How to Celebrate Project Success with a Distributed Team

Once upon a time, when the world was young and co-workers shared the same four walls, we celebrated special occasions and important milestones together with games, food, and laughter.    However, for decades now we’ve enjoyed the geographical freedom brought on by digital communication, working anywhere in the world, courtesy of a simple data line or mobile hot spot, and with that, our professional relationships suffer, having lost our ability to celebrate together.  When we can’t meet up to raise a beer as one, how do we put the joy back in virtual team dynamics?

A recent conversation at the Virtual Facilitators Forum on LinkedIn tackled just this topic, yielding some exceptional suggestions that I’ll share with you here, with a nod to contributors Carl Dierschow, Steve Harrington, John Carroll, and Juliane Neumann.

Orchestrating a Virtual Celebration

Events to recognize accomplishments or commemorate momentous occasions help to forge stronger relationships.  Whether you’re celebrating the past or looking forward to the future, with a little planning you can use the occasion to build stronger connections among your virtual teammates.  What makes a virtual celebration successful?

A facilitated event. Every party needs a host, and your distributed celebration is no exception.  The facilitator helps participants to understand that this virtual meeting is different; making clear what is expected of them and leading the way into laughter and good times.

Painstaking planning of synchronous activities. With party-goers in different locations, it takes some forethought to give the sense of being together.  Give careful consideration to what you want to happen, in what sequence, and what participants can do or say to contribute to the observance and make an emotional connection. Think about the physical aspects of a celebration that can be coordinated to happen concurrently for each participating site.

Have fun. Your goal is to relax together, creating a casual, non-businesslike state for everyone attending this special event.  Word games and puzzles shared via web conference can generate laughter and get everyone involved.  With a webcam at each location the possibilities open up to include the visual component of games, watching each other perform or react.

Techniques

Sharing the same physical experience

If you have some time in advance, consider ways to allow the geographically disbursed party-goers to share in the same physical experience.   With advance planning you can all enjoy a pepperoni pizza at the same time or simultaneously open gifts or awards.

Team-Building

An efficient virtual party planner delegates some of the preparations.  Assign team members responsibility for producing artifacts for the celebration.  Here are a few examples:

  • Have a photo/graphics competition to design a project completion certificate that is printed and sent to each participant.
  • Paired assignments to express appreciation for the person being honored, to talk for 2 minutes to the group at large.
  • Collect photos for a personalized digital photo collage w/ names and pictures of people in a similar setting (e.g. in front of trees).
  • Create a group scrapbook in PowerPoint with each person responsible for producing 1 slide containing whatever they wanted – offering signatures, pictures, cartoons, poems, heart-felt messages to generate emotions – in video, audio, graphics, text format.

Your event doesn’t have to have a high price tag or special equipment.  Even without the webcam you can ask participants to stand up, to juggle, to high five virtual team members, to do the WAVE, trusting them to participate, knowing if they do that they are more at ease from the activity.  How about using the keypad on your phone to generate applause?  Create symbolic awards if your budget doesn’t allow real ones; one suggestion offered a picture of m&ms candies sent as a treat.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

Party Games

Say the colors that you see

In person we humans tend to get silly pretty quickly when playing games, and the same theory holds in virtual settings. Tap into that silliness with word games or optical illusions via web conferencing features – typing ideas in Chat, drawing Hangman or Pictionary on a shared whiteboard, or beating each other to the answer in a lightening round trivia poll.

Virtual dice and other digital forms of game pieces enable play under familiar rules.  Old favorites like “Truth or Dare” work great when video-enabled – sharing embarrassing stories or paying the price for silence with an on-camera handstand as penalty.

Case Studies

Professionals celebrate for a variety of reasons:

  • To get to know each other at the beginning of a project, looking forward to the future together.
  • To motivate workers while in the throes of hard work, recognizing team and individual achievements.
  • To give outlet to the bittersweet emotions when disbanding a team.
  • To share in the personal milestones of co-workers – birthdays, marriage, babies, promotion, retirement, and so on.

When a meeting of business people becomes a celebration, more people attend, and we can evoke emotions and build relationships when we do something that’s fun. Let’s think about how the techniques suggested earlier might be used in these four situations with a distributed project team, by considering the outcome of these case studies:

  • Project kickoff opening events taking place in multiple locations, serving breakfast pastries and orange juice on the West Coast while at the same time the East Coast savors wine and cheese.
  • A distributed team honored for exceptional performance.  Video conference with everyone at the “virtual table”, the leadership team giving an appreciation speech live, bonus awards handed out simultaneously in each location.
  • An off-shore development project coming to a close.   Team members electronically sharing a scrap-book of project memorabilia, a composite group photo, and telling stories of those “we’ll laugh about this later” moments and where they were headed next.
  • A virtual baby shower.  Sites linked via webcam sharing good wishes, playing conversation-based games, a round of Pictionary on a shared e-whiteboard, capped off with opening gifts (sent in advance) on camera, accompanied by much laughter and a few tears.

Find a Reason to Celebrate

A team becomes a team by binding their emotional capital to each other.  Finding ways to bond over pizza, sharing stories, or a little friendly competition can transform professionally-connected strangers into life-long colleagues and collaborators.   Now you can give that a try with your next geographically distributed team.  Go on – throw a virtual party and bring some joy into your long distance business relationships.

>>Learn More About Being a Virtual Business Analyst

Architecting a Requirements Workshop that Connects Your Distributed Team

How to Get More Participation in Virtual Meetings

How to Elicit Requirements from Distributed Teams? Virtual Brainstorming!


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Comments

  1. We, for example, do not always have the opportunity to have parties or give “offline” presents. For that, we probably have more reasons to celebrate than in a normal / regular company. Since we constantly communicate in Slack, as well as discuss there all the working issues and progress of the sprints, we connected the bot there https://standuply.com It helps us not only to implement the agile methods but also allows us to encourage employees/team. Yes, at first it seems that live communication is better, and the first messages from the bot are perceived unnaturally, but then you get used to it and it becomes as a member of the team to some extent. For me personally, it was a fun experience.

  2. How does that song go? “…Gonna have a party tonight… this I know…. ” etc. (pardon the lapse into boomer R’n’R)

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