Fun & conversation: the secret sauce of connected remote teams

People & Culture

Special thanks to guest author, Kirsten Anderson, Integrate Play Solutions

It felt like a bucket of ice water had been thrown in my face, waking me up to the grim reality of the pandemic situation we were facing globally. That ice water hit on March 12, 2020 at 5 p.m. as we cleaned up the shared LEGO® from an entirely hands-on, minds-on, interactive Connection and Belonging full-day session for seventy-five people.

Just as the last Post-It was pulled from the wall we were notified of the complete shutdown of ALL in person gatherings with this company’s global studios worldwide. Who turned off the lights?! Facilitation and booked keynotes were immediately postponed for what we thought would be two to four weeks yet turned out to be four months and counting.

Do you remember the moment that your mind drastically shifted about the way our work and how we work was about to be impacted by COVID-19?

Re-imagining team cohesion remotely

Though this has been an unwelcome change for most, many have found this time to be an unexpected opportunity to reimagine what’s possible for business. Not only reexamining our purpose, products, processes and services but how we relate to each other as a team given our constraints.

Without the serendipitous hallway and casual lunch or coffee conversations remote-only work can leave teams disconnected and lacking the opportunities for sparking creative collaborations. Our clients are telling us, “I didn’t realize I was getting so much work done at the coffee machine until this happened”. Leaders who are listening and empathetic to what is missing from this current reality realize that building stronger team cohesion may look much different now yet is even more business critical than pre-pandemic.

lego team around the word play

The secret sauce

Think back to the best, the most engaging, effective and memorable meetings and retreats you’ve attended in person or online. Take a moment to think about those meetings and events. What elements did they have in common?

My guess is you knew two of the ingredients to this secret sauce recipe all along. Those that integrate elements of fun and conversations that matter not only create connection—they energize us and also hold everyone’s attention for deeper learning and action. When adding these two ingredients to the secret sauce of remote team cohesion remember that playfulness nurtures curiosity, opens up communication and makes room to show caring appreciation of those we work with.

Play with connection activities

The following are just three of the countless activities we’ve been using in our online leadership programs that build connection quickly. If you are looking to bring your teams together remotely give one or all of these a try:

1. Team drawing

On a virtual whiteboard each person annotates one element of a drawing at a time. Before they begin they express specific verbal gratitude for the contribution the person who drew before. Each drawing adds on to the one previous until the picture and story are complete. This validation is a well-received exercise in communication and creative collaboration with appreciation built in.

2. LEGO® Serious Play®

Kits are delivered to each team member (or if everyone already has some LEGO® at home use that). Participants build individual models that answer powerful questions about what’s working, what’s not, while also consensus building.

Sharing the stories of their models with equal time allocated allows for each person’s voice to be heard harnessing diverse knowledge sharing while reducing assumptions and bias. Teams have loved this physical artifact building opportunity for meaningful deep conversations and connection as many are feeling isolated.

3. Slide karaoke

As one person shares a slide deck of different unrelated images each participant contributes to the presentation/story based on the new image they see for just twenty seconds per slide until the next slide comes up at which time the next numbered person gives it a go adding on to the cumulative story. Fast paced fun.

There is nothing like play to break down barriers for greater collaboration, communication, creative problem solving, productivity, trust and stress-relief.

Obstacles to online connection

We’ve found ‘Zoomtigue‘ (online meeting burnout) is prevalent with the often inner refrain of ,”Oh no not another boring meeting… groan“. It doesn’t have to be that way! Once teams experience how uplifting adding even a bit of play and meaningful conversations can be to their day it usually becomes the highlight of the schedule.

Overcoming the self-consciousness or fear of judgement requires team leaders, trainers and organizers to communicate THE WHY of these activities.

Many will want to know what the benefits are, what they’ll learn, the research and the neuroscience behind choosing to spend precious time on activities such as these in the midst of ‘survival mode’. Yet others quickly welcome an invitation to play and be their authentic selves, becoming more relaxed in a non-embarrassing safe space.

Either way they get there, when we begin to prioritize moments of playful connection into our everyday meetings and events the results speak for themselves.

A positive workplace is not defined by the walls that we work within but by the relationships that build that work together.


After 25 years as an entrepreneur in the toy industry, and over a decade as the play expert on Global TV, Kirsten sold the award winning “Best Toy Store in Canada” to bridge her expertise in business leadership and the bottom-line benefits of a playful mindset at work.

Though some call her a Playologist, she’s actually an international keynote speaker and master facilitator on the power of playfulness to improve innovation, wellness, culture, and team cohesion.

Kirsten is the founder of Integrate Play Solutions; a boutique training corporation working with organizational teams in diverse industries, to help solve their messiest challenges using playful methods—the favourite being LEGO® Serious Play®.

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