Most people don’t usually enjoy team building activities. You might get them to play along in team building games, and for some teams that may work, but they would rather be elsewhere. These are usually management driven team building activities. Management decides what they are going to do, what activities will be occurring, what speaker is coming in to tell you all about the new way of working with teams that sounds a lot like the method you heard last year.
I have telecommuted for several years in several different companies in employee roles and contract roles. I have a former manager and former teammates that I sent pictures of my newborn daughter to and I never met them in person. I also have former managers and teammates I did work with in person and I never talk to them anymore.
The key difference was how well I got to know them as a person. How can you have a cohesive and well-functioning team if the only thing that is discussed is work? You can’t really. A team needs to bond, they need to trust each other, and they need to work well with each other. Too often in telecommuting roles, you miss out on that team building experience. Even in single office building teams, there is no direction or encouragement of the team bonding experience except sometimes through team building activities that most people hate. Actual team building is mostly left up to purely accidental encounters or so-called “Watercooler Moments.”
The Meeting About Nothing
The “Meeting About Nothing” is intended to be a way to encourage team building without making it mandatory or tainted with company oversight.
Team Size and Timebox: It should be at least a 30-minute meeting with between 5-10 people who could benefit from a closer working relationship. Ideally, it should occur at least once a month. With teams larger than 10 people, create multiple sub-teams to each hold a Meeting About Nothing and switch out members of the sub-teams every 6 months between the people on the whole team.
Refrain From Involving Managers: Managers should support and assist in the creation of the meeting. In most cases, managers should probably not be involved in attending or facilitating the meetings themselves. Managers should stick to the one on one sessions and encouraging thoughtful and proactive communication. However, in some situations, a managers presence might make sense, it should be more up to the team to decide if the manager should come. Perhaps on a quarterly or half-year basis, the manager can be invited.
The manager should not ever be informed of who is not attending. Managers should only be told of the conversations that are going on if those conversations are in the more off-limits realm of professional environments or the topics are illegal or dangerous. The team should moderate themselves and work to prevent those conversations from occurring, but if they do occur they should be reported per the organizational policy.
Voluntary Priority: No one should be forced to attend. Once someone decides they want to attend, it should be a priority that comes before other meetings. You should not miss the meeting. People should be encouraged to attend at least once to see if they like going. Team Building and creating a cohesive team is not a one size fits all solution. What works for one team, won’t work for all teams.
Not everyone will want to attend and that should be accepted.
The Nothing Facilitator: The meeting facilitator should be a member of the team. It can be an elected role and you only have one facilitator, it probably should be a role that is rotated among team members. This gives everyone some experience in leadership and organizing a meeting that they may not always or typically get anywhere else. It also prevents new people from coming in and resenting the same facilitator being present every month that they didn’t vote for. If someone does not want to be a facilitator, they should be allowed to pass.
The Nothing Facilitator creates the meeting and invites the attendees. It is their job to keep the conversation going. They should come up with topic areas or items to be discussed as optional conversation points and can be things like recent events in people’s lives, what they are working on, why they came to join the company, or does anyone have any unusual talents. It is only the facilitator’s job to keep things going, not the facilitator’s job to keep people on the chosen topics.
It is a meeting about nothing, not a meeting about the chosen topics. You may prepare 5 things in advance and not get to cover any of them. That is okay, the facilitator just needs to have the topics ready in case the conversation stagnates. Save them for the next time they are the facilitator or give them to the next facilitator.
- Recent events in people’s lives – new babies or grandbabies, kids graduating, new pets, vacations, and if comfortable with it being shared, family deaths.
- What are people working one that is exciting them, what are they looking forward to doing, what are their ultimate goals?
- Find a short, funny, and appropriate video to share with the group.
- What did they learn in college or high school that helped them the most in their role?
- Have a presenter record a presentation that is less than 5 minutes on new company developments or a work topic and ask what people think.
Playing Games: You can choose to play team building games or variations of Agile games – if that works for the group of attendees. Not everyone enjoys these games and the goal is to try and make the meeting enjoyable for as many people as possible so they want to keep coming back.
The purpose of the Meeting About Nothing is to help create those watercooler moments and have the team engage and interact more with each other without a specific work-related objective in mind. Some telecommuters report loneliness as being a problem, this may help combat some of that as well.