Ihor
Feoktistov
CTO at Relevant

Remote Team Building Activities for Software Development Teams to Help You Succeed

#Dedicated teams

Imagine being a part of a team where everybody works efficiently and understands one another so well they finish each other’s thoughts. The teams that feel like a second family are a rare find, but what if we told you that with a little perseverance and creativity, you can take any group of professionals to this level? 

Here at Relevant Software, management of remote software development teams is what we do all day, every day. We’ve assembled dozens of remote teams for our clients to date using the Tuckman’s model. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about team building in outsourcing. What is Tuckman’s model, what are some of the best remote team building activities, and how do you empower your employees to do their best work?   

Understanding Bruce Tuckman’s Model

Bruce Tuckman’s team model was born in the 1960ies after the psychologist published his famous article “Developmental sequence in small groups”. According to Tuckman, every team goes through certain stages of development before they can achieve their best performance – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. There’s also a final stage called Adjourning, which was added later. It’s the period when the teams stop working together.

Why is it important to know these stages? Because at every point of development, the teams face some challenges. Being able to navigate through these issues can make a difference between fruitful cooperation and bickering in a group chat. 

Team Building Activities for Each Stage  

Team building activities for remote agile teams

Forming stage

The beginning of the work in every team, according to Tuckman, starts with the Forming stage. That’s when the team members get to know each other, learn more about their responsibilities, and establish some relationships within the group. Typically, everybody is positive and polite at this stage. Depending on the personality types, some may feel a bit anxious, others may be excited, but the overall mood in the group is all about getting familiar with the scope of work and figuring out the social roles of people in the group. The leader’s role is to help the team get to know each other. Several types of remote team building activities can be super helpful. 

Meet and greet activities

The best team-building activity for a newly-established team would be going out to get acquainted in an informal environment. The reality is, it’s not always possible, especially if we’re talking about international teams that might never see each other in person. No worries! There are still many ways to help people learn more about their new teammates. All you need is decent video chat software and some creativity. 

Something as simple as letting them have a casual chit-chat at the beginning of a conference call might help. You don’t have to go straight to the business. For some teams, it’s enough of a team building. Others, however, need a little facilitation. In such cases, you could try basic games, such as “Take a Picture” – asking everybody to take a picture of some object in their working area, share it in the chat, and say a few words about it. Another option is the “Two Truths and a Lie” when everybody shares two real facts about themselves and one fictional, all three aren’t work-related.  

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Icebreakers

To help the remote team get closer to each other, you can use the team-building activities that help them learn more about each other’s personalities – what they like, what they don’t like, how they make decisions, etc. One great icebreaker game is called “Desert Island”. For this activity, a manager chooses five random objects and gives the group the following scenario: “Imagine that you found yourself on a desert island with these five things. Rank the usefulness of these objects from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most useful and 5 being the least useful.” This game is awesome because it helps to build trust and establish more friendly relationships between the team members. 

Another great activity is perfect for multicultural remote teams. Ask everyone to share three unusual or fun facts about the city/country they live in. Another more lengthy option would be to take the personality test together, like DISC or MBTI. This will help the team members learn more not only about their mates but about themselves. 

Needs assessment workshops

Some people are more outgoing than others. Therefore, every manager should pay attention to each member’s needs and emotions and encourage positive communication. What we like to do here at Relevant Software is take the CNVC​ Needs Inventory. The goal of this assessment is to understand the needs, interests and positions of each team member. We have a certified facilitator who is capable of designing a unique session for each team. It consists of 5 questions and aims to detect each team-member’s needs and interests. It’s super helpful in the future as it enables us to understand the consequences of decisions much better. 


The Thomas Kilmann Model. Source.

Conflict behavior prediction 

As much as we’d like to avoid it, conflicts are inevitable. Moreover, constructive disagreements are the best indicators of healthy teamwork. Here at Relevant, we put our employees through Thomas-Kilman model testing, the goal of which is to foresee the behavior of each team member in a hypothetical conflict situation. Thanks to the results of this testing, we can plan our actions ahead should any problems arise in next phases. 

Various out-of-office activities 

Although the remote teams work together all the time, it takes them longer to get to know each other. They may communicate every day, but all they talk about is work. There are no lunch breaks or small talks near the water-cooler. Therefore, spending some time in a less formal environment is a great way to help them develop stronger bonds. Some of our favorite informal team-building activities are laser tag, VR quests, family lunches, partying together, skiing, hiking, etc. Anything works as long as everyone enjoys it. 

