Team Builders for Remote Group Work

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The traits of high-performing teams include having effective communication abilities, diverse competencies, and strong bonds of trust (Larson & LaFasto, 1989). Team building is an umbrella term for various reflective and collaborative activities that enhance social relations. Team builders improve group performance by building positive relationships among group members.

Teams who are unable to meet face to face must overcome various scheduling, meeting, and other interpersonal barriers (Oertig & Buergi, 2006), making team builders especially valuable remote group work. In-class activities that support group work may bolster student perceptions of fairness when assessments are group-based (Burdett, 2005). By encouraging students to focus on team building, faculty can create the conditions for successful teamwork in classes with group assignments.

Chalkboard drawing with a team of people and the word Teamwork underlined
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Below is a selection of remote team building activities once groups are assigned. Most only require use of simple features in a remote synchronous meeting platform. Debriefing the activity as a class is critical to reinforce learning. Links are provided with more detailed activity instructions to ensure these team builders run smoothly in remote classes.

Click the accordion buttons (+) below for more information.

Relationship Building

Draw a Tree: The goal of this activity is to raise awareness of being mindful of others in the group. Using a whiteboard, group members work together to draw a tree (realistic or abstract). As groups draw, the professor points out that the root system is not drawn. De-brief on the importance of recognizing what may be out of sight (selective thinking), and how to prevent that habit in group work. See more: Draw a Tree (by Thiagi Group).

A variation is to have students think about how group work could be represented visually, then have students create collaborative doodles on one or more shared documents. See more: Doodling Together by Anja Ebers.

Heard, Seen, Respected: The goal of this activity is to practice listening with empathy. In small groups, each participant tells a story about a time where they were not seen, heard, or respected. Group members listen without interruption, asking only clarifying questions. Everyone has an equal amount of time. Debrief the patterns that emerged and steps to ensure that students feel seen, heard, and respected in group work. See More: Heard, Seen, Respected (by Liberating Structures)

Communicating Effectively

Stinky Fish: The goal is to create strong lines of communication by sharing information. In groups, students share worries or concerns about certain issues, noting that problems often get worse if you don’t acknowledge and deal with it (i.e., as a fish that is not dealt with gets stinkier over time). Students draw a fish on a white board or annotate a screen shared image of a fish, then add what don’t like to talk about when it comes to group work (e.g., their stinky fish). Debrief by looking at patterns and brainstorming ideas to deal with the “stinky fish” once it’s on the table. Visit this link to download a fish template. See more: Stinky Fish (by Hyper Island)

Help Me, Help You: The goal is to improve team effectiveness through sharing and listening about how group members can help and be helped. In a breakout group, each group member shares one thing they could do to help out another team member and how another team member can help them. Team members should ask for clarification and ensure agreement. Requests should be specific, clear, doable, and documented. A follow up debrief reviews the list of what actions were taken. See more: What I Need From You (Liberating Structures) and Team of Two (by Nick Heap)

Celebrating Group Diversity

Single File: The goal is to build trust, practice dialogue, and understand that team members hold different views. In this activity, extreme statements are screen shared on opposite ends of the screen (e.g., I make decisions with my gut/I use logic to make decisions). Students must describe where they would place themselves between the extremes. They cannot occupy the same space, so no ties. Once every student has negotiated a space, they mark whiteboard with their names. Debrief the value of holding a range of traits on a single team, and how to discover another person’s perspective. See more: The Big Book of Conflict (2010) by M Scannell.

Appreciations Exercise: The goal is to hear strengths from others and acknowledge them to yourself, building motivation and self-confidence. In this activity, students type their names on different pages of a shared document. Each member group member writes a phrase or a few words about what they value most about that person with respect to the group project. Everyone reads their comments silently, then each recites to the group the one comment they appreciate the most. See more: Appreciations Exercise (by Nick Heap)

Identifying Skill Strengths

Leadership Pizza: This activity offers a self-assessment framework for effective leadership traits in groups. The group brainstorms the traits of good leaders, then selects 6 to 8. Each student in the group draws a circle with pizza slices on a piece of paper, labels each slice with a leadership trait, then ranks themselves by colouring in a section of the slices. Students take a photo of their pizza and upload them to a shared folder. Debrief the importance of different leadership strengths in a group. See more: Leadership Pizza (Robert from Session Lab)

Common, Uncommon: The goal is to discover strengths that may be utilized in different group roles. In this activity, a screen shared whiteboard or PowerPoint slide is divided in two, one half labelled Common and the other half labelled Uncommon. The group must agree on and list at least three strengths that everyone has in common. Then, each team member must discover one strength that no one else has in the group. The debrief may include pairing strengths to particular roles to carry out group assignments. See more: The Big Book of Conflict (2010) by M Scannell.

For more activity ideas for building community in remote courses, see The First Two Weeks: Ice Breakers in Remote Team Environments.

References

Burdett, J. (2007). Degrees of separation: Balancing intervention and independence in group work assignments (Report). Australia Educational Researcher, (34), 55–71. https://doi-org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/10.1007/BF03216850

Larson, C. E., & LaFasto, F. M. J. (1989). Sage series in interpersonal communication, Vol. 10. Teamwork: What must go right/what can go wrong. Sage Publications, Inc. 

Oertig, M., & Buergi, T. (2006). The challenges of managing cross‐cultural virtual project teams. Team Performance Management, 12: 23–30.

Scannell, M. (2010). The big book of conflict resolution games: Quick, effective activities to improve communication, trust, and collaboration. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Session Lab. (2018). Library of facilitation techniques.. https://www.sessionlab.com/

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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