First impressions count. In fact, within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone either in person or over the phone, the other person has already developed an impression of you.
That said, over the years, I’ve leveraged various team-building techniques to help teams move quickly through the stages of group development (Storming, Forming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning) and build a good impression of me as their project lead.
Technique 1: Have a Picture Organizational Chart
Before the kick-off meeting, I ask each team member to electronically submit a 2 x 2 self-portrait to include in a picture org chart.
People’s first reaction is, “why do we need a picture org chart?” As silly as it sounds, I’ve found that having a picture org chart brings team-members closer (especially, if virtual).
Since we are visual creatures, we tend to have an emotional investment in things we can see and touch; therefore, humanizing the org chart enables team-members to feel more accountable if a face is associated with a name instead of a typed name.
Technique 2: Prop up a Picture of the Individual who’s joining via Telephone
All too often, when individuals join a meeting via telephone, they tend to be very quiet and at times, forgotten.
Depending on the size of the team and conference room, I would either put their picture on an empty chair or on the phone itself. It doesn’t have to be a picture, could be a small toy or piece of paper with their name.
The point is to have something physical to represent the individual(s) on the phone. This will help team-members to remember those on the phone and empower virtual team-members to join the conversation.
Technique 3: Have Team Take Myers-Briggs Personality Test
You may have heard people say, I’m an INTJ, ENTP, ESTJ, etc. This is an outcome from the Myers-Briggs Personality test. It’s a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. There are many free online versions one can Google but if the organization can afford it, I would suggest one use the official version.
I like using this test because each team-member can walk away with knowing more about their own personality type and how it relates to teamwork. So, if you have a lot of Extroverts (Es) and a few Introverts (Is), the team can ensure quieter team-members (Is) are encouraged to participate if there were a debate.
Technique 4: Work on a Business Case
Do you remember the first day of school? The anxiety about meeting new people, worrying about what people would think of you, and knowing where you would fit? Well, it’s not that different when individuals join a new group.
Team-members automatically have this type angst and to help release that energy, I use fun and simple business cases that the team can solve. I block out 10 to 15 minutes of the agenda to work on this type of exercise each week until the case is complete. Typically it’s solved within the first three meetings.
The goal here is to build team confidence and make the initial team-member experience fun + memorable.
I like to use business cases from http://www.thetimes100.co.uk/. Although they are meant for teachers and students, I found them very helpful tools in team building.
Technique 5: Build a Lego House
This exercise is mainly useful with physically present team-members. One can try to include someone who’s virtual but I’ve not had great success with my attempts.
In advance to the meeting, buy Lego blocks and build a small simple structure. I tend to build one that has a solid base, four columns, and a solid top – like a square hollow box. You can build anything you like as long as there are enough pieces for all team-members.
After you’ve built the structure, dismantle it and purposefully remove pieces. The exercise should practically be impossible to complete.
I tend to give the team 5 to 10 minutes to complete the exercise. The goal is to have a fun setting where team-members can physically see what they are building together. It also allows you to observe the team dynamics (e.g., leaders, followers, etc).
Overall, whichever techniques you use, I think it’s important to research activities you think the team would like and could do together (including virtual employees). Introducing activities up front will help with accelerating the team formation and also, depending on how you execute it, the team-members would have a great team-member experience.
For those skeptics out there, I’ve included a fantastic article from Alexander Kjerulf on The top 5 reasons why most team building events are a waste of time. He not only talks about how team-building events can be detrimental to a company but also provides the formula of how to execute great team-building activities.