Top 4 Remote Team Building Exercises

Many things that you do in an on-site model translate readily to the remote world, but it’s important to be deliberate in making that translation. As my coauthor Kim Shepherd and I argue in Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, creating and maintaining an effective remote or hybrid model requires a good bit of thought, and new ways of thinking. One thing everyone should be deliberate about is remote team building, and these four exercises work well for virtual or mixed teams. They are a lot of fun while also being great for morale and productivity.

Scrum planning

As a Scrum Master, I use the word “scrum” here in the original sense: a group of people piling in to take on an issue, without a lot of structure or protocol to get in the way (think of a rugby scrum). The game/exercise promotes brainstorming and idea sharing.

To start, divide your remote workers on the conference call into small teams of four to six. Each team then takes on a hypothetical challenge and, after an hour, they share their solutions with the larger group. The solutions may be hypothetical, but every time we do this with remote team members at PeopleG2, I get great ideas — in fact, I keep them in a notebook and we’ve implemented many of them over the years.

Some potential challenges:

  • How will we respond if a competitor takes away 30% of our market share?
  • How will we respond if revenues suddenly jump by 40%?
  • Imagine you have $1 million dollars to invest in improving the company. What are five ways the group would spend it?

In creating the challenges, provide a box so big that your people have to really stretch to think outside it. You can take advantage of platforms like Zoom, Teams and Slack, where you can create breakout rooms for the small teams. As you form the teams, make them cross-functional so that remote employees learn more about what other departments do. For example, an engineer may gain insight into what goes on in accounting.

What the heck do you do, anyway?

In a lot of companies, coworkers are like estranged neighbors; they talk about the weather but never really engage in icebreaker questions or personal details. Understanding the roles and goals of co-workers contributes to a more closely knit team. This two-part virtual activity is intended to do just that.

During a virtual meeting, ask each person to write down what they think each other person in the meeting does in their day-to-day job. If the group is large, give each person three others to write about, and make sure they are in different departments. Now have each person share what they wrote. Invariably, many of the descriptions are inaccurate. There are some chuckles and looks of exasperation among team members as the truth comes out.

Then comes the fun part. Ask each person to describe their own role and up to five things that are mission-critical goals for them. Now the response from their co-workers is amazement and shock. ‘I had no idea you did that!’ is something you’re bound to hear. The exercise can increase the collective IQ of your organization, build relationships, and make interpersonal interactions smoother.

Designate the Devil

This virtual team building event encourages people to be honest and forthcoming as your team addresses challenges. During a meeting, choose an agenda item for the game, and assign each member, at random, to take a pro or con stance. They should come prepared to argue their side. Additionally, secretly designate one or two people to play the part of the devil. During the conversation, the devils must steadfastly contest whatever the group’s consensus is or what the boss is articulating.

When we do this at virtual events for PeopleG2, the ideas start flying. Of course, the devils bring up problems and disagree with the group — but others do, too. When we finish, I ask everyone to guess who played the devil. Some get it right and others miss it. Without this type of practice, people might go along with things they are not really okay with, or might hesitate to dole out negative thoughts.

This promotes transparency. I believe so strongly in the importance of transparency that I named it the first of the seven pillars of culture success in my book, The Power of Company Culture: How any Business can Build a Culture that Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits. Transparency is not just about passing along pleasant information. It must include the freedom to express unwelcome news and alternate opinions.

Bucket list

Before this exercise, ask all participants working from home to send the top three items from their bucket list to the facilitator only. During the video call, the facilitator reveals each set of three, one by one, and participants guess whose list it is. At the end, the person who gets the most correct guesses wins a gift card or other prize. The real benefit, of course, is that coworkers learn some things about each other that they may not otherwise learn.

As with What the Heck Do You Do, this exercise can make interpersonal interactions smoother and more productive. People may find out that others share common interests, and that may spark friendships, which are very important in a healthy culture. Some examples of bucket list items: “Hear live jazz in New Orleans,” “See the northern lights firsthand,” “Go to a Super Bowl” and “Skydive.”

What kinds of virtual team building games or hybrid team building activities do you find valuable? (Virtual escape rooms? Virtual happy hour?) If you want to share them, please join the Remote Work Movement community on Slack. It’s a great place for sharing real time ideas for employee engagement and solutions for better ways of leading and working in a remote model, all through a Slack channel. Sign up at