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.

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building

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.


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.


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 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!


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

Access our ultimate guide to building and managing virtual teams

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.

Related: How to Be an Effective Virtual Team Member

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.

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building

10 Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

Online Virtual Team Building Games for Remote Workers

Access Our Ultimate Guide to Building and Managing Virtual Teams

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

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building

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.


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.

Virtual Team Building Events - Remote Team Building


  • 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.


  • 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.

Access our ultimate guide to building and managing virtual teams

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.



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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 (click on a heading to go directly to that section):

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.

Related: Virtual Team Building Activities for Remote Working Teams

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.


  • 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


  • 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

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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.

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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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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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.


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

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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.


  • 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.

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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.

Related: Digital Etiquette for Your Virtual Team

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.

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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.

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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.


  • 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.


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:

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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How to Improve Your Team’s Customer Service

How to Improve Your Team’s Customer Service

Customer service means different things to different people. To some it means going beyond what’s expected of you. To others it means adding value and integrity to every interaction. To others it means taking care of customers the way you would take care of your grandmother. We might all define customer service a little differently, but we can all agree on one thing: to provide great customer service, your team needs to put energy and enthusiasm into their interactions with customers. Great customer service begins with a great attitude.

Your Team’s Appearance Counts in Customer Service

As a society, we are all aware that a lot of emphasis is put on individual appearance. To some extent this is actually something regrettable, as it means that people are prepared to judge a book by its cover. Conversely, however, your team should be aware that the opinions of its customers matter. Those opinions may not be the same as that of the team members, but when it comes to ensuring the success of a team they still matter. In fact, the saying “the customer is always right” could be considered to apply here. Most customers wish to be treated with courtesy and to deal with individuals who look like they have made an effort with their appearance. Therefore it is beneficial to ensure all the members of your team takes heed of this fact.

This does not mean that in every business it is important for customer-facing staff to be Stepford-style automatons who look, act, and behave as though they had been prepared for their role to ensure that every business operation is the same as the last. A certain amount of character, which includes a modicum of individuality, is desirable in a customer services situation. It is important to maintain standards, but also to give the appearance that each transaction is different from the last.

Even if the transaction or the enquiry is not carried out in person, it is still important for your team to consider the matter of appearance. “Appearance”, after all, is not just a term which applies to physical appearance. It also refers to how things seem. If a customer is dealing with a team member on the phone or via e-mail, they will be well advised to ensure that their professionalism does not slip here. Often in businesses which do not directly face the customer – such as call centers – the dress code is “relaxed”. Team members can wear jeans and a t-shirt, or whatever feels comfortable, as long as their performance is polished and professional. Some businesses prefer to have a strict dress code even in these circumstances, feeling that dressing smartly equates directly to a smart performance.

The Power of a Smile in Customer Service

Often opinions differ on what constitutes a strong approach to customer service. There are some who would argue that efficiency is everything – providing the customer with what they require, when they require it without them needing to ask for it. The overall impression that this method aims for is that things happened without anyone needing to try, as if by magic. This means that courtesy counts for an increasing amount in customer transactions.

Being positive and friendly in customer interactions plays a major part in ensuring that a customer walks away from the experience having felt that everything was done in a way that suggested the customer is valued. This may impact on how much they spend in a single transaction, and just as important, whether they return to the business with more customers, because of their positive experience. In this respect, a smile can make a world of difference to how the customer feels about their treatment, and about the business in general.

Having a smile on their face will make your team look more welcoming. It is something that cannot be overestimated as a customer service and retention tool. If you were to walk into a store, and saw two sales assistants – one who looked cheerful and open and one who looked like they had just opened an overdue credit card bill – instinct would dictate that you approached the cheerful one should you have an enquiry about the item you wanted to buy. Therefore it is advised that in dealing with customers your team is always alert, friendly, and personable. Even if they are not particularly feeling that way, it has been argued by body language experts that the act of smiling releases endorphins which make you feel happier. So it is worth making them making the effort to put a smile on their face however they are feeling.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Your Team Staying Energized Improves Customer Service

All teams experience low points during the course of the day, but there are ways to boost your team’s energy when it is lagging.

  • Take a walk, even if it’s just to the restroom.
  • Drink a glass of cold water.
  • Be sure to eat a good breakfast and lunch.
  • Plug into others – being with energized people, keeps you energized!
  • Listen to up-beat music.
  • Try to stay humorous.

