There’s a lot of talk about helping form relationships on virtual and hybrid teams. We want to build trust, help people get to know each other and get to know and like each other. Here are some questions for you: What movies do your teammates watch? What are their favorite TV shows? Video Games? What do they read?
Why do you care what your teammates read?
When we meet someone socially for the first time, we learn about them by asking questions and learning about them. What we learn actually fits in a series of concentric circles:
Circle 1: Who do you know in common? If you’re at a party or social gathering, you often ask, “Who do you know and how do you know them?”
Circle 2: What is some of their personal/family information? Are they married or single? Do they have kids? Are they from your area? Where did they come from?
Circle 3: What are their interests/hobbies? Do you share a love (or loathing) for a sports team? Do you both like to cook?
Circle 4: What media do they consume? What are their favorite movies, TV shows, or video games? What do they like to read?
While it would make sense that the first things we learn about people would be the most important, that’s not usually the case. There’s nothing about learning the person you just met is your host’s cousin that indicates whether you will like that person, or even spend another ten minutes talking to them.
Whether they are single or not, or have kids, may or may not intrigue you. If you’re married with kids and the other person isn’t, you may decide right there you don’t have enough in common to continue chatting. Your spouse may not want you to.
Where the really important stuff is.
What’s interesting is that the circles on the outer edges contain information that actually excites us about talking to someone else and helps determine if we want to continue talking to them or spend time in their presence.
You hate the Cowboys? Me too.
We both love Breaking Bad.
Oh, you read a lot of Fantasy? Who’s your favorite author?
When you start to have these conversations, time flies by and you get excited. This is the fun part of meeting new people and often forms the beginning bonds of real friendships.
How does this work at work?
But we are talking about work, not your cousin’s wedding. We often keep work discussions to the inner circles. When someone joins the team, we learn what they do, where they went to school, perhaps if they have kids or not, but that’s as far as many of the conversations go. The rest will come over time. When you work in the office that time gets compressed—chat over coffee or overhearing something in the break room will help you identify fellow rom-com fans. But when we work apart from each other there are fewer of those opportunities.
Some team leaders will use these topics as ice breakers. Maybe they start a meeting by asking everyone their favorite movie. This can be fun (depending on the size of the team) but ultimately has nothing to do with work.
Why what we read has implications for how we work.
One thing that has work implications and can accomplish many team building goals at the same time is to ask about what people are reading. This works as an icebreaker for team meetings. Kevin uses it a lot here. It doesn’t have to be work-related, although odds are it will be. (Only 15% of American men said they read for pleasure last year, and about 23% of women.)
Many teams have dedicated book clubs where they’ll have everyone who wants to participate read a book and then discuss it. We love that and have been blessed that so many have chosen The Long-Distance Leader or Long-Distance Teammate for that purpose.
Another option, and one that can be a lot more fun, is having a dedicated Teams or Slack channel for people to share what they’re reading, regardless of genre or relevance to the work. It doesn’t distract from work time and still gives teammates a chance to connect. In larger companies, it’s a great way for people who wouldn’t otherwise meet to connect and bond over a common interest. (the Science Fiction discussion group at Cisco has thousands of active members and some pretty spirited discussion)
Whether it’s books, movies, or something else, finding ways to connect people in the outer rings of social connection can have positive impacts on the team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.