Virtual Team Building, Does it Work?

October 8, 2009   |   AUTHOR: Julius Solaris   |   POSTED IN: team building

This post is by Anne Thornley-Brown, President, Executive Oasis International, specialists in team building. Anne is @executiveoasis on Twitter. Meet the rest of the team!
Fully customizable virtual simulations are transforming the team building landscape, breaking down barriers and making it possible for teams at different locations to participate in engaging and interactive experiences. But, are cool animations and eye-popping graphics are enough to produce effective team building?

tips-for-virtual-teambuilding
Photo by Torley via Flickr

As soon as you receive your brief case and Mission Access Code, your team logs into the Spy Inc. headquarters website from any computer in the world. This activates the clock. You have 3 hours to complete your mission. Your mission briefing consists of a dossier with your scenario, objectives, advice, and clues. You’re given the coordinates for the location in your city where you’ll rendez-vous with the other agents in your spy network to obtain more clues to help you complete your mission. Your performance is measured by time, the other performance of the other teams, and the track record of previous agents. As soon as you complete your mission, you log off with your correct solution codes. Your time is calculated and presented on the Cyber League Table. Results are compared and debriefed. Debriefing focuses on problem-solving, planning, team management, and delegation.

Demo: Spy Inc. Demo

UK based Clever Zebra, a virtual worlds events company, recently designed a 3D immersive meeting in Second Life for a global consulting firm’s 3 day IT leadership conference. Team building exercises incorporated 3D puzzle building, dancing competitions, and treasure hunts.

Benefits of Virtual Team Building

Some of the benefits of virtual team building include:
– virtual simulations can easily be customized with company logos, products and services
– the same experience can be replicated to enhance learning and provide opportunities for review and practice
– virtual simulations can be completed in a relatively short period of time, reducing the amount of time team member are off the job
a full team building cycle including context setting, simulation, debriefing, and business application exercises can be comfortably in half a day without analytical learners feeling pressured or rushed
– companies can bring international teams together and save travel, meal and hotel expenses

Examples of Virtual Worlds for Team Building


If you’re having trouble picturing how this can work, here are some examples.
The Second Life Update blog has a video demonstrating how team members around the world can log into Second Life to participate in a variety of team exercises, games, and activities using virtual characters.
Demo: Virtual Team Building Videos and Exercises

According to Stephen Hillanbrand, owner of Amusitronix and a member of Linkedin’s Event Planning and Management Group, “Not only is it possible to place virtual people in a virtual world, real world people, products and logos can also be placed INSIDE a short, fun and interactive experience that reinforces a company’s branding.” Here are some examples:
Demos: Virtual Reality, Interactive Game & Simulator

Towards a Business Case for Virtual Team Building

In his Winning Workplaces blog, Linkedin member Mark Harbeke shared the experience of a Seattle-based professional services provider to underscore the potential business case for incorporating virtual teams into team building initiatives. I agree, virtual team building does seem to be worth exploring.

Is the “Virtual” in Virtual Team Building Enough?

Remember, cool animations and eye-popping graphics should never be the key drivers of your team building initiatives. When we last explored team building, we identified the phases required to produce effective team building (See Team Building: Getting the Name Right.) The critical success factors for virtual team building are the same as any other team building. The exercises, simulations, activities, or games are only as effective as the context setting before the experience and the debriefing and business application exercises that follow it. Remember to always include these key elements to transform virtual simulations from eye candy and entertainment into powerful and effective team building delivered in an exciting and engaging way.

Social Media Reflections:

Join Anne Thornley-Brown for discussion about team building in Linkedin’s International Team Building Alliance Group.

  • Jane Fox

    Nice article. But most people don't use virtual reality for virtual teams do they? I came across a good video of how virtual teams work in a small business – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na3Tao39sjg

  • http://www.juliussolaris.com tojulius

    Interesting, thanks for sharing

  • http://www.fragmnt.tv StevenJBarker

    Anne, in light of our conversation on http://www.eventmanagerblog.com/team-building/c…, I am glad you are the one writing this post. I am a little skeptical when it comes to the effectiveness of these types of sessions in a virtual world. Mind you I am skeptical of some of the “team building” sessions out there in general. We seem to tackle a lot of theory but leave the practical application for a date to be determined.

    The idea of team building in a virtual world is very interesting. It is still an incomplete thought, but it definitely deserves some flushing out. Maybe we should follow up and schedule something for SecondLife…(smile).

  • http://twitter.com/executiveoasis Anne Thornley-Brown

    I think that the “virtual” in virtual team building is just another vehicle for creating and delivering an interactive team building experience. As someone once said, the simulation is just as good as the debrief.

    I agree it's worth creating a demo in on Second Life to see how this may be put into practice.

  • http://twitter.com/executiveoasis Anne Thornley-Brown

    You're right Jane. Most people don't use virtual reality for virtual teams…yet. It's worth exploring the possiblitities though.