Virtual Icebreakers For Remote Teams

If you’re looking for a fun way to start a meeting, try any of the following icebreaker questions (listed in no particular order):

  1. What was a favorite moment of [insert any time frame]?
  2. What was your first job?
  3. What is your favorite food? Drink?
  4. Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?
  5. What is your favorite smell?
  6. Do you have any pets?
  7. What is your favorite color?
  8. Show your home on google maps and describe your environment: do you live near the city center? A park? A climbing gym? (courtesy of Morgan Legge)
  9. What is your favorite movie?
  10. Do you have a favorite music group, era or album?
  11. When I dance I look like _______.
  12. Share a favorite memory that includes food (courtesy of Sarah Baca)
  13. What is the story of your name? (courtesy of Dr. Clue)
  14. Take a picture from your window and have people guess where you are.
  15. Show any picture from your life and tell the story behind it.
  16. What does the weather look like where you are? (pro tip: use pictures for more fun)
  17. What is your favorite comic strip?
  18. Create a video tour of your house. Each person on the team creates a short video tour of where they live.
  19. Try the “Never have I…” game (but remember to keep it PG and work-related ;).
  20. Share a tour of your hometown via YouTube video (for example, on the Management 3.0 team there are people from ReginaNulandEspoo, and Colorado Springs).
  21. Present your hobby.
  22. Get inspired by Meeting Spicer by Dov Tsol
  23. What’s on your bucket list?
  24. Collect everyone’s baby pictures and try to guess who’s who
  25. Ask everyone to draw a picture of _______ – and then share their versions with the group.
  26. Throwback time – ask everyone to bring a picture of themselves from X number of years ago.
  27. “Two truths and a lie”: ask everyone on the team to write down two true statements and one false statement and give them to one person. That person then reads out the statements and the team guesses whose they are – and then tries to guess which statement is false.
  28. Learn each other’s language. For example, during every meeting, learn 1 new word.
  29. Take a picture of your shoes. Do your virtual colleagues wear flip-flops, shoes, slippers, go barefoot?

Original article can be found here: https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/44-icebreakers-for-virtual-teams/

Remote Teams and Virtual Facilitation

Interesting article from Ram Srinivasan with some great tips on working with distributed teams, including research why having co-located teams is better can be found: https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/remote-teams-and-virtual-facilitation

Here are my major takeaways.

  • Facilitator tip – Rather than merely trying to replicate a technique that works for  in-person meetings, try to deconstruct why that technique works and reconstruct that technique for virtual meetings
  • Participate in the virtual meeting with the same level of attention (or more) and engagement as though it is an in-person meeting (that means no multi-tasking)
  • There is a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to virtual meetings  – you experience poor virtual meetings, you expect bad meetings, you get bad meetings, and the cycle perpetuates itself
  • Set expectations upfront – very clearly and this is how you break the self-fulfilling prophecy
    • Ban phone only meetings, use videos for ALL the meetings.
      • People get a lot of cues when seeing the face and having a video helps in non-verbal communication, not to mention that it actually engages people
      • Have you heard the toilet flushing sound when in conference calls(because someone forgot to mute their phone)? Bet you will not hear that when you have your participants turn on the video.
    • You got to be on the video, else we close the meeting right away. You join on video, else you don’t. Period.
    • You got to join the meeting from a quiet place, not “dial-in” it from the bus when you are on your way home. And you must be on the video. Period.
    • Even if one person breaks the expectations once, we close the meeting right away. We break it once, it is an excuse to break it the second time and we are back with the self-fulfilling prophecy of bad virtual meetings
  • Normalize the communication channels – One person is remote? Then everyone is joining remotely using their own video from their laptop.  Two people cannot join using the same video. Don’t have a camera? GET ONE !!
  • Facilitator and participant tip – try having the video right below the camera (than having the video on a different screen) in your laptops/computer. It creates an impression that you are looking into the camera when you are looking into the video
  • In-person meetings and co-located teams work because we “socialize” quite a bit. Try having some “social” time in virtual meetings as well. Try “bring your own cider” (the choice of drink will depend on the timezone of the participants)
  • As a facilitator, you got to have everyone engaged – here are a few tips
    • Get everyone on video.
      • This minimizes the participants’ tendency to multi-task
      • This also prevents people from anonymously snooping in. Have you had people join a conference call and not announce themselves?  Will you let someone walk into your in-person meeting with a mask on? If no, why would you have someone snoop into your virtual meeting?
    • Avoid PowerPoints – it is just one-way broadcast. Use tools that support “virtual” break-out rooms.
    • Increase psychological safety (more on this in a different blog later) so that people can actually speak up.
  • Facilitator tips –
    • Like my friend Mike Dwyer says – use the NOSTUESO rule – No One Speaks Twice Until Everyone Speaks Once.  And the participant has the right to pass.  This creates space for people to speak up.  Also, if participants speak up in the first five minutes, they are much more likely to speak again.
    • Hard to pass a talking stick and figuring out who should talk next in a virtual meeting when facilitating round-robin discussion – try this idea –  Have a participant speak and then nominate the next person. And repeat till everyone speaks
    • Prepare… prepare… prepare. You cannot wing a virtual meeting. You need more preparation. And you need a Plan B as well. What if the internet connection fails? What if your laptop crashes?
    • Pay attention to discomfort – participants can only sit in once place for so long
    • Bring psychological safety and engagement from everyone into the working agreement.  What might be the few ways that we damage psychological safety (sometimes unconsciously)?
    • Have someone paraphrase what a speaker said. This makes people pay more attention and also ensures that the speaker’s message landed as intended
    • If appropriate, use tools like https://www.mentimeter.com/ or https://kahoot.com/ to increase engagement during the meeting by having participants answer questions.
  • When women speak first, the probability that other women speak is higher.
  • Remote meetings are a lot smaller than in-person meetings. It is hard to have more than 12 people in a virtual meeting (and then expect them to be engaged). If you are new start with six, then build up.

Liberating Structures and (distributed) Scrum Events

For an upcoming meetup I’m preparing a session on how to use LS for Scrum Events and especially events where the participants are distributed and joining the event remotely.

Here’s a brief overview of some LS that can be used for the different Scrum events. I’ve marked all structures with an * that I’ve used myself in a distributed setting.

Refinement / Planning

Daily Scrum

Sprint Review

Sprint Retrospective

On the liberating Structures website you can find a design checklist for virtual meetings. Since the link is currently no longer working, you can find the document here: