Fostering Team Building and Employee Connections
Published Feb 23 2021 07:19 AM 8,830 Views

As organizations continue their ongoing plans for remote work, the need to foster connections among team members remains hugely important. So many people have joined new companies or teams over the past year and may have never met their peers in person. This is a reality that looks to continue extending far into this year. What I will share here are just a few ideas collected from peers, customers and partners to help bridge the human-to-human gap and bring your team a bit closer together, even when it cannot yet be face-to-face. As you read this, think about ways you have brought together teams virtually in fun and engaging ways that you can share as a post in the Driving Adoption community


The Digital Water Cooler

Team Water Cooler (Manager-Free Zone): Schedule a weekly reoccurring Teams Meeting sync without managers (same corp/HR rules apply) to just cover top of mind topics and create a safe space for any questions team members may want to ask their peer group. You can also leverage the Meeting Chat between weekly meetings and make it more accessible by using Pinned Chat in Teams so it is always right there. Fun Gifs tend to be abundant in these chats. And you can elevate to an ad-hoc Video chat anytime for a few or as many want to jump in.


Team Water Cooler (w/Managers): Like above, Managers can have a weekly reoccurring meeting structured around awareness, important topics, and time sensitive asks. This also enables a group Meeting Chat that everyone can pin and becomes a good place to freely collaborate and discuss all topics, instantly. You will likely have a Teams team with various channels, that is leveraged daily, but a good amount of “chatter” could happen in the group meeting chat. Some teams also create a unique Group Chat instead for the ad-hoc chat with the manager(s).


Water Cooler Channel in a Team:  This is a great way to include a virtual space in any Team that is dedicated to sharing and talking about random, often non-work-related topics. Team members use this area to share fun videos, cool virtual backgrounds, celebrating birthday or anniversary milestones, tips on wellness, etc. This can often be the start of some new, fresh ideas the team may want to brainstorm. Overall, the goal of a channel like this is to help a team build relationships, foster culture, and create a sense of belonging.


1:1 Icebreaker Water Cooler: The Icebreaker Bot Teams App template pairs up colleagues 1:1 across the org each week, encouraging new relationships and network expansion. With a global organization as large as Microsoft, this is a terrific way to expand water cooler conversations beyond our immediate networks.


Team Water Cooler (for Communities of Practice or Business Units): Consider creating Public Teams team for various Communities, Topics or Employee Resource Groups that are discoverable and joinable by anyone in the organization. With the freedom to create Channels for different topics, the water cooler conversations can be vast. Ad-hoc or scheduled Teams Channel Meetings offer a wonderful way to meet up as a group of any size, where everyone in the Channel can see and be notified that a meeting is happening, and they can choose to join in at any time. The Great Ideas Teams App template is a nice addition to these types of Channels


Yammer (Public Water Cooler): Yammer is meant for public, widespread reach, so this is a very popular organization-wide water cooler approach that was used before Microsoft Teams even existed. Our Yammer communities at Microsoft are vast; providing us with a place to encourage and promote companywide culture. The Yammer Communities App for Microsoft Teams is a great new option to connect those global water cooler conversations inside of Teams. The Yammer Use Case Deep Dive: Communities of interest or practice is also a super helpful guide here.


Virtual Coffee Breaks - Planned events are fun, but sometimes you want something impromptu. Post a note in your fun channel: “Anyone want to get a cup of coffee?” You can use the Meet Now feature to hop on a call with whoever responds.


Note: Teams and Yammer are both searchable, making it easy to find a past thread. However, your company retention policies could prevent you from pulling back threads past a certain date.


Virtual Team Building

For some of these ideas, consider extending to your business partners or customers as well.


Team Walk & Talk – designate time for a Team meeting where everyone is encouraged to take a walk outdoors (weather permitting). Join via the Teams mobile app, turn on your camera, and have everyone take turns sharing the scenery that they are enjoying on their walk.


Get to Know your Teammates – A facilitator creates a survey in advance using Microsoft Forms with a common set of questions for everyone (your first job, favorite vacation location, first music concert, favorite snack food, what actor would play you in the movie about your life, etc.) The facilitator creates a slideshow with each slide focused on one question, while listing some of the answers. Let the group guess which person on the team matches which answer. Another game option is to play the classic icebreaker "Two Truths and a Lie".


