Most of us work in an office, and that means most of us have coworkers. We chat with them about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, and we talk about who we think will win the World Series. At lunch, we may ask if anybody in the office wants something from the fast food chain down the street. But while all those things indicate a basic ability to be polite to each other, none of those really make an office into a team. If there’s not a general spirit of collaboration and mutual respect that extends beyond things like lunch and TV shows, then the office won’t be working at full strength. That’s especially important if members of your staff often travel a lot or have to work with other team members in other parts of the country or world. Distance makes things a bit trickier, but it doesn’t mean the office (or collection of offices) is doomed to function as just a bunch of separate pieces rather than one cohesive whole.
Saying the word, “team-building exercises,” can make some people panic. They’re afraid they’ll have to do that trust exercise where one person falls backwards into a waiting co-worker’s arms, or something else that requires a lot of physical touch. That doesn’t have to be the case, luckily. Team-building should be about building an appropriate level of emotional intimacy rather than grabbing each other. No one should be sharing deepest, darkest secrets, but it’s not a bad idea to learn more about each other when possible. Once every month or two, consider having team-building time for an hour or so at the beginning of the workday. Doing it when people are still drinking coffee and waking up is a better idea than at the end of the day when everyone is tired and dragging. Minds will be sharper at 8 or 9 a.m. than they will be at 3 or 4 p.m. And make sure to have plenty of coffee and some breakfast options, too, if possible. One classic icebreaker game is Two Truths and a Lie. In it, people take a few minutes to write down three things about themselves, one of which is not true. Then their coworkers try to guess the lie, usually in small groups, although it can be done as one large group too, even though that takes longer.
Technology allows for people to connect with each other like never before in human history. If you live on the West Coast and your parents are on the East Coast, you can FaceTime or Skype with them rather than just calling them on the phone. The technology that works well for our personal lives should also be utilized for our work lives. We’re all used to conference calls, but they’re not right for every situation. In some cases, you can get quicker, more immediate results by using video conferencing from a company like Polycom. It means a lot to be able to see someone’s face and look her in the eye, even if she’s in Phoenix and you’re in Atlanta. You can tell a lot about a person by his or her body language, which means people will be able to pick up on certain cues more quickly using video conferencing than they would in a simple phone call. Video conferencing and similar kinds of technology are helpful reminders that you’re talking to a person rather than just a voice.