A working day usually stretches from around 8-9 AM and goes on until approximately 5 PM. Though there is some movement in these times, the typical structure of a staff timetable is that a working day will extend to around eight hours, and will involve some short breaks in between times. The importance of this information is that it can be difficult to maintain a positive demeanor for eight hours straight, especially if team members are thinking about matters beyond the workplace. Eight hours of appearing positive and upbeat can be the hardest part of a job, without even considering the brass tacks of the job – ensuring that the customers are seen to.

It is essential in this respect that anyone in a customer-facing job approaches their day in a sensible, structured fashion which allows them to get the most out of themselves. Staying energized is often difficult, but as long as your team develops a routine for dealing with the difficult events, then they can find a way to deal with even the dreariest day. There will be times during a working day when they would like nothing more than to go and get their jacket and walk out the door. However if we all did that whenever we felt like it, the chances are that we would mostly be out of a job.

It is essential for your team members to find something that allows them to break out of the “lows” that anyone will experience during a working day. These lows are common to all of us, and we all have different ways of dealing with them. One of the most commonly used methods of shaking out of this kind of torpor is a “change of scenery”. If they have a moment and they can leave the shop floor, it is beneficial for them to get up and go somewhere else for a moment. Maybe it will be something as simple as going to get a drink or get some fresh air. Whatever they do, it should be vastly preferable to scowling at every customer who simply asks them the price of a certain item.

It should also be noticed that making the effort to have breakfast in the morning – even if they feel as though eating is the last thing they want to do – can be of huge benefit to the team. It allows them to maintain energy through the morning, which for many people is the hardest time of say to stay positive. It may be a cliché, but making sure that your team members don’t skip breakfast can go a very long way to keeping them energized through the day.

Your Team Staying Positive Improves Customer Service

Your team can’t control all of the problems and irritations that come up during the day. They can control their attitude and how they react to the situation.

Tips on staying positive:

  • Rearrange or redecorate their work space.
  • View negative situations as a training session for their future, use them to their benefit, they may help them later in life.
  • Find ways to spend more time on tasks they enjoy.
  • Look for opportunities to learn new things.
  • Realize that they can find positives in any negative situation. Albert Einstein said: “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

At the beginning of the day, they should think about one important thing that they want to accomplish that day. Think about why it is important. They must tell themselves that they have the ability to accomplish it successfully, and congratulate themselves when they have accomplished what you set out to do.

Positivity is something that is very hard to create out of nothing. It occurs naturally in some people, and others are deficient in it. Positivity can result from good things happening at the right time – or for that matter at any time. It can act as an energy source on which a person can access to bring the best results time and again. Whether you are a team leader looking for good results from a sales team, or a team member looking for your own positive results, it is essential to bear in mind that the best results come from situations where the individual, and those with whom they work, feel that positive energy that feeds into a good performance.

Most of us have spent time with positive and negative people. Although those who are negative may be so for perfectly good reasons – past experience may have seen them consistently fail to get what they want – they can be difficult to deal with, even to the point where they seem to sap the positivity from those who have it in supply. This is something that you will tolerate from a friend, but in a team it is essential to stop this kind of negativity by whatever means necessary. Having a bright outlook can be difficult, especially when luck seems to be in short supply, but this is what separates good team leaders and team members from bad ones.

Outlook and attitude are essential for any team, but particularly in one where the team will be dealing with the public. It may seem that the day is not going their way, and that they are permanently going to be frustrated, but the essential thing to remember is that if they project this mood on to the customers, they will certainly have a bad time sales-wise. Positivity is hard to manufacture out of nothing, so sometimes your team will have to project it when they are not necessarily feeling it. Eventually, if they keep this faux positivity running for long enough, it will create the conditions for real positivity to take hold and thrive. Of course, if they already feel it so much the better – as far as possible they should share it and allow it to become a prevailing condition.



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Ultimate Guide to Building Better Communication in Your Team

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Communication in Your Team

For the better part of every day, your team members  are communicating to and with others. Whether it’s the speech delivered in the boardroom,  or the level of attention given to other team members when they are talking, it all means something. This guide will help you to understand the different methods of communication and how to make the most of each of them to build better communication in your team. We will cover the following topics:

Related: Communication Team Building Activities, Communication Strategies Workshop for Teams

Introduction to Communication

When we say the word, “communication,” what do you think of? Many people will think of the spoken word. People who are hearing impaired, however, might think of sign language. People who are visually impaired might think of Braille as well as sounds.

What is Communication?

The dictionary defines communication as, “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

It is also defined as, “means of sending messages, orders, etc., including telephone, telegraph, radio, and television,” and in biology as an, “activity by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behavior of other organisms.”

The effectiveness of communication in your team can have many different positive effects on the team such as:

  • Lowering the level of stress in the team
  • Building stronger relationships among the team members
  • Increasing the level of satisfaction within the team
  • Increasing productivity
  • Improving the team’s ability to meet goals
  • Improving team’s ability to solve problems

How Do Team Members Communicate?

Team members communicate in three major ways:

  • Spoken: There are two components to spoken communication.
    • Verbal: This is what they are saying.
    • Paraverbal: This means how they say it – their tone, speed, pitch, and volume.
  • Non-Verbal: These are the gestures and body language that accompany their words. Some examples: arms folded across the chest, tracing circles in the air, tapping their feet, or having a hunched-over posture.
  • Written: Communication can also take place via fax, e-mail, or written word.

Other Factors in Communication

Other communication factors that we need to consider.

  • Method: The method in which the team member shares his or her message is important as it has an effect on the message itself. Communication methods include person-to-person, telephone, e-mail, fax, radio, public presentation, television broadcast, and many more!
  • Mass: The number of people receiving the message.
  • Audience: The team member receiving the message affects the message, too. Their understanding of the topic and the way in which they receive the message can affect how it is interpreted and understood.

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Understanding Communication Barriers

Communication Barriers

On the surface, communication seems pretty simple. I talk, you listen. You send me an e-mail, I read it. Larry King makes a TV show, we watch it.

Like most things in life, however, communication is far more complicated than it seems. Let’s look at some of the most common communication barriers you may encounter in your team and how to reduce their impact on communication.

An Overview of Common Communication Barriers

Many things can impede communication. Common things that people list as barriers include:

  • I can’t explain the message to the other person in words that they understand.
  • I can’t show the other person what I mean.
  • I don’t have enough time to communicate effectively.
  • The person I am trying to communicate with doesn’t have the same background as me, and is missing the bigger picture of my message.

These barriers typically break down into three categories: language, culture, and location.

Language Barriers

Of course, one of the biggest barriers to written and spoken communication in a team is language. This can appear in three main forms:

  • The team members communicating speak different languages.
  • The language being used is not the first language for one or more of the team members involved in the communication.
  • The team members communicating speak the same language, but are from different regions and therefore have different dialects and or unique subtleties.

There are a few ways to reduce the impact of these barriers.

  • As a team, identify that the barrier exists. Identify things that the team can do to minimize it.
  • Pictures speak a thousand words, and can communicate across languages.
  • If you are going to be communicating with this team member on a long-term basis, try to find a common language. You may also consider hiring a translator.

Cultural Barriers

There can also be times when team members speak the same language, but are from a different culture, where different words or gestures can mean different things. Or, perhaps the team member you are communicating with is from a different class from you, or has a very different lifestyle. All of these things can hinder your ability to get your message across effectively.

If you have the opportunity to prepare, find out as much as you can about the other team member’s culture and background, and how it differs from yours. Try to identify possible areas of misunderstanding and how to prevent or resolve those problems.

If you don’t have time to prepare, and find yourself in an awkward situation, use the cultural differences to your advantage. Ask about the differences that you notice, and encourage questions about your culture. Ensure that your questions are curious, not judgmental, resentful, or otherwise negative.

Differences in Time and Place

The last communication barrier that we will look at is location, defined by time and by place. These barriers often occur when members of the same team are in different time zones, or different places.

Take this scenario as an example. Bill works on the east coast, while his colleague, Joe, works on the west coast. Four hours separate their offices. One day, right after lunch, Bill calls Joe to ask for help with a question. Bill has been at work for over four hours already; he is bright, chipper, and in the groove.

Joe, however, has just gotten to the office and is, in fact, running late. He does not feel awake and chipper, and is therefore perhaps not as responsive and helpful in answering Bill’s question as he normally is.

Bill thinks, “Geez, what did I do to make Joe cranky?” In response to the way he perceives Joe’s behavior, he, too, stops communicating. Their effort to solve a problem together has failed.

So how can you get over the challenges of time and place? First, identify that there is a difference in time and place. Next, try these tips to reduce its impact.

