How to Build your Team Virtually

In this Bryce Weinert (Teambuilding), who's organising teambuilding activities for companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and NASA, shares some same really interesting insights on building teams virtually.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Bryce, welcome to the studio.

Good morning. Hello. Nice to be here.

Your company is organizing team buildings for companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, NASA. Quite impressive companies, I think, for which building strong teams is very important.

Yes, absolutely. We have excellent clients. We're really happy and proud to be working with companies like Facebook, NASA, Google. We know how important it is for those big, global companies to have a strong team base. And for teams across the world to be able to reach across the internet and connect with each other.

Yes, during the pandemic, like many companies, you went virtual with many team buildings. But maybe you already did that because you also had global customers. Or was it a totally new trend for you guys?

It was a totally new trend. Prior to March 2020 we did all our teambuilding in person. So we were limited to cities in the United States. It was kind of just luck and also having, like, a really good base of facilitators, of creative organizers, of creative content makers that allowed us to have that transition into the virtual space. In March 2020. And it felt pretty seamless. We were able to take the lessons learned from teambuilding in person and turn some of those lessons into a great virtual experience.

And when we talk about a great virtual experience, what makes an online teambuilding or event...

It can be broader than teambuilding per se. What makes it a good experience?

Well, anybody who's had a family happy hour or a friend group chat via Zoom over the pandemic knows that it's really to have a fun, satisfying, social event online. So we learned a lot of lessons. Kind of the big one is that, if you're going to run teambuilding virtually, you need someone very organized to be in charge. Organic experiences are hard to have. Online. Body language is harder to read. Communication is harder to manage and connect with. So it's really important to have what I call a meeting manager. Somebody to facilitate, to MC, to make sure know what's happening when.

And aside from that, one of the things we believe in, in terms of online teambuilding, is: this virtual space is very strange. Because it connects people's professional life and personal life. People are in their own spaces. They're in their houses, they're in their apartment buildings.

And we embrace that in terms of our online team buildings. So these may be events that people are attending with their colleagues. They're a professional experience. But we love people when they show their pets. When they show things that relate to their personal life. Their hobby. Their joys. In our events. And really help bridge that gap between the professional and the personal.

But how do you do that? Because the theory sounds very good. But do you ask then: well, show your dog?

We literally do that. We do. So, if...

You may have just heard my cat meowing off-screen. If we were in an event and I was hosting, I would absolutely say: I heard that cat. Grab your cat. Let me see it. We've had children pop into events and that's great. We kind of bring them in. Like I said, when it comes to hobbies or your personal surroundings, we'll even say: show us the most interesting thing you have within arm's reach. People grab things and we talk about them. You know, ask them questions. We help teams that may know each other for years, professionally, see a different side of their colleagues. Just by, kind of, embracing that personal life.

Yes and that is then, also, what you mean with: you need that very good facilitator. Somebody who thinks about that kind of stuff and also makes it actionable.

Absolutely. We also follow what we call a scaffolding system. We really see that it's hard...

That some people don't, immediately, want to be big extraverts and share everything about themselves. Virtually. So we believe in the scaffolding system.

Where we start with what we call very greenlight interactions. These are interactions that you would have with literally everybody. So if I asked you: hey, what time is it? You'd feel completely comfortable telling me, right?

Yes, no problem with that.

If I ask you: what did you have for breakfast? That's also a greenlight experience. That's easy. People are willing to do that. Once you've established that trust base, with what we call these greenlight activities, you can ask people to get a little more personal. A little bit more willing to share things about themselves.

So after we've had a bit of a report, I might say: all right, show me the coolest you have within arm's reach. I'm going to grab something within my arm's reach. Example: I pulled a model of a Tardis. For the nerds to have on their desk. It's from the Doctor Who. And now you know a little bit about me. You know I am a little bit of a nerd. You know I like Doctor Who well enough to have it within arm's reach.

And then, after we've upped that kind of personal level, that connection, I might ask people to do what I call red-light things. So that gets people up and dancing. That gets people like wearing silly hats on their head. That just kind of builds the level of trust and interaction in our events. By kind of breaking it down into these different scaffolds. Into a way to build trust in a way that feels natural. And gets people out of their shells, slowly.

Yes, but I can imagine that that's not easy. Because I could follow you until the point: grab something nearby. But when you started saying: getting them dancing in front of their camera…

We absolutely get people dancing in front of their camera. But it takes trust. It takes...

You can't ask that to somebody: do that immediately. If you walk into an online event and the first thing you ask people to do is: get up and dance. Or: tell me about your biggest accomplishment this year. That's a lot to ask of people. And I've been to a lot of virtual events. Where they do kind of jump into that immediately. And you immediately have people say: wow, what is happening here? That's too much for me. And they kind of shut down for the rest of the event.

