Go, Team, Go! Team Building During COVID

November 12, 2020

Team building during COVID may seem challenging considering social distancing. Here are some simple ways you can continue to unify your team.

Image of team building during COVID, with employee hands putting together different colored pieces of a puzzle.

I don’t know about you, but some people almost had me convinced that COVID would disappear after the election.  You know, POOF!  Well, that clearly isn’t the case.  In fact, cases are on the rise, and it’s a little unnerving.  Plus, since some sectors of the workforce are back on the jobsite, we worry about those workers’ health.  Although it won’t necessarily put an end to the pandemic, a positive attitude can go a long way during this time.  One way to encourage a positive attitude at work is by being intentional about making your team a cohesive unit.  So, try to push the worry aside for a moment and focus instead on team building during COVID.

Here are some COVID-approved team building activities that can help bind your employees together, and also improve the team’s overall attitude.

Image of a blackboard with the words "There's no I in TEAM" written in chalk.
Photo by Jeff Djevdet

There’s No “I” in Team Building

Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management explains, “[A] team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, knowledge and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal”.  With that in mind, it’s important to recognize a few points.

Remember These Things

First, individuals make up your team.  These are people who live their lives and make decisions based on what is best for them.  They are likely accustomed to being the boss of their day when they are not at work.  So, as you can imagine, that will always pose a bit of a challenge when working as part of a team. 

Second, the individuals bring a unique set of information, resources, knowledge and skills, as mentioned by Professor Thompson.  Not every person is qualified to the same degree or has the same amount of experience.  Nevertheless, each person on your team is important to his/her role. 

Third, despite differences among individuals, the goal should always be the same.  Only you can determine your team’s goal, but the goal should be clear and attainable.  Furthermore, you should communicate the goal upfront, and reiterate it on a regular basis.  Otherwise, you will simply have a group of discombobulated people arriving at work and floundering aimlessly.

Photo of the cover of a Krazy Glue box.
Photo by Mike Mozart | Source

Finally, although Professor Thompson doesn’t necessarily mention it in the quote, someone needs to be the Kragle in the team.  (What?  You don’t know what the Kragle is?  Well, do yourself a favor and watch The Lego Movie.)  Basically, it’s up to you to be the Krazy Glue and help foster team building during COVID. 

The Unique COVID Environment

Now, it goes without saying that work is a little different during the pandemic.  Where once the goal was to get the job done, now the goal is to get the job done meanwhile reducing the risk of transmitting the virus.  So, team building during COVID is certainly a little different than it was in the past.  In other words, trust falls are out of the question.  I’m pretty sure social distancing poses a problem when trying to catch someone who is falling backwards, eyes closed.

With that in mind, it’s necessary to get a little creative with ideas for team building during COVID.  Again, all activities need to be considered with the risk of virus transmission continuously in focus.

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Team Building Activities

If you want zero risk in your team building activities, keep it all virtual.  For example, you can assign one person each week to send out a quote to the rest of the team.  The quote can be motivational, funny, or thought-provoking.  Encourage employees to avoid anything controversial or politically-charged, however!  Allow team members to comment or add to the thought.  Sometimes opening the floor to amicable dialogue is a simple way to encourage bonding among people.

Community-Centric Team Building

Photo of boxes of canned goods, which is an idea for a good team building event by doing a food drive.
Photo by Libertyeagle | Source

A great way to encourage team building during COVID is to look out into the community.  What kinds of things can you do locally to help ease some of the burden people are feeling during the pandemic?  For example, are there programs set up to provide basic necessities like food and toiletries to people who are out of a job?  Or, are local restaurants in need of patrons to keep their doors open?

So, one idea is to consider doing a drive.  For example, make it a goal to raise a certain number of non-perishable items for the local food bank.  You can either rival another department within your company, or have employees on your team compete against one another.  A little friendly competition is a great way to foster team building!

Another idea is to make a goal of eating local, instead of eating at a national chain restaurant.  Sure, Applebee’s may grill up your favorite sirloin, but hopefully you’ll be willing to branch out and try a local eatery for the sake of team building.  You could have a weekly restaurant review, acting as critics, bringing all your new-found foodie expertise to the table.

Sweating It Out Through Team Building

One thing many people underestimate is the power of blood, sweat and tears to bring people together.  It doesn’t have to be blood, sweat, and tears all at the same time.  That just sounds messy!  Furthermore, exposure to bodily fluids are quite risky during the pandemic.  Rather, it can be blood and sweat during one team building event, and sweat and tears during another.

A good way to get out your sweat and tears is by training for and racing in a local 5k.  The 5k is long enough that most people will need to do a little activity, but short enough that it won’t require the commitment of a marathon.  Employees will commiserate during training, then celebrate together once they cross the finish line.  If you can’t find traditional races, remember that virtual road races are a risk-free alternative.  Plus, getting out in the fresh air is a great way to beat the COVID blues.

Photo of workers doing a team building event by partnering with Habitat for Humanity.
Photo by Sandia Labs | Source

Now for the blood and sweat piece.  Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations that put a hammer in minimally-experienced hands, is the perfect example of non-profit that fosters team building with some blood and sweat involved.  Don’t worry—it’s not guaranteed that you’ll bleed.  If you do, however, you’ve been warned.  Luckily, most people survive their team-building-related injuries, so that should be reassuring.  Anyway, putting on your toolbelt and working for a common goal really unites people, and also shines a light on hidden skills your employees may have.    

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Team Building in the Virtual Realm

While it’s possible to do all these team building activities during COVID, there will be employees who will feel any one of them is just too risky.  That is entirely understandable, as no two people seem to feel the same sense of worry when it comes to the pandemic.  So, be prepared to offer modifications for those who feel nervous about in-person team building experiences.  For example, if your team decides to partner with Habitat for Humanity, assign one person to Facetime for a few minutes with an employee who opts out.  That way, the employee can see what’s going on, have an opportunity to ask questions or provide encouragement, and hopefully feel like they are a part of the experience.

Also, take into consideration that not everyone will be thrilled to partake in certain activities, such as running a 5k.  While you may find ultra trail running to be a cake walk, some people may think it sounds a little daunting.  So, really get to know your employees, and make a point of polling them before making a final decision on team building during COVID. 

Go, Team, Go!

In summary, COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, so don’t wait for the end of the pandemic to focus on team building. The activity you choose to do together doesn’t need to be a massive undertaking, and you can opt for a risk-free activity together.  You can do something as simple as having a different team member send out an encouraging or humorous quote each day or weekly.  Or, you can go big by doing a supplies drive, a race, or partnering to provide labor to a local non-profit.  The options are limitless!  Well, they are limited to doing them in a COVID-safe capacity, but otherwise fairly wide open. 

Hopefully you won’t let the pandemic keep you from creating a sense of unity with your employees.  The pandemic may be seeking to keep people apart, but there are ways we can all stay together if we get a little creative and make it a priority.

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