input. To choose the best tool, the manager should determine how urgent the message is, how quickly it needs to be received, and what kind of response they are looking for. Once they determine what is to be shared and what they need in response, they can then choose the best tool for the job.

Be Honest and Clear

One of the pitfalls of team communication is that we try to hide information from each other. Managers will try to ‘sugar coat’ a problem within the company or employees won’t mention how hard they are struggling with an assignment. When speaking with your team members, don’t try to hide facts behind blurred words. If you have to deliver bad news, be upfront and let them know what is going on. If you need to change something they are doing or working on, be clear as to why and the effect it will have on them. When we try to hide facts or information, team members can become skeptical and will eventually lose their trust in you.

Tips:

  • Remain honest, even if it is a negative aspect.
  • Speak clearly and don’t hide the fact behind ‘sugar-coated’ words.
  • Ensure the team member is clear about what they hear (Any questions?)

Stay in Constant Contact

Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to reach a manager that has fallen out of touch. Team members need to be able to reach you during regular business hours and should always have a source to contact outside those hours (i.e. on-call, second shift manager). It is especially hard for virtual team members since they cannot always physically contact you and will need some other way to speak to you when needed.

You need to stay in constant contact with your team members and ensure them that you are there for them when they need you. Some examples include sending daily emails to check on progress or making regular meetings to follow up with team members. Make a note of team members that need your assistance more often and be sure to check up on how they are doing over time. By staying in contact now, you are helping to prevent further problems later.

Don’t Make Assumptions

We all know that old saying of what happens when we assume. A common problem in communication is assuming that we have delivered all of the information needed or assuming that the team members will not have any trouble with their work. These assumptions can cause us to leave our team members out to dry and cause them to feel as though you are not there to help them. The team can begin to resent you and may feel too uncomfortable to ask for further information.

Ask for team members to follow up on any information they receive, especially if they have questions or concerns. Periodically check on each team member’s productivity and ask if they are having any difficulties or need another problem addressed. Your team members can benefit from your guidance, so don’t assume they will make it on their own without you.

Set Up Email Protocols

Email is one of the most important forms of communication on a virtual team. It allows a person to send a message from anywhere, and at any time. Unfortunately, it can often be misused and can lead to confusion and upset team members. When the virtual team is formed and introduced to using email, introduce the team members to the rules and regulations of using email for contact purposes. Outline when it should be used in different situations and stress that is it for company business, not personal usage. Many companies require employees to sign a form acknowledging that they are aware of the email protocols and will abide by them. Again, don’t assume your team members know the protocol and follow up with them to check for any questions.

Building Trust

Building Trust in Virtual Teams

Creating an open and honest environment in the workplace is a key factor in keeping employees happy and productive. On a virtual team, it is just as important to remain open with your team members and keep them in the immediate loop of information. Since they are not always in a central location, it is essential to keep them updated on current happenings in the company and their department. When the team members feel included, they learn to trust you and will look to you when they have questions.

Related: Trust Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Trust Your Team and They Will Trust You

Trust is a key component in any relationship, personal or professional. Virtual teams can have additional problems with trust when they are not always in each other’s company. They can be unsure about what is being said or if they are doing as well as they should. As a manager, it is important to show your trust in your employees first. Show them that you trust them to complete their work and trust them with crucial information, such as potential job reassignments or even closures. When the employees feel as though you trust them, they can, in turn, learn to trust you. They will instill their trust in you and confide in you when they have concerns or are worried. This trust not only builds a stronger relationship among the employee and manager, but also the entire virtual team.

Beware of “Us vs. Them” Territorial Issues

Often when management tries to solely run a team without regard to its members, the employees can begin to have that “Us against Them” mentality. They begin to believe that management is only looking out for management or does not value the opinion of the team members. This can cause further resentment from employees and can affect the whole team’s productivity. Remind your team members that you are on their side and that you realize that the team works together to accomplish the same goal. Let them know that they are included in many of the decisions made (although not ALL of them) and that their presence on the team is valued. When team members feel as though they are part of the working machine, they are less likely to feel like an opposing force.

Share Best Practices

A form of ‘best practice’ is loosely defined as a practice that has proved productive in the past and has results behind it to back it up. Sharing best practices with your virtual team can be a great move when faced with some of the same situations. Common forms of sharing these practices including sending them through email or forming some kind of instruction sheet. Some team members may need to be counseled in person or shown how to follow a process step by step. Sharing these practices shows trust among team members and trust that they can continue the chain of success.

Best practices:

  • Processes/procedures that have worked before
  • Can be shared several ways, including email, videos or personal instruction
  • Consult with team members regarding alterations/variations if needed
  • Follow up with team members to ensure comprehension

Create a Sense of Ownership

One overlooked method of building trust among your virtual team is helping them create a sense of ownership. Team members feel more passionate about their jobs when they feel as though they not only have a part in the team’s success but can feel as though their part is essential to the overall success. Although it can take a good amount of time to help a team member establish their sense of ownership, it can prove beneficial for everyone in the long run.

