I’ve spent the better part of 3 decades facilitating all different kinds of approaches to building high performance teams. And they’ve all had one thing in common: they were in person, whether outside on a ropes course or in a hotel or meeting room that was specially designed for interactions and building relationships.

If you were to ask me, if it was possible to build a team with people located remotely in different parts of the city, country, or world, I would have thought you were crazy!!!

Then, Coronavirus took us by storm and by surprise. All of my team building sessions were immediately postponed, or as it turns out – cancelled! Like so many other organizations needing to pivot in a way that required a true Breakthrough approach, I was faced with the need for a game changing paradigm shift like no other.

Fortunately, our approach to building high performance teams is unique and highly effective. We focus on teams creating a new Breakthrough State for themselves, which we refer to as B STATE. The central theme has less to do with styles, values, and relationships, and more to do with Collective Execution – the habits of behavior we use to accomplish business outcomes that drive success.

It took us the better part of three months to make the transition, but we did it. As a test pilot, we brought together a team of individuals who weren’t even a team to start with. They came from different parts of the US and Canada – some internal from large to small organizations, while others were independent consultants and coaches. We used Zoom and conducted the Team Sessions completely online.

There were four astonishing discoveries that I could never have predicted, and in fact, would have bet against if I was a betting man.

1. Intimacy was gained, not lost, by going virtual

Through the use of small group “breakout room” activities and a highly interactive process, people shared at the end of the program that they felt as close to others as they would in any in-person session. Why? One difference of using a virtual format is that when people are sharing, it is all up close. I don’t need to strain to see someone on the other side of the room or worse, looking at the back of their heads sitting around a table in front of each other. In a virtual video environment, you can see facial expressions, engagement, and reactions up close and personal.

2. Virtual Team Building is More Efficient and Saves Time

Of course, we all know about the obvious savings of time and money from not having to travel, especially for people located in different cities or countries. However, the actual session itself was completed in less time than doing the session in person where I’d have to run from small group to small group to see what they were accomplishing on their flip charts. In a virtual team building session, we used Google Docs and Forms so that we could observe different groups progress at the same time and could easily intervene if they were off-track in any way. In addition, people came more prepared, more focused, and more willing to contribute.

3. Participation from all team members was more balanced

Many groups have a mix of participants – outgoing who love to talk, quiet and analytical who love to sit back and observe, and those wanting to take control or use their voice to overpower others. In a virtual environment, there was less posturing, greater participation from everyone in attendance, and a reluctance from any one member to dominate discussions. There was more of an equal sharing of ideas, inputs, and even challenges to the status quo offered by all participants in attendance.

4. The Team Session has demonstrated Sustainable Success

Even though there was no stated agenda for this team to stay together after the team session (since it was an experiment and pilot program), all team members decided to stay connected as a team with a common purpose of support for one another. The team has continued to meet on a regular basis and participate in team activities, and individuals have reached out to one another for support and connection. We are approaching 4 months later, and everyone’s schedule has gotten busier as organizations are moving back to some level of normalcy, and the group is still together, supporting each other and taking their time to meet. I’ve had other team sessions lose energy by the 3rd month and have to get revitalized.

We have since developed a second team, and the impact was very similar to the first virtual program we did. While people still like the idea of meeting in person, the effectiveness and efficacy of the virtual approach to building a high performing team in which execution improves and business outcomes are achieved in full alignment was accomplished.

In B STATE, we are always shedding our old, outdated mindsets, and the past few months were an opportunity to do just that as we adopted a new approach that is not only more cost effective, time efficient, and healthier for all participating team members, it’s also more effective as a team building approach.