  • Make small talk about the weather in your respective regions. This will help you get a picture of the team member’s physical environment.
  • Try to set up phone calls and meetings at a time that is convenient for you both.
  • If appropriate, e-mail can be an “anytime, anywhere” bridge. For example, if Bill had sent Joe an e-mail describing the problem, Joe could have addressed it at a better time for him, such as later on in the day. Clearly, this is not always practical (for example, if the problem is urgent, or if it is a complicated issue that requires extensive explanation), but this option should be considered.

Another thing your team must watch out for is rushed communication. The pressure of time can cause either party to make assumptions and leaps of faith. They must always make sure they communicate as clearly as possible, and ask for playback. The listening and questioning skills that they will learn in this guide will help them make the most of the communication time that they do have.

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Paraverbal Communication Skills

Para-Verbal Communication

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? It’s true!

Try saying these three sentences out loud, placing the emphasis on the underlined word.

  • I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying it wasn’t me)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I communicated it in another way)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I said something else)

Now, let’s look at the three parts of paraverbal communication; which is the message told through the pitch, tone, and speed of our words when we communicate.

The Power of Pitch

Pitch can be most simply defined as the key of your voice. A high pitch is often interpreted as anxious or upset. A low pitch sounds more serious and authoritative. People will pick up on the pitch of your voice and react to it. As well, a variation in the pitch of your voice is important to keep the other party interested.

If a team member naturally speaks in a very high-pitched or low-pitched voice, they should work on varying their pitch to encompass all ranges of their vocal cords. (One easy way to do this is to relax your throat when speaking.) Make sure they pay attention to their body when doing this – you don’t want them to damage their vocal cords.

The Truth about Tone

Did your mother ever say to you, “I don’t like that tone!” She was referring to the combination of various pitches to create a mood.

Here are some tips on creating a positive, authoritative tone.

  • Try lowering the pitch of your voice a bit.
  • Smile! This will warm up anyone’s voice.
  • Sit up straight and listen.
  • Monitor your inner monologue. Negative thinking will seep into the tone of your voice.

The Strength of Speed

The pace at which a team member speaks also has a tremendous effect on their communication ability. From a practical perspective, someone who speaks quickly is harder to understand than someone who speaks at a moderate pace. Conversely, someone who speaks v-e—r—-y s—l—–o—w—l—y will probably lose their audience’s interest before they get very far!

Speed also has an effect on the tone and emotional quality of their message. A hurried pace can make the listener feel anxious and rushed. A slow pace can make the listener feel as though their message is not important. A moderate pace will seem natural, and will help the listener focus on the  message.

One easy way for your team members to check their pitch, tone, and speed is to record themselves speaking. They can then think of how they would feel listening to their own voice, and work on speaking the way they would like to be spoken to.

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Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Communication

When you are communicating, your body is sending a message that is as powerful as your words.

In our following discussions, remember that our interpretations are just that – common interpretations. (For example, the person sitting with his or her legs crossed may simply be more comfortable that way, and not feeling closed-minded towards the discussion. Body language can also mean different things across different genders and cultures.) However, it is good for your team to understand how various behaviors are often seen, so that they can make sure their body is sending the same message as their mouth.

Think about these scenarios for a moment. What non-verbal messages might you receive in each scenario? How might these non-verbal messages affect the verbal message?

  • Your boss asks you to come into his office to discuss a new project. He looks stern and his arms are crossed.
  • A team member tells you they have bad news, but they are smiling as they say it.
  • You tell a co-worker that you cannot help them with a project. They say that it’s OK, but they slam your office door on their way out.

Team members need to understand how to use body language to become more effective communicators.  They must be able to interpret body language, add it to the message they are receiving, and understand the message being sent appropriately.

With this in mind, let’s look at the components of non-verbal communication.

Understanding the Mehrabian Study

In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian published a famous study called Silent Messages. In it, he made several conclusions about the way the spoken word is received. Although this study has been misquoted often throughout the years, its basic conclusion is that 7% of our message are verbal, 38% are proverbial, and 55% are from body language.

Now, we know this is not true in all situations. If someone speaks to you in a foreign language, you cannot understand 93% of what they are saying. Or, if you are reading a written letter, you are likely getting more than 7% of the sender’s message.

What this study does tell us is that body language is a vital part of our communication with others. With this in mind, let’s look at the messages that our body can send.