Remote team building activities ideas for software development and tech teams
Relevant team in VR quest

Storming stage

During this stage, people in the team learn to work together, and it rarely happens without any friction. Normally, as everyone starts feeling more comfortable, they start pushing against boundaries that were set on the previous stage. There may arise conflicts and miscommunication, more assertive personalities might start questioning the leadership, whereas less assertive ones may get even more anxious. The role of the manager at this point is to help the team get through this phase and overcome challenges effectively. Here are some of the approaches that could be useful in different situations. 

Problem-solving activities

Disagreements at the Storming stage are very common. The key is to make sure they are addressed properly and resolved on time. As a manager, you should constantly monitor the atmosphere in the team and act as a mediator whenever there arise (or about to arise) any conflicts. Conflict resolution may take longer that “meet and greet”, but it’s definitely worth it as it brings more value to the team’s culture and creates a favorable atmosphere in the group. Active games aren’t recommended at this stage. Calm and mediated communication is key to successful resolution of all issues.

Setting up the working methods 

The best way to establish a smooth working process is to provide clear tasks and draw up expectations. If the team members have difficulties trying to figure out the working process, help them with constructive suggestions. If they have any issues or need more resources, provide all the necessary support. Here at Relevant, we have our default SDLC document that covers everything that happens with any project on a top-level, so each team can optimize that template for their particular project.

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Find agreements on issues inside the team 

As cooperation goes on, you might notice some issues related to the individual working style between the team members. Don’t let it slide. Determine what the problem is and help them find a consensus. Again, some people might need extra help, so make sure you provide it at all times. 

Setting up the rules 

The teams tend to establish their informal rules of what behavior is acceptable and what’s not. If it didn’t happen for some reason, jump in and facilitate this process. For example, everyone should pay attention to the status icons on Skype. If the person is “active”, they have to answer messages within 10 minutes or less. Such little things take time to agree on, but they are super helpful in the long run. 

Norming stage

That’s when the team finally resolved their issues and started working efficiently. People start appreciating each other’s contribution, they cooperate easily and respect the authority of the leader and one another. You know that your team has reached the Norming stage when they ask each other for constructive feedback, back each other up, socialize in after work hours (for remote teams – you might notice that they become friends on social media, like and comment each other’s posts, etc.). Teamwork is already happening but they haven’t yet reached their best performance. The team building activities at this stage are aimed at getting closer to the next one. 

Speaking clubs

A great way to help the remote team build even stronger bonds is by organizing speaking clubs. Choose a thought-provoking topic, like climate change, and get the team to discuss it over a virtual coffee break. For some teams, it would be better to arrange virtual movie nights with open live chat. 

Consensus decision-making​

Even though the team already has some established rules, there might be some people who are unhappy about the way things are. That’s why you need to update the rules from time to time. A nice way to do it is consensus decision-making – a way of reaching the agreement between all the members of the team and finding the best solutions for everybody. 

an onion being peeled - layers marked want, really want, actually need

Learn more about the consensus decision making in this guide from Seeds for Change.  

Performing stage

Hard work pays off – that’s the best description of what happens at the Performing stage. This is the absolute peak of every team’s cooperation when they demonstrate their best performance. All friction disappears, the rules work like a charm, people understand each other perfectly well and deliver outstanding work at all times. The leader’s involvement at this point is minimal, but there are still some activities that can help keep up the team spirit. 

Shared breakfast to talk about life

If you have an international team, you may replace it with coffee breaks via Skype. The goal is to maintain the connection in the group and strengthen bonds. 

Regular retrospectives

This necessary component of Agile is also a good team-building activity. Make sure you conduct regular check-ups to not only monitor the project goals but also check the team climate and avoid pitfalls.  

Remote team building activities ideas for software development and tech teams
Scrum game at our office

Summary 

Tuckman’s model is a great theoretical basis for building powerful teams. If you are mindful about the stages of your team’s development and help them get through the Forming, Storming, Norming all the way to Performing, you’ll achieve outstanding results. Use the activities that we described above to simplify this journey and maximize results. 

Here at Relevant Software, we know a thing or two about team building. Drop us a message to talk to our project manager about everything that interests you. 

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Tags: management
Written by
Ihor Feoktistov
CTO at Relevant
I make sure our clients get the highest code quality and the best tech talent on the market. I am also a Software Engineering Advisor for startups. Let's connect.

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