So by taking it slow, by building trust, with the people that you are teambuilding with. By actually like taking the time to build those teams, you can get people to do some fun, silly, wacky things in your virtual events.


Now, we've been talking about the host or the moderator. The facilitator who is very important. Building up that trust. But what does that look like? Is it then just having a conversation? Or are you already doing teambuilding, a game or whatever in the meantime?

It's both, actually. So, one of...

For my company, one of the things that we warn our facilitators about is that they turn into pocket-friends.

So we run ninety minutes events. So for those ninety minutes that facilitator in front of you should feel like a friend. And should be facilitating conversation. Asking questions. Like, maybe teasing lightly. But definitely never having silence. Always keeping the conversation going. Always being that MC, that facilitator for conversation flow.

But on the other hand people love games. People like gamifications. If you promise people points, that's absolutely the way to get people up and dancing. If we're playing a game together and I say: I will give you five points for your team if you show me your cat, people will 100% run to get their cat.

The cat might not like it but...

The cat's doing it for the team. The cat understands how important the points are too.


Now, you mentioned ninety minutes. Is that a good timeframe to have such a session with a team online?

I think that's the sweet spot for online teambuilding. We craft our events so that there is time, kind of in a big group, where everybody is interacting together. And then people have small team interactions inside breakout rooms. So there's a lot of movement between activities as a large group. Smaller activities with teams. And then coming back together and talking about what you did as a team. So it's not ninety minutes of staring at a grid of faces on a Zoom-screen. We definitely craft this so people are moving in and out of activities. People are changing at what they're doing. I read a statistic that people's attention span in Zoom-meetings is two minutes.

That's short.

It's incredibly short. So we try to do something different every two minutes. Whether that's changing an activity. Calling on somebody to interact. Having them get up and do something. So every two minutes something new is happening to re-engage people's attention. If you break ninety minutes down into two minute chunks it tends to fly by. If you're working on that granular level and how to keep people engaged.

Yes and is there then also room...

Because I'm trying to imagine what it looks like. Is there then also room for, for example, a presentation? Or is it completely focussed on building the team?

No, absolutely there's time for presentations, there's time for announcements. We really love a good video. We'll show that to break up the time. But it all should be in service of, kind of, creating those bonds, building those teams. So if you're going to have a fifteen minute presentation, during the middle of a teambuilding session, you should also think about how that's going to affect the energy of the group. The way their interaction...

So even if you're having a presentation, doing some things to engage people's attention, just asking them to type things in the chat...


And keep it under a maximum of two minutes.

Something should change every two minutes. So if you're giving a presentation and you know it's to take fifteen minutes, in your introductions, saying something like: where's everybody calling in from today, where is everybody joining in from today, and just having them type that in the chat is a simple way of keeping them engaged. Giving them actionable things to do. So it's not just passively watching a speech for fifteen minutes.

Yes. Maybe as a last question.

We've been talking about ninety minutes as being a sweet spot for the length. How many people could you have in that kind of session? Because you already gave a clue by saying: sometimes you need to break up in smaller groups. I think that's because in smaller groups you can do other things than with a big group. But what's your idea about that?

So our biggest event we've ever done had 450 people in it. And that took a lot of planning to make sure that all those people were engaged and interacting and happy. But that's an extreme amount of people.

But take that extreme example. If you have 450 people and you then do break-ups, to what group-size do you go down then?

So when we ran this event, we broke it into...

We had 45 minutes of kind of a big group activity. So we did have people giving a presentation, giving a speech, showing a video. And then we played a large group trivia. So, 450 people playing Japanese-style trivia, all-together, where they buzzed-in their answers. And then what we did, is: we broke into smaller breakout rooms. And by smaller I mean forty to fifty people.

That's still big, yes.

It's still pretty big. And then we engaged in activities with those forty to fifty people. So we were managing...

Let me do math really quick. It's early. I think about a dozen breakout rooms. Forty to fifty people. But they were all having a similar experience. So, afterwards, if they wanted to talk about what they did in their breakout room and how it compared, they had a point of common ground, of common conversation.

But that does also mean you need a dozen of facilitators to facilitate all those tracks.

We did, yes. 100%. And then, in addition to...

What we like to do in addition to our facilitator...

We want our facilitator to just focus on being that. That MC. That pocket friend. That big personality. So they're always supported by what we call a co-host. So somebody to manage the technology of Zoom. To worry about breakout rooms. To answer questions in the chat. If somebody's microphone isn't working. Of if they're on mute and they don't know how to get off. So that our facilitator just has to worry about facilitating conversation. Being that big personality. They don't have to worry about the organization.

Yes, makes sense. Makes sense.

Well, you shared a lot of very interesting tips, Bryce. Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you. It was wonderful being here. Just a pleasure. Thank you.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.