The teambuilding activities that remote teams do to build trust
Written on 2020-03-01 by Guido Knook
Teambuilding builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication and enhances collaboration (Scudamore B., 2016). My co-founder and I interviewed more than 15 team leads of remote teams, and they agree. They put emphasis on the culture at their companies; making sure that no one is left out or feels like 2nd class citizens. They recognize that trust underlies not only the culture directly, but also productivity, collaboration and engagement. At the same time they also recognize that doing all this is more difficult remote, because you don’t have the high fidelity level of communication that you would normally have. In scientific words, the oxytocin (a neurochemical that is linked to social bonding) release happens less quickly when you don’t meet in person.
It is therefore that remote companies are often very intentional about social interactions. Even though it is harder, a sense of shared connection can be created. Being deliberate with the social activities you organize, and recognizing there is a deeper goal to organizing those activities, can get you a best-in-class culture, even if you don’t see each other every day.
Remote companies build their culture by being deliberate about the social activities they organize. They recognize that there is a deeper goal to organizing the activites, one that impacts the bottom line: Trust.
The people we interviewed take delibearte action on building connections between team members. The activities that they employ range from remote trivia games to friday drinks with the laptop open to on-site off-sites.
This is by far the most pervasive category, where everyone we spoke to has at least one example of a social activity that they do. We’ve heard chat roulette (getting randomly assigned), coffee chats when you want to have a small break, remote lunches (everyone eats their sandwich in front of their computer), sometimes upgraded to brown bags (where people share something while the rest eats), and sharing drinks (in front of your laptop).
Interestingly almost all remote first companies we spoke to, still have a measure of on-site activities. Especially onboarding often happens face to face, but also after that companies organize co-working days (where everyone of one city/country commutes to the same space and works there for a day), off-sites (though technically using the word off-site for those is a bit weird), meetups and conferences.
Asynchronous communication is the holy grail for remote teams, as with time-zone differences it can get near impossible to get everyone in the same call. Therefore companies dedicate specific slack and other async channels to social goals, from chitchat to sharing the love for specific interests.
Only a few companies mentioned playing a game together as an activity to foster connection. And even there the availability and access wasn’t particularly easy. But when they happened it was one of the most fun things they did as a remote team. In addition several people mentioned that having a purpose for the shared time together, even if only on a surface level, would be helpful to make things less awkward and encourage engagement of the whole team.
The science of trust
Trust underpins most of the productivity gains that a team can accomplish. This is not so weird, because if you think about it, as a team you need to collaborate to be productive (otherwise why work in a team). In order to effectively collaborate it is important that you trust your team members. What happens in your brain when you trust others is that you release oxytocin. “Our brains reward us for cooperating and treating others well, including being trustworthy when we are trusted. Trust begets trust.” (Zak J.P. 2017). This is a virtuous cycle, meaning that the more oxytocin you have in your brain, the more likely you’re to trust someone, the more oxytocin you produce. And thus the better you collaborate. This virtuous cycle is exactly why it is so important to design a culture with many positive social interactions; small moments where oxytocin can be released.
Scudamore, B. (2016) Why team-building is the most important investment you’ll make https://www.forbes.com/
Zak J.P. (2017) Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies