After what might be the longest tax season in history, so many accountants feel stressed because of the constant stream of work combined with the little-to-no downtime. Compound that with the isolation of remote work, decreased communication, and lack of opportunities, it is no surprise that firms are faced with demotivated teams heading into the start of another busy season.
It has never been more important to provide team-building and learning opportunities to your employees. However, it’s not that easy to pull off a successful team-building when we can be together in-person, and now it’s even more challenging in a virtual world. Virtual training and team-building is a whole different ball game and can’t be just your typical in-person training delivered via Zoom. We have all been on our fair share of virtual meetings this year, and I’m sure you can agree that some were way better than others, which is unfortunate because they are a significant investment. Successful team-building (both virtual and in-person) takes planning and a particular personality to deliver team-building workshops in a virtual environment.
As you look towards any year-end training or team-building events that you plan to host (whether in house or outsourced), remember these four steps to planning and executing a successful virtual event.
Determine the Goal & Timing
It surprises me just how many team-building trainings are delivered without an established goal. I know what most of you are saying, and that is, “well, the goal is team-building – of course!” That is way too generic to be a goal, though. If you are investing in training, think about the result you want. Do you want your team to be better communicators internally? Do you want your team to be better at uncovering opportunities with clients?
Do you want your team to be able to develop critical thinking skills? Those are achievable goals, and if you have a good facilitator, they will build team-building activities into the training. The team-building function comes from having different people or groups work together to learn a new skill. If you just want your team to spend time getting to know each other, do a fun firm event that doesn’t include learning. Don’t spend big money on an outside trainer without a goal.
Secondary, think about how much time you want to spend on training. Is this a monthly meeting where you bring people together and only want to spend an hour at a time. Does the topic or goal warrant a half-day or full-day? Full days are not ideal in the virtual world, but half days can absolutely be done with the right activities built into the program. It’s important to know not just what your goal is for the training, but also how much time makes sense for your team to dedicate to the training.
Ensure Any Activity Directly Relates To Goals
So you want to include hands-on activities into your training program to make it more engaging? Absolutely. I am a firm believer in exercises teaching lessons far better than lectures. There is a place for both, but when participants can take ownership of the topic and work through the details themselves, the content sticks far better after the training ends. The trick is, though, is to have activities that directly tie back to the goal(s) you set in step one, not just include an activity for a fun break.
Let’s say you want your team to communicate better internally; you can include a scenario that could potentially result in poor communication and have them work in groups to come up with different ways to address the problem. One team could be tasked with how to handle it via email, and another could be tasked with roleplaying an in-person conversation. Still, the bottom line is they learn through lecture how to communicate better and then work through scenarios to implement the teaching with activities.
Activities also don’t have to be this serious. One of my favorite activities to incorporate is “What’s In My Bag?” when we are talking about using open vs. closed questions in conversations. I bring a bag with one item in the bag, maybe a battery or something random, and go around the room saying they each have one question to ask, and they have to figure it out before we make it around the group to win a prize. The first round questions are typically yes, or no questions like, “Is it round?” “Can you write with it?” or “Do you normally carry it in your backpack?” It is challenging for teams to guess the actual item before the round is over. After the first round, I debrief the difference between open and closed questions and tell them to ask better questions in round 2. In the second round (where I use a new item), they typically ask things like, “How is the item used?” “How big is the item?” and other questions that get them to the right item very quickly. This is a very effective exercise to learn this skill, but also light and fun.
Lastly, if you are delivering training in a remote environment, think about all of the different technology types that you can use to engage your participants. Sure, you can use Zoom breakout rooms for small groups, but what about incorporating other technology like a Miro board, a spinning wheel like WheelDecide, or Sli.do for polls or other questions. In the end, make sure you have activities in your training to keep people engaged and make sure they accomplish the goals.
Drive Excitement & Buy-in With Promotion
Promotion is another critical element to drive success at any team-building training. Training can be intimidating for some because of their introverted personality. For others, they can feel like it is a waste of time because they would rather be working. Either way, the less buy-in you have during the training, the less effective the program becomes. It seems like there is at least one in every group that tries to derail the training. That one person that does not want to be there and pushes back on everything presented in the workshop. This person tries to undermine the facilitator and brings a negative tone to the group. For inexperienced facilitators, this can have devastating effects, so it’s important to avoid this if possible.
The more individuals are bought-in to what the training will provide them, and the more excited they are going into the workshop, the better results. To promote the program, you might disburse some teasers of what they will be doing that day or the outcomes. The bottom line is to make sure you drive excitement leading up to the training so that everyone comes in high-energy and ready to engage.
Strong Facilitation & Debrief
The last step in executing a strong team-building training is to have a strong facilitator that can keep the session on track and also lead the important debrief at the end. When you provide these types of trainings for your teams, you can’t expect that they understand all of the points you are trying to make. It’s up to the facilitator to tie it together in a nice bow through a debrief conversation.
Think about the activity above where I had participants guess what was in my bag. I can’t end the activity or session on the fact that they now know the difference between open and closed questions. It’s essential to drill down into why that is important with a debrief. I might ask questions like, “What difference did the change in closed to open questions make in your critical thinking process?” “How much easier is it to get to valuable information when using open questions?” or “Think about the questions you commonly ask clients. Give me an example of one you can reword to get more valuable information out of the conversation?” An effective debrief requires the participants to think critically and discuss what they learned and how that translates into their job.
A successful team-building training should not just be about “the fun;” you can do that as a firm without the training component. A successful team-building training should be goal-focused and provide a new skill while also bringing teams together to re-motivate and re-engage them when they get back to work. You can have fun, build relationships, and learn a new skill all at the same time when you remember these four steps when planning and executing a team-building training.
If you want some creative ideas on how to add in innovative technology to your next team meeting, download our 5 Virtual Ice Breakers guide here: https://bit.ly/3hNZyk9