Tips:

  • Ask what you can do to accomplish something
  • Encourage every new idea
  • Make a plan and put into action

Cultural Issues

Cultural Issues in Virtual Teams

Cultural issues in the workplace have been a hot topic for many years. They are more than just demographics and cannot always be detected right away. Even though team members may be from the same office or a similar location, each one has their own unique culture and following. It is important to embrace these differences and acknowledge the cultural issues that may be present. This can help the team build successful relationships with each other and prove more productive in the long run.

Respect and Embrace Differences

Diversity among a group is always a good thing, but under the wrong impressions, it can ruin any team. Whether the difference is a type of culture, political opinions, or simply a difference in background, all these factors can change how a person interacts with another person and what kind of view they have.  When team members are diverse, it can keep the team from thinking on one path and stop the ‘one-track mind’. It opens teammates up to new ideas and points of view, which in turn can create new concepts for projects and assignments. Together, they can learn to not only respect their differences among each other but embrace them to create a whole new work style.

Be Aware of Different Work Styles

Sometimes different work styles on a team can be a good thing because they allow each employee to think on their own and work within a design that works best for them. Other times, it can be a real source of trouble if not properly addressed. Some team members may prefer to work alone even though they are needed on a team project. One team member may be a procrastinator and wait until the last minute to complete their assignment. The key is to learn to be flexible with one another and adjust how you approach each other. No two people work the same way, so any team, especially a virtual one, will need time to adjust to one another and learn what makes the other team member work so hard. When we know how they function, we can work in sync with them without a hitch…most of the time!

Know Your Team Members Cultural Background

On a virtual team, it can be hard to get to know your teammates personally since you are so limited in communication and socialization. Even if the members meet during some sort of meeting or conference, it can be hard to acknowledge a person’s cultural background. Some companies have an employee fill out a personal profile that can be shared with other employees, which allows them to better know the person even though they are not in the same office. When we can better understand a person’s cultural background, we can better understand why they do some of the things they do and can make them feel more comfortable on your team.

Examples:

  • Provide an “All About Me” survey to gather information about team members
  • Some information can remain private if desired, such as religion or political views
  • Acknowledge cultural instances, such as holidays and rituals

Dealing with Stereotypes

Stereotypes can ruin any team relationship or bond. The sweeping generalization of a stereotype can cause people to become confused or view people in a negative light, even if it was unprovoked. Knowledge and understanding are the only tools we can use to deal with stereotypes. Get to know your team members and encourage them to get to know their coworkers. Learn more about the team member as a whole person instead of what their cultural background may have been labeled as. Through observation and interaction, the chances of anyone creating or following stereotypes in the virtual team decreases and team members can focus on the task at hand, and not each other.

To Succeed With a Virtual Team

Succeeding with Virtual Teams

Succeeding with traditional face-to-face teams can be challenging enough, but succeeding with a virtual team can be just as hard, if not more so. Inspiring a team to create and meet goals, maintain motivation and work together are only a few obstacles when managing a team that you cannot see daily. But with effective communication and a little discipline, any virtual team can succeed.

Related: 10 Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

Set Clear Goals

Setting goals are one of the most elementary processes that can lead to success. After all, you don’t know where you’re going until you determine what you want! Clear goals are normally set for the team as a whole as well as each individual teammate. The manager works with the team to determine what they want to achieve over a set amount of time (i.e. increased sales, decreased absences) while the employee sets their own goals about what they want to achieve as a member of the team (i.e. decreased data errors, increased personal productivity). Setting goals with your virtual team can help them stay task-focused and can make them feel as though they are making a difference on the team.

Tips for setting goals:

  • Determine what you want to achieve
  • Define a path that can help you get there (there may be more than one)
  • Decide what you will do when you reach that goal

Related: Goal Setting Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

A Standard Operating System is generally a company’s process or procedure that it follows in the workplace. Sometimes a company does not feel the need to document these procedures, since many people may already know it. But creating these procedures and correctly documenting them allows the manager to share them with other employees and create them as a type of guideline and resource. As a manager, review some of the procedures and processes that have worked for you in the past and try to create them into an SOP. Although it can be time-consuming, it will be worth the benefits in the end. On a virtual team, these can be especially helpful for team members who may not have experience on the team yet.  They will come to you for help and will need to learn procedures if they are to contribute to the team.

Build a Team Culture

Your virtual team is your family. Every member should take the time to get to know each other and familiarize themselves with someone else’s situation. After all, every member of the team is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect and friendliness. If team members are not able to socialize locally, allow them to have a chat room on a private server or virtual community they can come and go in to speak with other employees on a non-business level. If possible, assign projects or assignments in pairs or small groups to encourage further mingling and socializing. When the team members feel as though they are part of a family, they see other teammates as family also and will create their own team culture they can fit into.

Provide Timely Feedback

Positive or negative, feedback is a great tool to help team members at work. On a virtual team, giving timely feedback is important to the team’s overall success. The team members need to know how they are doing on assignments and need to know if they need to change anything. Since the manager cannot randomly approach the team member to give feedback as they would in person, it is best to set up regular, scheduled sessions (such as by phone or chat) to alert the employee of any negative feedback that needs to be addressed or any positive feedback that should be shared. This will require the manager to get to know the team member personally so that the feedback sessions are not awkward or uncomfortable.