All About Body Language

Body language is a very broad term that simply means the way in which our body speaks to others. We have included an overview of three major categories below; we will discuss a fourth category, gestures, in a moment.

The way that we are standing or sitting

Think for a moment about different types of posture and the message that they relay.

  • Sitting hunched over typically indicates stress or discomfort.
  • Leaning back when standing or sitting indicates a casual and relaxed demeanor.
  • Standing ramrod straight typically indicates stiffness and anxiety.

The position of our arms, legs, feet, and hands

  • Crossed arms and legs often indicate a closed mind.
  • Fidgeting is usually a sign of boredom or nervousness.

Facial expressions

  • Smiles and frowns speak a million words.
  • A raised eyebrow can mean inquisitiveness, curiosity, or disbelief.

Chewing one’s lips can indicate thinking, or it can be a sign of boredom, anxiety, or nervousness.

Interpreting Gestures

A gesture is a non-verbal message that is made with a specific part of the body. Gestures differ greatly from region to region, and from culture to culture.

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Speaking Like a STAR

Speaking Like a STAR

Now that we have explored all the quasi-verbal elements of communication, let’s look at the actual message the team members are sending. They can ensure any message is clear, complete, correct, and concise, with the STAR acronym.

S = Situation

First, they must state what the situation is, and try to make this no longer than one sentence. If they are having trouble, they should ask themselves, “Where?”, “Who?”, and, “When?”. This will provide a base for message so it can be clear and concise.

Example: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant.”

T = Task

Next, they must briefly state what their task was. Again, this should be no longer than one sentence. Use the question, “What?” to frame their sentence, and add the “Why?” if appropriate.

Example: “I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group.”

A = Action

Now, they can state what they did to resolve the problem in one sentence. They must use the question, “How?” to frame this part of the statement. The Action part will provide a solid description and state the precise actions that will resolve any issues.

Example: “I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show.”

R = Result

Last, they will state what the result was. This will often, use a combination of the six roots. Again, a precise short description of the results that come about from their previous steps will finish on a strong definite note.

Example: “Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

Let’s look at a complete example using STAR. Let’s say you’re out with friends on the weekend. Someone asks you what the highlight of your week at work was. As it happens, you had a great week, and there is a lot to talk about. You use STAR to focus your answer so you don’t bore your friends, and so that you send a clear message.

You respond: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant. I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group. I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show. Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

This format can be compressed for quick conversations, or expanded for longer presentations. Encourage your team to try framing statements with STAR, and see how much more confident they feel when communicating.

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Listening Skills

Listening Skills

So far, we have discussed all the components of sending a message: non-verbal, para-verbal, and verbal. Now, let’s turn the tables and look at how your team can effectively receive messages.

Seven Ways for Your Team to Become Better Listeners

Hearing is easy! For most of us, our body does the work of interpreting the sounds that we hear into words. Listening, however, is far more difficult. Listening is the process of looking at the words and the other factors around the words (such as our non-verbal communication), and then interpreting the entire message.

Here are seven things that your team can do to start becoming better listeners right now.

  1. When they’re listening, they must listen. Not talk on the phone, text message, clean off their desk, or do anything else.
  2. They must avoid interruptions. If they think of something that needs to be done, they can make a mental or written note of it and forget about it until the conversation is over.
  3. They must aim to spend at least 90% of their time listening and less than 10% of their time talking.
  4. When they do talk, they must make sure it’s related to what the other person is saying. They can ask questions to clarify, expand, and probe for more information.
  5. They should not offer advice unless the other person asks them for it. If they are not sure what the other person want, they should ask!
  6. They should make sure the physical environment is conducive to listening. They must try to reduce noise and distractions. If possible, they should be seated comfortably. Be close enough to the other person so that they can hear them, but not too close to make them uncomfortable.
  7. If it is a conversation where they are required to take notes, they must try not to let the note-taking disturb the flow of the conversation. If they need a moment to catch up, they can choose an appropriate moment to ask for a break.

Understanding Active Listening

Although hearing is a passive activity, your team must listen actively to listen effectively, and to actually hear what is being said.

There are three basic steps to active listening.

