Can you build strong relationships in a distributed team?

Running a distributed team is not without it’s challenges. One of the problems a leader can face by running a distributed team is the potential to lose the opportunities for relationship building that comes with gathering together in person day in, day out. 

There’s no denying that when people all gathered together in a centralised office, there are multiple natural opportunities for connections and even friendships to develop. We run into each other and chat in the lift, in the kitchen, waiting at the printer, the water cooler, waiting for all attendees to arrive before meetings start, grabbing an impromptu lunch or coffee together. These incidental conversations happen effortlessly and all help to build rapport and trust and connect with one another on a deeper level. 

This opportunity to build relationships naturally and incidentally, can be completely lost in a distributed team environment.

Leaders need to think of ways in which to build it into the day-to-day running of their teams. When we are all working virtually, meetings are set up and there is more pressure on people to ‘get straight to business’ as soon as the meeting starts, eliminating the opportunity to create meaningful connections with those we are working with.

In the office the question “how are you going?” is a genuine one, as we feel less ‘on the clock’ and more inclined to answer genuinely. When faced with an online meeting, we tend to be less inclined to ‘check-in’ with one another in a genuine and meaningful way. “How are you doing?” or “how was your weekend” is often answered with an abrupt “great thanks” before we jump into the business of doing business. But at what cost? When it comes to running a distributed team, it is up to the leader to realise the value in meaningful off-the-cuff conversations and to weave them into a virtual workplace culture.

Find ways to check in with your distributed team.

It is important for leaders to find to ensure that these incidental moments for human connection aren’t lost altogether. Here are a couple of practical ways in which you can achieve a deeper connection with your team and work on building stronger relationships; 

1. Have a real personalised answer ready to go to answer the “how’s it going?” question at the beginning of the call to take the conversation to a deeper level.

Allow at least 5 minutes to check in with the meeting attendees (obviously the more attendees, the more time to allocate).

Before delving into the contents of the meeting straight away, make a habit of having something that is real that you can offer that takes the conversation to the next level. And don’t rush through this, there needs to be enough time and space around this ‘check in’ time to keep it meaningful and thought-provoking, not just another thing to tick off on the agenda. Here’s some ideas:

  • My son is going through his first heartbreak (is my current example)
  • I was listening to a podcast last night that blew my mind. What they were saying was …
  • My wife and I have just finished binge watching …
  • I’m really struggling with finding a routine that works for me when being in lockdown
  • I’m trying to find an alternative form of exercise that is Lockdown approved that is not just walking.

2. Alternatively, introduce a ‘Check-In Question of the Day’ that you ask at the beginning of the call/ meeting.

Let everyone take a turn to answer without feeling they have to rush through. “Okay, our check-in question of the day today is …”. Some people may rush through or feel awkward at first, but with time and patience this practice will hopefully make your team more relaxed around one another and act as an ice-breaker to meetings. This kind of informal chat will become more enjoyable and something that can establish a sense of team spirit with your distributed team. And don’t forget you need to be ready with an answer as well!

Some questions could be; 

  • What is something that made you smile recently?
  • What has been puzzling you recently?
  • What is something that you have learned in the last week?
  • What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?
  • What is a piece of music that instantly reminds you of a moment in time/a story? Name the piece of music and tell us the story about the time it reminds you of.
  • What is something that you have bought or been given recently that you are absolutely loving at the moment?
  • What are you most enjoying about lockdown?
  • What are you most looking forward to about being out of lockdown?
  • What is something about you that no one in this meeting knows?
  • What is your number one tip for combatting distractions when working from home?
  • What is the best book you have ever read?
  • Apart from walking how are you exercising?
  • What is something that a person would wear, say or do that would make you walk out on a date with them?
  • The zombie apocalypse is coming who are three people that we both know that you want on your team and why?
  • Show us a photo of you that is older than 10 years ago and tell us about where and when it was taken
  • What is the most embarrassing fashion trend that you used to absolutely rock?
  • What is your go to Karaoke song?
  • What activity do you think you could absolutely own everyone in on this call?

Nothing beats real-life gatherings, and now we are able to start travelling and moving freely around our world, it is vital you also organise face-to-face connections as well. A good team building catch up can be a wonderful springboard for a good few months, or even a year, for a distributed team. Having a connected team filled with trust and strong bonds is an important goal for any leader. 

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’ll share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.

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