Dealing With Poor Team Players

Dealing With Bad Team Players

When we manage a team, there will always be a time where we have to address a member, or members, that are not working well with the group. No one wants to be the bad guy, but if the employee is not confronted and not given the chance to improve, it can affect the other members of the team and could cause a ‘domino effect’ for productivity. Learn the techniques of approaching this delicate situation and look out for your team as a whole – not just one member.

Manage Their Results, Not Their Activities

When a person manages an office, they can see for themselves what an employee is doing or what they are working on. However, on a virtual team, the progress can be much harder to monitor. Because of this, it is more important to monitor the employee’s results, rather than the individual activities. If the employee is delivering great work and it’s on time, then the process of how they finish it means very little.

For many team members, having this sense of freedom and trust can boost their confidence and improve productivity. However, if a team member is not completing work on time or is not turning in projects, then this is an indication of poor work habits and the manager should investigate into what is causing the problem. Approach the employee and talk to them about their routine schedule. If needed, organize some form of an improvement plan to help them adjust their ways of completing their assignments.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

It is better to be prepared for any mishap before it happens, which is why it is important to be proactive rather than reactive. If we wait for something to go wrong before we act on it, we cannot think clearly about what to do and it may be too late to fix. The same theory goes for team members. Do not sit back and wait for them to make a mistake before they are taught how to do something correctly. Monitor each team member’s progress and notice any minor problems they may have along the way. Speak to the team member early on when the problem started and try to find a way to guide them on the right path. This will prevent the problem from getting worse and having to use more damage control later. Being proactive will always keep you one step ahead and ready to help the employee succeed.

Check-In Often

On the same lines of being proactive, be sure to check in with your team members often. They may not always have the chance to contact you or may not want to admit they need help. Schedule some form of regular communication for informal check-in times that best work for you and the employee. Check-in can be done by a phone call or simply sending an email. This will help both of you stay on track and allows you to report any feedback that needs to be addressed. Think of it as keeping a close eye on your flock and ensuring that you are there for them if they happen to go astray.

Example forms of check-in methods:

  • Email
  • Phone call
  • Recurring group meeting
  • Video chat

Remove Them

Sometimes after a manager has tried several attempts to help an employee work well on a virtual team, they come to realize that the particular employee is just not a great fit and will need to be removed. Some employees can be too disruptive to their teammates or are not able to work independently. This can cause problems for the whole team and should be addressed right away. Before you decide to remove the team member, make sure your ducks are in a row and that you have done all you can to help them succeed, such as personal help or extra training. If you have followed all of the correct guidelines and the team member does not show any type of improvement, then you can take the next steps in removing the team member from the virtual team. Some team members may be reassigned to another department in the company while others may need to be fired altogether. Review all of their available options and determine which would be best for the company and the virtual team.

Choosing the Right Tools

Tools for Virtual Teams

Success on any kind of team depends on the tools you use to make it work. After all, you can’t build a house without a hammer and you can’t change a tire without a jack. But having a lot of tools at your disposal does not necessarily mean you have the right ones to get the job done. The key is in knowing what you want to do and what kind of tool would help you do it.

Communication Software

On a virtual team, communication software is crucial to have and use well. Employees are far apart and cannot communicate in person with each other when they have questions. How do your team members want or need to communicate with each other? For quick and easy questions or comments, text messaging or an instant message program can be the key. But if a team member needs to ask lengthy questions to a coworker or manager, a phone call or tagged email may be the answer instead. Whichever way the team chooses to communicate with each other, it is just as important to know how to use and work the software, so be sure to ensure every member has proper training and can come to you with questions.

Collaboration and Sharing Tools

Collaboration and sharing tools allow team members across a virtual team to not only share a project they are working on but also to work with each other by editing and commenting on projects within the same program. It can be a hassle to try and email a project back and forth when one person is trying to suggest a change or add their notes. Several software programs can be added to the virtual team to help make the collaboration process go more smoothly among team members. Many of these tools allow team members to upload a file for several others to see at once. Others include comment or adjustment features and can save any progress made after each person touches the file. These types of tools can make a virtual team run better and allows them to work as a team rather than several individuals trying to reach the same goal.

Project Management Software

Project management software is aimed at managing the different aspects of a project, such as budgets, productivity, scheduling, communication, and even employee evaluations. There are many different ways of keeping track of this information, and companies normally take a different approach depending on the situation. Virtual teams generally have some sort of web-based management program, such as web application for clocking in and out or keeping track of employee absences.

Other software options can include a program installed on the employee’s desktop that can monitor their progress over a period of time and can show the employee what kind of progress they are making. Although we don’t want to feel as though we are micromanaging our employees, it is necessary to implement some form of project management software for the team to use. While some may not like the approach to managing their projects, they will feel relieved when the time comes that they will need your feedback and guidance.

Use What Works for You and Your Team

Every manager has an opinion about what methods work and which ones do not for a virtual team. But only you can decide what works for you and your team. You know your employees and you know what would be the best way to communicate with them when you need to. Sometimes this can take some trial and error to see what forms of communication work best for the team as a whole. Some may communicate better by email while others are more comfortable talking on the phone. Many employees communicate using many different methods, depending on what kind of response they will need. The best part about having so many tools at your disposal is that you can use a combination of them to achieve what you and your team need to do.