  1. Try to identify where the other person is coming from. This concept is also called the frame of reference. For example, your reaction to a bear will be very different if you’re viewing it in a zoo, or from your tent at a campsite. Your approach to someone talking about a sick relative will differ depending on their relationship with that person.
  2. Listen to what is being said closely and attentively.
  3. Respond appropriately, either non-verbally (such as a nod to indicate you are listening), with a question (to ask for clarification), or by paraphrasing. Note that paraphrasing does not mean repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. It does mean repeating what you think the speaker said in your own words. Some examples: “It sounds like that made you angry,” or, “It sounds like that cashier wasn’t very nice to you.” (Using the “It sounds like…” precursor, or something similar, gives the speaker the opportunity to correct you if your interpretation is wrong.”

Sending Good Signals to Others

When your team is listening to others speak, there are three kinds of cues that they can give the other person. Using the right kind of cue at the right time is crucial for keeping good communication going.

  • Non-Verbal: As shown in the Mehrabian study, body language plays an important part in our communications with others. Head nods and an interested facial expression will show the speaker that you are listening.
  • Quasi-Verbal: Fillers words like, “uh-huh,” and “mm-hmmm,” show the speaker that you are awake and interested in the conversation.
  • Verbal: Asking open questions using the six roots discussed earlier (who, what, where, when, why, how), paraphrasing, and asking summary questions, are all key tools for active listening.

These cues should be used as part of active listening. Inserting an occasional, “uh-huh,” during a conversation may fool the person that they are communicating with in the short term, but they’re fooling themselves if they feel that this is an effective communication approach.

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Asking Good Questions

Asking Good Questions

Good questioning skills are another building block of successful communication in teams. We have already encountered several possible scenarios where questions helped the team gather information, clarify the facts, and communicate with others. We will now look closer at these questioning techniques that your team can use throughout the communication process.

Open Questions

Open questions  get their name because the response is open-ended; the answerer has a wide range of options to choose from when answering it.

Open questions use one of six words as a root:

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

Open questions are like going fishing with a net – you never know what you’re going to get! Open questions are great conversation starters, fact finders, and communication enhancers. Your team should use them whenever possible.

Closed Questions

Closed questions are the opposite of open questions; their very structure limits the answer to yes or no, or a specific piece of information. Some examples include:

  • Do you like chocolate?
  • Were you born in December?
  • Is it five o’clock yet?

Although closed questions tend to shut down communication, they can be useful if a team member is searching for a particular piece of information, or winding a conversation down.

If they use a closed question and it shuts down the conversation, they can simply use an open-ended question to get things started again. Here is an example:

  • Do you like the Flaming Ducks hockey team?
  • Who is your favorite player?

Probing Questions

In addition to the basic open and closed questions, there is also a toolbox of probing questions that your team can use. These questions can be open or closed, but each type serves a specific purpose.


By probing for clarification, they invite the other person to share more information so that they can fully understand their message. Clarification questions often look like this:

  • “Please tell me more about…”
  • “What did you mean by…”
  • “What does … look like?” (Any of the five senses can be used here)

Completeness and Correctness

These types of questions can help your team ensure they have the full, true story. Having all the facts, in turn, can protect them from assuming and jumping to conclusions – two fatal barriers to communication.

Some examples of these questions include:

  • “What else happened after that?”
  • “Did that end the …”

Determining Relevance

This category will help your team members determine how or if a particular point is related to the conversation at hand. It can also help to get the speaker back on track from a tangent.

Some good ways to frame relevance questions are:

  • “How is that like…”
  • “How does that relate to…”

Drilling Down

Your team can use these types of questions to nail down vague statements. Useful helpers include:

  • “Describe…”
  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “Could you please give an example?”


These questions are framed more like a statement. They pull together all the relevant points. They can be used to confirm to the listener that you heard what was said, and to give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.

Example: “So you picked out a dress, had to get it fitted three times, and missed the wedding in the end?”

Team members must be careful  to avoid repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. They should remember that paraphrasing means repeating what they think the speaker said in their own words.

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Mastering the Art of Conversation

Mastering the Art of Conversation

Engaging in interesting, memorable small talk is a daunting task for most people. How do you know what to share and when to share it? How do you know what topics to avoid? How do you become an engaging converser?

Most experts propose a simple three-level framework that can be used by your team to master the art of conversation.

Level One: Discussing General Topics

At the most basic level, team members should stick to general topics: the weather, sports, non-controversial world events, movies, and books. This is typically what people refer to when they say, “small talk.”

