Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Identify Your Best Communication Practices Overview:

  • Objective = To identify as a team the best ways of communicating with each in a Virtual / Work From Home (WFH) environment
  • Team Size = Any group size will work
  • Time = 1 hour or more depending on team size
  • Difficulty = Medium
  • Materials Required = Yes (shared document)
  • Preparation Required = Yes
  • Technology Required = Video/phone conferencing and email/slack

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Why you should run this for your team

It takes a while for all teams to figure out their common ways of working together. When your team is co-located, that process is made a lot easier because everyone is learning from daily interactions. But for virtual teams, frequent interactions are not always possible. You can’t just walk over to a colleagues desk with a question, or talk to someone at the coffee machine.

Virtual teams need to be more upfront and overt with their ways of working together. They need to come together as a team, and establish some practices that everyone will commit to. By setting these common standards up front, you can help improve communications amongst your team, decrease conflicts and misunderstandings, and overall increase your team’s productivity.

Finally, it is important to recognize that working remotely can sometimes feel very lonely. It is important when creating these team standards, that you and the team address how to stay connected as a team on a personal level. Interacting with colleagues in an office is never 100% about business. So make sure your virtual meetings and video chats similarly include personal topics as well.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 1 – Email your team before the meeting (3 days before meeting)

This exercise requires that employees come prepared to the meeting, ready to discuss their ideas. 3 days before your meeting, we suggest that you send them an email with the following questions:

  • What do you think is the most important quality / characteristic of good team communication, irregardless of virtual or in person? Give an example.
  • What do you think is the second most important quality / characteristic of good team communication, irregardless of virtual or in person? Give an example.
  • What are different ways that we can adopt these qualities / characteristics in a virtual environment? Give examples.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 2 – Start the meeting by framing the objectives of the meeting (2 mins)

It is impossible to align around the best communication practices if you don’t all agree on what you are talking about.  Now that might sound silly, but think back to how many times you’ve been in a meeting where people seem to be arguing about two completely different topics.  In order to have an effective meeting and to reach some sort of team alignment, you need to frame the meeting so that all participants know what will be discussed.

We recommend something like: The purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss different team communication practices that we can do virtually. The ideal outcome of the meeting is to agree on a few best practices that we as a team will commit to.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 3 – Use a shared document to capture each person’s desired communication characteristics / qualities (5 mins)

Using a shared document, have everyone write up the communication characteristics / qualities that they previously identified. Wait on discussing the individual characteristics / qualities, and just make sure everyone is putting theirs up on the document. By waiting to start the discussion, you can make sure you are hearing from everyone, including the quiet ones.

When it comes to cloud collaboration tools, you can use tools like Office 365 or Live Documents, but my recommendation is Google Docs. G-Docs is free to use, and a great tool for multiple people to use simultaneously. My team and I will often work on the same document at the same time during meetings. I honestly think it brings virtual collaboration to a whole new level.

Pro Tip – To support you and your team, I created an example worksheet that you can use with this exercise. Click here to download your own free copy of the Communication Best Practices worksheet.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 4 – As a team discuss the desired characteristics / qualities (20 mins)

Going around the team, have each member present their #1 desired quality / characteristics of good communication. Each person should provide real world examples of what that quality / characteristic looks like in their team. For example, someone saying “I really like it when we have frequent communication” is too broad. What is better is when they say things like, “I really like touching base with my colleagues at least once a day.”

After everyone has shared their first priority, go around again and share everyone’s second characteristic / quality of good team communication.

Pro Tip – Remind everyone that this is an important time to practice your Active Listening skills. Specifically, you should be listening to understand the other person, not listening to find flaws in what the other person is saying. The goal is to understand what is important to every team member, not just have everyone listen to your idea.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 5 – Align around 3-5 shared qualities (5 mins)

Before you start brainstorming new ways of working virtually with your team, you need to narrow your focus areas to key focus areas shared by the team. So once all the important qualities / characteristics have been shared by your team, align around common themes. We recommend your team should limit your focus to just 3-5 common themes. Any more and you risk spreading your focus too thin.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 6 – Brainstorm what your team can do to address those qualities virtually (10 mins)

Using the shared Communication Best Practices worksheet, brainstorm different ways that you and your team can address the 3-5 most important qualities / characteristics you identified. Focus on what you can do virtually, and try to be creative. The key is generate as many ideas as possible, not limiting ideas by thinking they won’t work. For example, having lunch together might not be possible, but having a virtual lunch together might be. (A virtual lunch is when you all join a video conference and eat lunch together)

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

Step 7 – As a team commit to some common ways of working (15 mins)

Once the brainstorm is done, align around some common actions that everyone on the team can commit to. Don’t rehash the ideas, and continue discussing them if you all aligned. Just agree to it, and move on to the next item. We recommend these commitments should be captured in the Communication Best Practices worksheet. Post the completed list on your team’s slack channel or shared team drive. In future meetings, go back to the list and debrief progress they have made with their commitments or challenges they still face.

Pro Tip – Use the worksheet as a living document. Have the team continually go back to their commitments to add new ones or revise some of the old ones.

Virtual Team Activities: Identify Your Best Communication Practices

More Virtual Team Activities / Exercises

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