It’s becoming increasingly clear that virtual work is by-no-means a good substitute for in-person connection among teams, and that morale easily can suffer and team culture break down.

Given that (1) conventional, in-person approaches to building teams aren’t possible right now and (2) there isn’t the time or attention span to do extensive team-building exercises online, what can we do?

In my view, the answer is “virtual-micro-team-building.” It’s virtual by necessity. It’s micro because it has to be done incrementally, regularly and in small blocks of time. Done well, it becomes a stimulating, productive, and connecting part of the otherwise endless Groundhog Day-like flow of our virtual work lives.

In talking with colleagues and former participants in my IMD executive education programs, I’ve heard a lot about creative ways leaders are keeping their teams connected. So I decided to reach out to the participants in my IMD Transition to Business Leadership Program and invite them to share ideas with me. Then I compiled them into the list below.

Check-ins and variations – Launch meetings by giving people a chance to connect personally.

  • Always have the 1st item on meeting agendas be “how are you?” and give people a safe environment in which to respond authentically
  • Have team members share up to 3 slides about key events – professionally or personally – that happened to them in last week
  • Have team members use the whiteboard to draw about something important that has happened recently, and keep the collected drawings
  • Do a round-table check-in on how the team feels that collaboration is working and what improvements could be made

Pictures that reveal – Ask team members to select pictures or set up their real backgrounds to show something interesting. You can use the virtual background feature on Zoom (or equivalent) or you can ask for images in advance and put them together on the whiteboard (for example, a compilation of photos of team members’ pets).

  • Favorite sports team
  • Favorite place to vacation
  • Favorite food
  • Favorite movie or streaming series
  • Someone whom you admire, and the impact they had on you
  • The location where you were born, and what you remember about it
  • Your parents/grandparents
  • Your children
  • The best city in the world
  • The first record you ever bought (or the first song you streamed)

Connecting questions – Ask team members to share things about themselves that wouldn’t normally be obvious.

  • What superpower would you select if you could have one?
  • Tell us about your favorite pet when you were growing up
  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • What is your favorite thing to do (hobby, activity) outside work, and when did you start doing it?
  • Have you started doing something new since COVID-19?
  • What is one book you recommend, and why?
  • Why were you given your name (or do you have a second name)?
  • Do you or did you have a nick-name?
  • (For multi-cultural teams) How do you say (hello, goodbye, thank you. something else) in your first language?

Pauses that refresh – Take short breaks that get people away from work for a short time.

  • Develop a list of quick activities you can do together like: mindfulness pauses, water breaks, exercising, etc.
  • Take short exercise breaks, perhaps using an app such as Pleaz to provide suggestions.
  • Have someone play DJ and select music during breaks between topics

Polls that provoke – Use the polling feature on your platform to ask provocative (but not too provocative) questions or setup other fun contests.

  • Which of the following is/was the best male/ female athlete, actor, other?
  • Which of the following is the best city?
  • Leverage an online quiz app such as Kahoot
  • Have a contest who has the best/most interesting/funniest individual background

Special-guest appearances – Ask one team member to make a short introduction at the start of each meeting.

  • Family members
  • Pets
  • An object, and why it is important

Going on tour – Ask one team member to show something of interest in their immediate virtual vicinity.

  • A place within their home that is interesting and explain why
  • What the weather is like outside

I hope you find some of these helpful for engaging and motivating your teams. I’m sure there are many more. I’m also sure that some readers are not fans of this sort of activity at all and still find good ways to motivate their teams.