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November 30, 2020

Remote Team Building

by Paweł Grądziel

Inspirations

I joined Tes in October as Principal Engineer. In the same week I joined, my new team gained another new member. Some introductory meeting with our new team was expected sooner rather than later. Fortunately, a useful idea for how we approach this popped-up in one of the company's Slack channels, where Dan Abel mentioned an article about building empathy in teams by Emily Webber.

Team Building activities list

The meeting

Emily's article suggested nine simple questions. We picked up one from the list and did rounds in the team to answer it. When the round was finished, the last person to speak started a new round by answering the next question.

Observations

The meeting was a success! People are extremely social, just some show that differently. The first thing I noticed was that most of the questions were simply a trigger for wider discussion about life, family, current events and more. Lock-down and forced isolation at home has affected the natural flow of human interactions. People like to talk. Even those usually silent, or talking less, have admitted that this kind of meeting was needed. People want to be part of the group, want to belong to something bigger. They need a place where they can voice their thoughts and doubts. To complain about a noisy cat or problems with school for kids, talk about some events from the past. Simply: be heard.

Some things worth keeping in mind

  • Schedule enough time for this meeting; it will probably overrun anyway so make sure to not schedule anything else for just after that one; our 5 persons Team required about one and a half hour
  • Give people time to speak, no rush. Remember that the actual goal is not to answer the questions, but to let them talk
  • Make notes. Unless you have perfect memory, take some notes. If you have doubts about what to note, write short notes of everything. You will pick interesting things after that. Otherwise it could be lost in the oblivion of your memory
  • Keep your team members' profiles up to date
  • In our case all team members were working remotely. I think it helped as everyone has the same (limited) access to others. Having a camera turned on is a must have! Have a look at other remote-first tips

What's next

All team members agreed that it's definitely worth continuing with these kinds of meetings. So plan the next one! Notes from the meeting could be a useful reminder about what to talk about next time. Again, it could be just a trigger for other discussions.

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