Use the method, or methods, that get(s) what you need:

Email/text messaging/phone calls – short answers and quick information delivery, such as a meeting change or a quick clarification question.

Group meetings/individual meetings/video chats – in-depth and lengthy information given; usually requires explanations or discussions from both sides. This includes discussion of employee progress, business reports, or company changes.

 

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Guidelines to Help Your Team Work from Home

Guidelines to Help Your Team Work from Home

Access Our Ultimate Guide to Building and Managing Virtual Teams

When your team works from home it has its advantages and disadvantages. Working in a home office and maintaining work-life balance requires preparation and regular evaluation of work practices. If team members are not careful, their home office can take over their life. By following a few guidelines, your team can avoid burnout as they take advantage of working at home.

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building

Setting Up a Home Office

It is important to set up the home office properly in the beginning. A poor work environment will only harm productivity. So, make sure that your team members are comfortable and have all of the tools that they need to do their job well.

Related: 10 Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

The Set-Up:

  • Location: They should choose a separate room or a location that is out of the way. This will help prevent distractions and create a professional work environment. They also need to make sure that their work area is well lit.
  • Equipment: Make sure that their equipment is functional and that they have everything they need.
  • Clear out the office: They should remove items from the office that are not work-related. It should not be a storage shed.
  • Organize: They must organize supplies so that they are accessible, easy to use, and functional.
  • Make it a workspace: They must limit the office use for work. It is not a play area.

Setting Boundaries

It is difficult to establish boundaries in a home office; people do not view a home the same way they see the work office. Because they do not have company policies to prevent distractions, your team members that are working from home will need to create their own boundaries. They can base these boundaries on the rules and boundaries of the physical workplace. For example, do not take personal calls while you are working. Just like other boundaries, they should expect people to challenge them. They must stick to their boundaries, however, to be effective at their job and keep their work-life balance.

Dealing with Distractions

It is easy to become distracted while working from home. There is no one to supervise, and family can easily forget that they are working. Fortunately, a few safeguards will help your team members avoid distractions.

Avoiding Distractions:

  • Limit access: They can ask their family to stay out of the office while they are working. Family, children especially, can be very distracting.
  • Use a timer: They can schedule breaks for activities like social networking so that they do not constantly surf the internet.
  • Turn off the television: Even if they need a television for work, it does not have to be on all the time. They should turn it off to avoid distractions.
  • Set aside time to talk on the phone: They must not allow themselves to be distracted by every phone call.

Make a Schedule and Stick to It

Working from home gives team members the chance to create you’re their own schedule, but they do need to create it. If not, they will have trouble accomplishing tasks on time. Most people find a schedule that sets tasks for each hour helpful, but you may use any format or time block they like.

Example:

  • 8:00 am – Breakfast
  • 8:30 am – Return emails
  • 9:00 am – Call clients
  • 10:00 am – Research

No matter how they create their schedule, they must stick with it. It is too easy ignoring their schedule when no one is monitoring their performance.

Conclusion

For some team members, it can be a great advantage to work from home if they stick to some basic guidelines. This starts with setting up their home office properly to ensure productivity.  The team member working from home should set up boundaries and make sure they are sticking to them. They should also set-up some safeguards to minimize distractions. They should be encouraged to make their own schedule to accomplish tasks and to stick to this schedule as much as possible.

 

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Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

In the past few decades, psychologists and business people alike have discovered that successful problem solvers tend to use the same type of process to identify and implement the solutions to their problems. This process works for any kind of problem, large or small.

This guide will give your team an overview of the entire creative problem solving process, as well as key problem solving tools that they can use every day. We will be covering the following topics:

  • The Problem Solving Method
  • Information Gathering
  • Problem Definition
  • Analyzing the Problem
  • Preparing for Brainstorming
  • Generating Solutions
  • Analyzing Solutions
  • Selecting a Solution
  • Planning the Next Steps
  • Recording Lessons Learned
  • Celebrating Success
  • Identifying Improvements
  • Identifying Resources
  • Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting

Related: Problem Solving Team Building Activities

The Problem Solving Method

To begin, let’s look at the creative problem solving process. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will define “problem” and other situations that lend themselves to the creative problem solving process. We will introduce the concept of teams solving problems using a creative process. The approach we use in this guide includes six steps, which are also introduced in this section.

What is a Problem?

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary includes several definitions for the word “problem.” The definitions that we are most concerned with while learning about the creative problem solving process are:

  • “any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty,” and
  • “a question proposed for solution or discussion.”

A problem can be defined as a scenario in which the current situation does not match the desired situation, or anytime actual performance does not match expectations. Other labels for a problem include challenges or opportunities, or any situation or circumstance for which there is room for improvement.

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving has evolved since its inception in the 1950s. However, it is always a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions.

The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers in your team come up with solutions that are innovative, rather than obtaining help to learn the answers or implementing standard procedures.

The creative problem solving process is at work anytime your team identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.

What are the Steps in the Creative Solving Process?

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:

  1. Information Gathering by your team, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding.
  2. Problem Definition, or making sure your team understands the correct problem before proceeding.
  3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools.
  4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding.
  5. Selecting the Best Solution(s).
  6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s).