At this stage, team members will focus on facts rather than feelings, ideas, and perspectives. Death, religion, and politics are absolute no-no’s.

If someone shares a fact that a team member feels is not true, they must try to refrain from pointing out the discrepancy. If they are asked about the fact, it’s OK to simply say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or make some other neutral comment.

Right now, the team member is simply getting to know the other party. They should keep an eye out for common ground while they are communicating, and using open-ended questions and listening skills to get as much out of the conversation as possible.

Level Two: Sharing Ideas and Perspectives

If the first level of conversation goes well, the parties should feel comfortable with each other and have identified some common ground. Now it’s time to move a bit beyond general facts and share different ideas and perspectives.

It is important to note that not all personal experiences are appropriate to share at this level. For example, it is fine to share that they like cross-country skiing and went to Europe, but they may not want to share the fact that they took out a personal loan to do so.

Although this level of conversation is the one most often used, and is the most conducive to relationship building and opening communication channels, make sure that team members don’t limit themselves to one person in a large social gathering.

Level Three: Sharing Personal Experiences

This is the most personal level of conversation. This is where everything is on the table and personal details are being shared. This level is typically not appropriate for a social, casual meeting. However, all of the skills that we have learned today are crucial at this stage in particular: when people are talking about matters of the heart, they require our complete attention, excellent listening skills, and skilled probing with appropriate questions.

Our Top Networking Tips

If your team is in the middle of a social gathering, they can try these networking tips to maximize their impact and minimize their nerves.

  • Before the gathering, they can imagine the absolute worst that could happen and how likely it is. For example, a team member may fear that people will laugh at them when they try to join their group or introduce themselves. Is this likely? At most business gatherings, it’s very unlikely!
  • They must remember that everyone is as nervous as they are. They can focus on turning that energy into a positive force.
  • To increase their confidence, they can prepare a great introduction. The best format is to say your name, your organization and/or position title (if appropriate), and something interesting about yourself, or something positive about the gathering. Example: “I’m Tim from Accounting. I think I recognize some of you from the IT conference last month.”
  • Just do it! The longer they think about meeting new people, the harder it will be. They should get out there, introduce themselves, and meet new people.
  • They could act as the host or hostess. By asking others if they need food or drink, they are shifting the attention from themselves to others.
  • They could start a competition with a friend: see how many people, each of you can meet before the gathering is over.
  • They could join a group of odd-numbered people.
  • They must try to mingle as much as possible. When they get comfortable with a group of people, they should move on to a new group.
  • When they hear someone’s name, they should repeat the introduction in their head. Then, when someone new joins the group, they can introduce them to everyone.
  • Mnemonics are a great way to remember names. They must just remember to keep them to themselves! Some examples:
    • Singh likes to sing.
    • Sue sues people for a living.
    • How funny – Amy Pipes is a plumber!

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Advanced Communication Skills

Advanced Communication Skills

During this guide, we have learned a lot about communication. We would like to wrap things up with a brief discussion on a few advanced communication topics. Adding these skills to their toolbox and using them regularly will make your team more efficient and effective at communicating.

Understanding Precipitating Factors

For many people, life is like a snowball. On a particularly good day, everything may go your way and make you feel like you’re on top of the world. But on a bad day, unfortunate events can likewise snowball, increasing their negative effect exponentially.

For example, imagine how each of these events would make you feel if they happened to you first thing in the morning.

  • You encounter construction on the way to work.
  • Your alarm clock doesn’t go off and you wake up late.
  • You are out of coffee.
  • The cafeteria line is very long.

Each of those things is potentially responsible for creating a crummy morning. Now, imagine this scenario:

You wake up and realize your alarm clock hasn’t gone off and you’re already late. You get up and go to turn the coffee pot on, but you realize that there is no coffee left in your house. Then, you shower and head out the door – only to encounter construction and massive traffic back-ups on the way to work. Now you’re 15 minutes late instead of five. You get to work and head to the cafeteria for some much-needed coffee, but the line stretches out the door.

With the addition of each event, your morning just gets worse and worse. For most people, this is a recipe for disaster – the first person that crosses them is likely to get an earful!

Successful communicators are excellent at identifying precipitating factors and adjusting their approach before the communication starts, or during it. Understanding the power of precipitating factors can also help de-personalize negative comments. This does not mean that someone having a bad day gets to dump on everyone around them; it does mean, however, that the person being dumped on can take it less personally and help the other person work through their problems.

