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Team Building for Onsite, Remote, and Multicultural Teams

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When your team has a common vision, communicates well, receives training and mentoring, and reaches its goals, you have seen the benefits of team development. As part of a team development program, team building helps cement the connections between team members—if it is done well, with attention to the true concerns of the team.

If the team-building exercise threatens with deadlines and needlessly interferes with an already well-functioning team, then it is counterproductive, causing negativity and stress while decreasing morale. While team development is universally acclaimed, team building often receives negative comments, mostly because of its potential to go badly awry.

According to the software company Citrix, nearly a third of employees actively dislike team-building activities. Injuries abound: one company leader reports breaking his leg in a team-building kickball game; another was left to smack the ground during a trust exercise.

Tip: Perhaps the most important SMaRT guideline in team building is: don’t kill your team doing it.

Onsite Team Building

Onsite team-building exercises should meet the following criteria:

  • Everybody who participates wants to be there—no one should be forced because you are trying to avoid stress and negativity, not increase it.
  • The exercise addresses a problem, whether that involves a specific project problem or a general concern like communication or relationships among members.
  • The atmosphere is collaborative, building connections, and not a competition, so the team can experience success together.
  • The exercise builds skills that are helpful on the job, rather than challenging people to ski, throw balloons around, or perform other activities considered “fun.”
  • Time is set aside to consider any lessons learned, including new skills and positive insights into team interactions.

With any type of team building—onsite, remote, or multicultural—always check back to see if the team itself felt that the exercise was worthwhile. Too many activities with too little payback will cause the team to disengage from and resent team building instead of benefiting from it.

Remote Team Building

Remote teams build relationships as they work. They email, video conference, and phone each other. They exchange information and frustrations. They attend video meetings. Given the right technologies and online support, most will create great working relationships on their own. In fact, unplugging after work (22%) is a bigger issue than loneliness (19%) and a far bigger issue than staying motivated (8%), according to a 2019 survey of 2,500 remote workers.

Although team building activities that focus on socializing can increase engagement among remote workers, those activities have to align with the existing interests of the team. For example, one international company suggested that each team member contribute a favorite song from one of their company’s groups to a company playlist. Another held a video celebration at the completion of milestones or the addition of a new team member, to introduce that person to the team.

Tip: Whenever possible, team building is enhanced when at least some remote members meet in person. Nothing builds closer relationships than a personal meeting.

Multicultural Team Building

Some team building activities that succeed with culturally cohesive teams are confusing and inappropriate for team members from different countries and different cultures. Team development and team building take more time with multicultural groups, as members become used to and surmount their differences.

For multicultural teams, the main benefit of team building is in clarifying the role of the team and each of its members, improving problem-solving and relationships, and developing trust. Given possibly different time zones, language barriers, and definitions of “team” and “leadership,” the choice of activities may be difficult. However, any respectful activity that increases inter-cultural knowledge helps to bond and build the team.

For one onsite multinational team, that meant a lunch where each person brought one of their favorite national dishes. A large buffet table overflowing with main dishes, desserts, snacks, and soups provided plenty of opportunities for each team member to interact with the others and brought them all closer.

Key Takeaways

Team building is more than just sitting in a room together. Team building is about respect and connecting in any capacity. This can happen in person, remotely and, across cultures.

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