Information Gathering

Information Gathering Stage of Problem Solving

The first step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to gather information about the problem. To effectively solve the correct problem, your team will need to know as much about it as possible. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will explore different types of information, key questions, and different methods used to gather information.

Understanding Types of Information

There are many different types of information. The following list includes information your team will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • Opinionated Fact
  • Concept
  • Assumption
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.

Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Identifying Key Questions

When tackling a new problem, your team must talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. They can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. They should remember to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should they ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Which?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is for your team to ask if it has been solved before. They should find out if anyone in the company or network has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information

When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods your team can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways the team can collect information about a problem:

  • Conduct interviews.
  • Identify and study statistics.
  • Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
  • Conduct technical experiments.
  • Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
  • Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

Problem Definition

Problem Definition Stage of Problem Solving

The next step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to identify the problem. This section of the problem solving guide will explore why your team needs to clearly define the problem. It also introduces several tools for your team to use when defining a problem and writing a problem statement.

Defining the Problem

Defining the problem is the first step in the creative problem solving process. When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. Your team must understand the problem before they spend time or money implementing a solution.

Your team must take care in defining the problem. The way that they define the problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways. They must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process to achieve a successful solution. They may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. However, your team must identify the underlying problem to generate the right solutions. Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.

Four tools your team can use in defining the problem are:

  • Determining where the problem originated
  • Defining the present state and the desired state
  • Stating and restating the problem
  • Analyzing the problem

Your team may not use all of these tools to help define a problem. Different tools lend themselves to some kinds of problems better than other kinds.

Determining Where the Problem Originated

Successful problem solvers get to the root of the problem by interviewing or questioning anyone who might know something useful about the problem.  They ask questions about the problem, including questions that:

  • Clarify the situation
  • Challenge assumptions about the problem
  • Determine possible reasons and evidence
  • Explore different perspectives concerning the problem
  • Ask more about the original question

If they did not define the problem, they should find out who did. Think about that person’s motivations. Challenge their assumptions to dig deeper into the problem.

Defining the Present State and the Desired State

When using this tool, your team writes a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then they write a statement of what they would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. They can refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.

Stating and Restating the Problem

The problem statement and restatement technique also helps evolve the understanding of the problem. First, they can write a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then use various triggers to help them identify the true problem. The triggers are:

  • Emphasize different words in the statement and ask questions about each emphasis.
  • Replace one word in the statement with a substitute that explicitly defines the word to reframe the problem.
  • Rephrase the statement with positives instead of negatives or negatives instead of positives to obtain an opposite problem.
  • Add or change words that indicate quantity or time, such as always, never, sometimes, every, none or some.
  • Identify any persuasive or opinionated words in the statement. Replace or eliminate them.
  • Try drawing a picture of the problem or writing the problem as an equation.

Analyzing the Problem

Analyzing the Problem

When the cause of the problem is not known, such as in troubleshooting operations, your team can look at the what, where, who, and extent of the problem to help define it.

What? –. Use “what” questions both to identify what the problem is, as well as what the problem is not. “What” questions can also help identify a possible cause.

Where? – “Where” questions help to locate the problem. Use “where” questions to distinguish the difference between locations where the problem exists and where it does not exist.

When? – “When” questions help discover the timing of the problem. Use “when” questions to distinguish the difference between when the problem occurs and when it does not, or when the problem was first observed and when it was last observed.

Extent? – Questions that explore the magnitude of the problem include:

  • How far vs. how localized?
  • How many units are affected vs. how many units are not affected?
  • How much of something is affected vs. how much is not affected?

Examining the distinctions between what, where, when, and to what extent the problem is and what, where, when and to what extent it is not can lead to helpful insights about the problem. Your team must remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement

Writing an accurate problem statement can help your team accurately represent the problem. This helps clarify unclear problems. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the types and effectiveness of potential solutions are improved.

The problem statement should:

  • Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
  • Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve

The problem statement should not include:

  • Any mention of possible causes
  • Any potential solutions

A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.

Preparing for Brainstorming

Preparing for Brainstorming

Before your team learn’s ways to generate solutions in the problem solving process, they need to prepare the way for creativity. This section of our problem solving guide introduces common mental blocks to productive brainstorming, as well as techniques for dealing with the mental blocks. It also presents some ideas for stimulating creativity.

Identifying Mental Blocks

Brainstorming can help your team solve the problem, even for problems that seem unsolvable or that seem to only have inadequate solutions. However, before beginning a successful brainstorming session to generate ideas, the team members must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

There are many types of mental blocks. Most blocks to problem-solving fit into the following categories.

  • Emotions: Emotional blocks can include anything from a fear of risk-taking to a tendency to judge or approach the problem with a negative attitude.
  • Distractions: Too much information, irrelevant information, or environmental distractions can prevent a productive brainstorming session.
  • Assumptions: If problem-solvers assume there is only one correct solution, they will be unable to generate additional ideas. Assumptions also become mental blocks from stereotypes or perceived boundaries where none exist.
  • Culture: Culture defines the way we live and limits the ideas we may generate or consider. However, not every culture is the same. Sometimes the cultural blocks are unnecessary, and sometimes we do not consider cultural limitations when we should.
  • Communication difficulties: If we cannot communicate our ideas in some way – speaking, writing, or pictures – these communication difficulties can block our progress in generating ideas.