Establishing Common Ground

Finding common ties can be a powerful communication tool for your team. Think of those times when a stranger turns out not to be a stranger – that the person next to you on the train grew up in the same town that you did, or that the co-worker you never really liked enjoys woodworking as much as you do.

Whenever your team members are communicating with someone, whether it is a basic conversation, a problem-solving session, or a team meeting, they should try to find ways in which they are alike. Focusing on positive connections will help them build stronger relationships and better communication.

Using “I” Messages

Framing their message appropriately can greatly increase the power of your team’s communication.

How would you react to these statements?

  • Your outfit is too casual for this meeting.
  • You mumble all the time.
  • You’re really disorganized.

Most people would feel insulted and criticized by these statements – and rightly so! They are framed in a way that puts blame on the receiver. These statements can even give the impression that the speaker feels superior to the receiver.

Instead of starting a sentence with “you,” your team should try using the “I message” instead for feedback. This format places the responsibility with the speaker, makes a clear statement, and offers constructive feedback.

The format has three basic parts:

  • Objective description of the behavior
  • Effect that the behavior is causing on the speaker
  • The speaker’s feelings

Here is an example: “Sometimes, you speak in a very low voice. I often have difficulty hearing you when you speak at that volume. It often makes me feel frustrated.”

Be careful not to start the sentence with some form of, “When you…” This tends to create feelings of blame and injustice.

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Help your team solve problems using critical thinking.

Access Our Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

A major function of critical thinking is it gives your team the ability to solve problems. Your team is presented daily with a host of decisions and problems to solve. In this blog, we will learn some steps your team can use for problem solving. Some psychologists define a problem as a gap or barrier between where the team is and where they wish to be.  In other words, a problem is the space between point A and B. Problems then essentially consist of the initial state and a goal state. All possible solution paths leading to the goal state are located in the problem space. Some researchers say that problem solving has three primary stages:

  1. Preparation or familiarization
  2. Production
  3. Judgment and evaluation

Your Team Must Identify Inconsistencies

Much of critical thinking is about how to connect the two points in a problem. However, sometimes critical thinkers are presented with inconsistencies or what scientists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can appear through a discrepancy between attitude and beliefs. Inconsistencies can also be called variances or dissimilarities. It is a natural tendency to want to eliminate inconsistencies when solving a problem. The best way your team can identify inconsistencies is by using their logic and objectivity to see variances. Identifying inconsistencies would fall under the first stage of problem solving in which the team is familiarizing themselves with the subject.

Encourage Your Team to Trust Their Instincts

“Trust your instincts” falls under the second stage of problem solving, and the team should now start to see solution paths. Instincts are defined as a natural intuitive power. Intuition or instincts are key pieces in problem solving. When coupled with trial and error, informed guesses, and brainstorming, intuition and instincts can lead to a highly creative process. Many scientific discoveries and inventions were made because the innovator followed their instincts. Think of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, for instance.

Get Your Team to Ask Why

Asking the right question is important in logical thinking. Asking why is equally important in problem solving. It is not sufficient to be simply presented with the information or data. Your team must always be willing to dig deeper and explore various possibilities. Asking why can fall under any of the three stages of problem solving.

Your Team Needs to Evaluate the Solutions

Once a possible solution has been derived, your team may feel they can proceed with the solution. However, they should not overlook the all-important step of evaluating all possible solutions. Sometimes, one problem has more than one solution and taking the time to evaluate the efficacy of each alternative is a critical thinking skill. Evaluation is also called judgment, and this is the third stage of problem solving. Your team should evaluate each alternative and judge which one is the best. The following steps are an effective evaluation technique:

  1. Make a T-chart to weigh the pros and cons of each possible solution
  2. Develop criteria (or requirements) and assign weights to each criteria
  3. Prioritize the criteria
  4. Rate the proposed solutions using the criteria


To solve problems using critical thinking, your team has to resist the tendency to eliminate inconsistencies. They should also trust their instincts which together with trial and error, informed guesses, and brainstorming and intuition, can lead to a highly creative problem solving process.  Another part of problem solving is asking why, which will help your team to dig deeper and explore various possibilities. Once the possible solutions have been derived, all of the solutions must be evaluated to select the most appropriate one.

TBAE has developed a outcome based problem solving team building event which focuses on discovering and developing your team’s problem solving skills. Click here to find out more about the Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activity.



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