- Elizabeth O’Neill is an executive coach and people and culture consultant, working with early stage startups.
- Many companies have cancelled corporate retreats amidst the pandemic.
- These retreats are often a great way to build culture, but they’re not the only way.
- From scheduling “mystery calls” where the team reflects on a thought-provoking question to a power hour, here’s how to keep your culture thriving.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Picture this: A founder goes into her first 3-day retreat with a newly established leadership team and the weight of the world on her shoulders. She had been running everything herself up until this point â€” from handling frustrated customers to making the dinner reservations for the trip.
This retreat was the moment when she was going to let go of doing everything herself, transition responsibility â€”mentally and physically â€” and embrace her role as CEO. Seventy-two hours later, her new leadership team walked away markedly more confident and united. And the positive change that had taken place in her was evident, too. (I know â€” I was there to see it.)
In a normal year, annual retreats are one of my go-to’s to help companies create alignment and build culture. They’re especially valuable for teams that are fully or partially remote. Ditto for any company that’s growing quickly or going through a lot of change â€” which is true for so many right now.
Connecting in-person deepens even the most effective partnerships. It can enrich relationships that then become a reason people stay with their company. And face-to-face interactions also enhance collaboration and accelerate problem solving. Which is why I love using retreats to tackle strategic or thorny issues.
But what if COVID means a retreat isn’t in the cards this year? Or maybe your company’s not yet in a position to afford one. The hard reality is that during these times, it’s more important â€” not less â€” to cultivate personal connections, reinforce core values, and keep the team’s energy high.
Now more than ever, the companies I work with are making the most of tried-and-true routines like one-on-one’s and all-hands calls. They’re also tapping into some creative team-building and optimising how the team uses collaboration tools to foster as much of that in-person retreat vibe as possible.
Here are five things the companies I work with are doing right now to keep their culture strong, virtually:
1. Plan a mystery call
Periodically schedule an hour-long “mystery” call with the team. This entails posing a thought-provoking question that everyone hears for the first time on the call (or perhaps just before, if it requires some deep thinking) and then takes turns answering.
Tailor the question to what’s happening on the team.
Have folks been maxed out on a project? Tap into some positive vibes by asking them what they do to recharge. Does the team want to get to know each other on a deeper level? Ask them what personality trait they most value in the people they’re closest to. Lots of cancelled plans due to covid? Ask everyone to share details about their most favourite vacation.
2. Make video a regular habit
Studies show that the majority of what we communicate is non-verbal. There’s no substitute for seeing people’s facial expressions and body language, and how that informs your understanding of what they’re conveying.
In other words, video will result in more efficient and effective conversations that solve problems faster. Set the tone with your team by clearly communicating this team rule and always turning on your own video. Use these quick tricks to make it a little easier.
3. Have a “power hour”
Is the team dealing with a backlog at the end of the day? Get everyone together on video, grab your favourite beverage, set the clock for an hour, and collectively crush it. You’ll be surprised at how much fun the team can have â€” and the informal bonds they build- by being “in it” together.
4. Keep Slack in check
I’m a big fan of Slack and the productivity it can bring with quick-hit items and informal team building. But the companies who use it most effectively appreciate its limitations.
Dealing with a complex issue that requires an exchange of ideas? That means it’s time for a live conversation. Feeling like you’re not on the same page about something crucial? Take it off Slack and make it a video chat.
5. Explore what makes your team unique
Take some time and go deep on the individual and collective strengths of your team. Start by having each of them take a personality assessment like Clifton StrengthsFinder (my personal favourite). Then, reflect on the results using individual assignments and virtual small-group workshops that you can weave in at your own pace. Folks will be equipped with a new language and an appreciation for what they (and others) bring to the team.
I’m really looking forward to the days when we can have live retreats again; when I can help teams supercharge their connection. But the good news is that in the meantime, it’s not only possible, but highly beneficial, to create that alignment year-round.
Elizabeth O’Neill is an executive coach and people and culture consultant, working with early stage startups. She helps founders build a stronger company culture and improve their team’s alignment and performance. And she helps leaders unlock what’s holding them back so they can love running their company again. For more information, visit elizabethoneill.com.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.