Removing Mental Blocks

So what do you do when you identify a mental block? Carol Goman has identified several structured techniques for blockbusting.

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, your team must list the positive aspects or possible outcomes of the problem. Remember that problems are also opportunities for improvement.

The next technique deals with risk-taking. To remove emotional blocks arising from a fear of failure, the team should define the risk, then indicate why it is important. Define what the worst possible outcome might be and what options there are in that scenario. Think about how to deal with that possible failure.

The next technique encourages your team to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that your team’s problem solvers can come up with innovative solutions.

The fourth technique is to allow imagination, feelings, and a sense of humor to overcome a reliance on logic and a need to conduct problem solving in a step-by-step manner.

The fifth technique involves encouraging your team’s creativity. We’ll look at that in more detail in the next topic.

Stimulating Creativity

The creative problem solving process requires creativity. However, many people feel that they are not creative. This is the sign of a mental block at work. Everyone can tap into creative resources in their brains. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra prodding.

Creativity is not something to be turned on and off when needed. The potential for creativity is always there. Your team just needs to learn how to access it.

Here are some tips for creating a creative mental space to encourage productive brainstorming sessions.

  • Go outside for a few minutes, especially for a nature walk or bike ride. Exercising and getting sunshine even for just a few minutes are sure ways to redirect your brain to a more creative outlook.
  • Change your perspective. Work on the floor or go to the park for the brainstorming session.
  • Breathe deeply. Especially when stressed, we tend to become shallow breathers. Fill your entire lungs with air to get some extra oxygen to your brain. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 15 minutes for not only more creativity but for a great burst of energy.
  • Meditate. Focus intently on a candle flame or find another way to quiet your mind of all of your responsibilities and distractions. For a group, try guided meditation.
  • Write in a journal. Write for 15-20 minutes in a spare notebook or plain paper. It does not have to be about the specific problem you need to solve, but you may discover some mental blocks if you do write about the problem. Dump all of your mental clutter on to one to three pages that no one will ever see (unless you want them to). Then let the pages and their recorded thoughts go, even if just in your mind.

Once your team gets your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas every day:

  • Carry a small notebook or jot ideas in your PDA. Be prepared for ideas whenever they come. Ideas often come as you are drifting off to sleep or as you are waking.
  • Stretch your boundaries by posing new questions to yourself, learning things outside your specialty, or breaking up set patterns of doing things.
  • Be receptive to new, fragile ideas that may still need time to develop.
  • Be observant of details, including self details.
  • Find a creative hobby, including working puzzles and playing games.

Generating Solutions

Generating Solutions to Problems

Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the problem solving process. Your team needs to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. This section of the problem solving guide begins with some ground rules for brainstorming sessions. Then it presents several idea-generating techniques, including free-association style brainstorming, brainwriting, mind mapping, and Duncker Diagrams.

Brainstorming Basics

To come up with a good idea, your team must come up with many ideas. The first rule of brainstorming is to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can.

Some of the ideas will not be good. If your team starts analyzing the ideas while they are generating them, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and they may miss out on some great ideas. Therefore, the second rule for brainstorming sessions is to defer judgment.

They must allow creativity and imagination to take over in this phase of the process. The next rule for brainstorming is for the team to come up with the wildest, most imaginative solutions to the problem that they can. Often they might not consider a solution because of assumptions or associational constraints. However, sometimes those solutions, even if they do not end up implementing them, can lead to a successful solution. So along with deferring judgment, they should allow those ideas that might be considered crazy to flow. One of those crazy ideas might just contain the seeds of the perfect solution.

Finally, they can use early ideas as springboards to other ideas. This is called “piggybacking” and is the next rule for brainstorming.

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping are two additional tools to generate ideas.

Brainwriting

Brainwriting is similar to free-association brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on those ideas.

Before a brainwriting session, create sheets of paper with a grid of nine squares on each sheet. You will need as many sheets as there are participants in the brainwriting session with one or two extra sheets. Plan to sit participants in a circle or around a table. Determine how long the session will last, and remind participants that there is no talking. Remind participants of the other rules for brainstorming, especially deferring judgment.

For the session itself, state the problem or challenge to be solved. Each participant fills out three ideas on a brainwriting grid. Then he or she places that brainwriting sheet in the center of the table and selects a new sheet. Before writing additional ideas, the participant reads the three ideas at the top (generated by a different participant). The hope is that these items will suggest additional ideas to the participants. The participants should not write down the same ideas they have written on other sheets. This activity continues until all of the grids are full or the time runs out. At the end of the activity, there should be many ideas to consider and discuss.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper but can be conducted alone.

The problem solver starts by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.

Duncker Diagrams

Duncker Diagrams are used with the present state and desired state statements. A Duncker diagram generates solutions by creating possible pathways from the present state to the desired state. However, the Duncker diagram also addresses an additional pathway of solving the problem by making it okay not to reach the desired state.

Duncker diagrams can help with refining the problem as well as generating ideas for solutions. The diagram begins with general solutions. Then it suggests functional solutions that give more specifics on what to do. The diagram can also include specific solutions of how to complete each item in the functional solutions.

The Morphological Matrix

Fritz Zwicky developed a method for general morphological analysis in the 1960s. The method has since been applied to many different fields. It is a method of listing examples of different attributes or issues to an item (or problem), and randomly combining the different examples to form a solution. Depending on the number of issues or attributes identified, there can be quite a large number of possible combinations.

The Morphological Matrix is a grid with several different columns. The problem solvers enter a specific attribute or issue about the item or problem at the top of each column. Then for each column, problem solvers generate a list of examples for that attribute. Once there are many different ideas in the columns, the solutions can be combined strategically or randomly. While some combinations naturally are incompatible, problem solvers should not rule out ideas until they reach the analysis phase of the problem-solving process.

For complex problems, computer-assisted morphological assessment can be done. This matrix can help identify different considerations of the problem. It can also help formulate comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

The Six Thinking Hats

Dr. Edward de Bono introduced a concept for thinking more effectively in teams in his book, Six Thinking Hats. The premise of this idea is that the brain thinks about things in several different ways.

The identified different categories of thought are assigned to a color-coded “hat,” as described below. The hats provide a structured way to think about different aspects of a problem.

  1. White hat – Facts and Information: This hat includes Information collected or identified as missing.
  2. Red Hat – Feelings and Emotion: This hat includes feelings, including gut reactions to ideas or items identified in another area.
  3. Black Hat – Critical Judgment: This hat includes details about obstacles to solving the problem or other negative connotations about an item or idea. Since people are naturally critical, it is important to limit black hat thinking to its appropriate role.
  4. Yellow Hat – Positive Judgment: This hat is the opposite of the black hat. It includes details about the benefits of an idea or issue or thoughts about favoring an idea. It is still critical thinking and judgment, as opposed to blind optimism.
  5. Green Hat – Alternatives and Learning: This hat concerns ideas about new possibilities and thinking about implications rather than judgments. Green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity.
  6. Blue Hat – The Big Picture: This hat serves as the facilitator of the group thinking process. This hat can be used to set objectives both for the problem solving process and the thinking session itself.

The six thinking hat methodology allows a deliberate focusing during problem solving sessions, with an agreed-upon sequence and time limit to each hat. It ensures that everyone in the team is focused on a particular approach at the same time, rather than having one team member reacting emotionally (red hat) while others are being objective (white hat) and still another is wearing the black hat to form critical judgments of ideas.

The green hat is the main thinking hat for generating solutions in the problem solving process. The other hats can be used as a reminder of the rules of productive brainstorming sessions, such as limiting critical judgment (positive and negative – yellow and black hats).

The Blink Method

Malcolm Gladwell popularizes scientific research about the power of the adaptive unconscious in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s premise is that in an age of information overload, our decisions based on limited information are often as good as or better than decisions made with ample critical thinking.

In the examples and research Gladwell presents, experts and average subjects alike are better able and happier with choices made through what he calls “thin-slicing,” or coming to a conclusion with limited information. An example presented is the case in which many experts identify a statue as a fake when the museum that spent money on the statue did not identify it as such with weeks of research.

Gladwell also presents the cautions of the adaptive unconscious. Our power to make effective decisions by tapping into this power can be corrupted by personal likes and dislikes and stereotypes. Rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous consequences, as presented in his example of an innocent man shot on his doorstep 41 times by New York policemen.

Gladwell summarizes the dilemma between when to tap into our unconscious, and when to use a more critical approach as thus: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated – when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought process may be superior.”

Analyzing Solutions

Analyzing Solutions to Problems

With many different solutions in hand, the problem solvers in your team need to analyze those solutions to determine the effectiveness of each one. This section of the problem solving guide helps your team consider the criteria or goals for solving the problem, as well as distinguishing between wants and needs. This section also introduces the cost/benefit analysis as a method of analyzing solutions.

Developing Criteria

Your team should return to the information generated when defining the problem. Then consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem.

When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, they must also consider the following:

  • Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
  • Think about what they want the solution to do or not do.
  • Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for their goals or problem-solving criteria.

Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:

  • Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences of delaying action?
  • Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
  • Impact – Is the problem serious?

Your team must think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use their imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.

Analyzing Wants and Needs

The creative problem solving process is a fluid process, with some steps overlapping each other. Sometimes as the process provides additional information, problem solvers need to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, to analyze the potential solutions, the wants and needs for the desired state after the problem is solved must be very clear.

Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, the team can disregard it from further analyzing.

Wants are nice to have items. The team can provide a weight to each item to indicate its importance. For each potential solution, they can provide a rating for how well the solution addresses the selected want. Multiply the rating by the weight of the want to score the potential solution.

With scores for each item, it is an easy matter to rank the potential solutions in order of preference.

Using Cost/Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.

It is important to include ALL of the benefits and costs. This can be tricky, especially with intangible benefits (or costs). Some benefits or costs may be obvious, but others may take a little digging to uncover. For example, imagine you want to replace three employees with a machine that makes stamps. A hidden benefit is that you may be able to use large feedstock instead of individual sheets, saving materials costs. In the same example, you would not only consider the salaries of the employees but the total cost for those employees, including benefits and overhead.

The value assigned to the costs and benefits must be the same unit, which is why monetary value is suggested. The valuations assigned should represent what the involved parties would spend on the benefit or cost. For example, if people are always willing to save five minutes and spend an extra 50 cents on parking closer, they are demonstrating that time is worth more than 10 cents per minute. The considerations should also include the time value of money or the value of money spent or earned now versus money spent or earned at some future point.

Selecting a Solution

Selecting a Solution for the Problem

The next step in the problem solving process is for your team to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, your team would have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a shortlist of possibilities, they can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This section of the problem solving guide discusses that final analysis, as well as a tool for selecting a solution called Paired Comparison Analysis. It also discusses analyzing potential problems that may arise with a selected solution.

Doing a Final Analysis

In the previous stage of the process, the team performed a cost/benefit analysis. However, since they cannot always know all of the potential variables, this analysis should not be the only one they perform.

For each potential solution, they must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with the team’s priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. It may be helpful to create a map for each solution that addresses all of the relevant issues.

Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate results and the long-term possibilities.

In the final analysis, the team will refine the shortlist and keep re-refining it until they determine the most effective solution.

Paired Comparison Analysis

The Paired Comparison Analysis tool is a method of prioritizing a small number of workable solutions. The first step for using this tool is to list all of the possible solutions. Label each potential solution with a letter or number.

Next, compare the solutions in pairs. Decide only between those two which solution is preferable. Assign a number to indicate the strength of the preference for each option. For example, problem solvers could assign a “3” to items they strongly prefer, a “2” to a moderate preference, or a “1” to a mild preference.

This first round continues two at a time until all of the solutions are ranked. Then all the ranks are added together to obtain a priority score for each item. The top score is the preferred solution.

Analyzing Potential Problems

Your team must think forward to the solution implementation. Ask how, when, who, what, and where in relation to implementing the solution. Does the imagined future state with this problem solution match the desired state developed earlier in the process?

They can brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.

Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem solving process. They also need to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.

Planning The Next Steps

Once your team selected one or more solutions to the problem, it is time to implement them. This section of the problem solving guide looks at identifying tasks and resources, and re-evaluating the solution and adapting as necessary.

Identifying Tasks

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time for the team to think about the steps for making the solution become reality. What steps are necessary to put the solution into place?

Once again the team can brainstorm with people involved with the problem to determine the specific steps necessary to make the solution become a reality. While making that list, the team should identify any tasks that are critical to the timing of the solution implementation. Critical tasks are items that will delay the entire implementation schedule if they are not completed on time. Non-critical tasks are items that can be done as time and resources permit.

Recording Lessons Learned

Once your team solved the problem successfully, it is time to apply what they have learned to make solving future problems easier.

Planning the Follow-Up Meeting

Have a follow-up meeting after the solution has been implemented. Here are some things to consider when planning this meeting:

  • Make sure you have a clear agenda for the meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to conduct a final evaluation of the problem, the selected solution, and the implementation project. Use the follow-up meeting to find out if any of the team members still have frustrations about the problem or its solution. It is also time to celebrate successes and identify improvements, discussed in the next two topics.
  • Make sure to invite all of the team members involved with the creative problem solving process and the solution implementation.
  • Make sure to consider the meeting arrangements, such as refreshments and equipment needed.
  • Invite the participants in plenty of time, to make sure that all key members can be present for the meeting. Make such each participant knows the purpose of the meeting so that all have the appropriate incentive to attend.

Celebrating Successes

After the problem has been solved, take the time to celebrate the things that went well in the problem solving process. Try to recognize each person for their contributions and accomplishments.

You can celebrate successes by recognizing the contributions of the team members in the follow-up meeting. Alternatively, you can have a party or other form of celebration. A good activity just needs to help the team celebrate a job well done in coming up with all the solutions, evaluating them, and finally implementing a solution effectively.

Identifying Improvements

There have probably been some bumps along the road in the creative problem solving process. Your team should take the time to identify lessons learned and ways to make improvements so that the next problem solved will be even better.

Meeting with team members and stakeholders to identify improvements is a valuable exercise for several reasons.

  • It ensures everyone is aware of the challenges encountered and what was done to resolve them.
  • If something is learned from a mistake or failed endeavor, then the effort put into the task is not entirely wasted.
  • Participants can apply these lessons to future problems and be more successful.

Identifying Resources

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time to think about the resources for making the solution become reality. What else is necessary to put the solution into place?

The types of resources that may be involved are listed below, along with some questions to think about to assign resources to the project of implementing the solution.

  • Time: How will you schedule the project? When would you like the solution completed? How much time will each task identified take?
  • Personnel: Who will complete each identified task?
  • Equipment: Is there any special equipment required to implement the task? Does the equipment exist or need to be obtained?
  • Money: How much will the solution cost? Where will the money come from?
  • Information: Is any additional information required to implement the solution? Who will obtain it? How?

Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting

Once your team determined the tasks and the resources necessary to implement the solution, take action! Now is the time to use your project management skills to keep the solution implementation on track.

As part of the implementation process, you will also continue to evaluate the solution(s). It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary, based on the evaluation of the solution’s effectiveness at solving the problem. You may need to make adjustments to the plan as new information about the solution comes to light.

 

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