Themed Social Hours – Just get creative and have fun with different themes. Bill Martin, AEG’s chief information officer shared some ideas in this article about Building a Healthier Meeting Culture - “We started with ‘wear your funkiest hat,’ and we have had meetings where everyone wears a favorite concert tee. Just fun things to keep everyone connected.” Some ideas could include:

  • Bring your favorite beverage in your favorite Koozie, mug, stein, flute, jar, glass, etc.
  • Wear your favorite sports team gear
  • “Yappy Hour” with everyone bringing their pets to share on camera
  • Pose an interesting or revealing question for everyone to answer like “What is your dream vacation destination?”, “How did you get that scar?”, or finish the sentence "My parents never knew that I…."


Virtual Scavenger Hunts – Have a facilitator produce a list of household items, put them in a slide show to reveal one at a time, give each person 30-60 seconds to find the item in your house, to show back to the group. If kids happen to be free in the house, they often enjoy getting involved too.


Virtual Pictionary – You can leverage the Microsoft Whiteboard app in a Teams Meeting as a canvas for all participants to draw. Participants can use their mouse or pen and touch if the device supports it. The goal of the game is for one person to draw a picture without using any letters, numbers, words, gestures, verbal cues or nonverbal cues, and their partner must guess what word corresponds to the picture being drawn. A great random word generator can be found here:


Teams or Yammer Book Clubs – This is a great forum to engage with peers and even people you have never met and talk about engaging topics. You can host this within either a Teams Channel or a Yammer Group. Pick a book and pick a date to meet and discuss. One of the books clubs I joined at Microsoft was lucky enough to have a great author agree to join a meeting with us. You never know, it is worth reaching out to an author to try.


#ThrowbackThursdays – Everyone loves seeing and sharing old photos. In your fun/watercooler channel in Teams or Yammer community, start a thread for #ThrowbackThursday and encourage people to post some classic pictures.


#FamilyFridays – Connect with your team and share some family stories or pictures in Teams to share exciting events, funny stories, family milestones, etc. Start a thread for #FamilyFridays and encourage people to post what they feel comfortable with and share in the family milestones with others.


Host Live Entertainment – You might have a little morale budget to spend or could get someone to do this at no cost. Invite an entertainer to perform live in a Teams Meeting. This is a great way to support musicians, magicians, comedians, and other performers who are looking for ways to take their acts online. Encourage team members to use Live Reactions and gifs to interact with the performers and each other. Use the spotlight feature in Teams meetings to lock the entertainer's video as the main view for all meeting participants.


“What’s Cookin” – In advance of the meeting, a facilitator leads by asking each team member to privately send a photo of their open refrigerator and content to the organizer. Create a slide show that reveals one photo and have people guess the owner of the fridge. You can reveal a few hints if needed. The second phase of the game is to have participants move into Teams breakout rooms, give each breakout team the same 2 fridge photos, have them pick 1 to produce a hypothetical meal menu. Teams can assume they have spices and pantry staples. And teams can add 1 protein, that you do not see. Bring the groups back together to share their ideas for a great meal.


Breakout Room BINGO – This is an excellent group icebreaker where you get to know your virtual breakout “roommates” better, then share back with the rest of the group.

  • Start by providing each group a fun facts BINGO card. You can make your own or find sample cards online like these Get to Know You samples or the Fun Facts samples.
  • Send your groups into their Teams breakout rooms (using random assignments or you can pre-assign).
  • Each group tries to find as many squares as they can that most people have in common.
  • When the breakout groups rejoin back together, pick a person from each group to present back to everyone one row or column from their card where they had the most in common.


Virtual E-Gaming Competitions – For a community that likes to game, you can leverage Teams and Channels to setup spaces for people to join up and play different games online. These can be 1:1 matchups they create themselves or you can use his Excel tournament bracket template for a full bracket you can pin as a tab in a channel. There are lots of options for playing online classic tabletop and board games like Tabletopia (free on Steam) or TableTop Simulator ($20 on Steam). A site like can enable you to facilitate the tournament bracket and add the website as tab in Teams. At Microsoft, we recently hosted this type of virtual e-gaming tournament as a highly successful fundraiser for our annual Giving Campaign.


Other group games turned virtual - Some group games that were made for doing in-person can be adapted to play virtually. My team has adapted the rules a bit to play these:

  • Codenames - a game of guessing which codenames (i.e., words) in a set are related to a hint-word given by another player. We leveraged this word set creator site.
  • Werewolf - called a party game for devious people.


Larger Events for Team Building

Also, don’t forget about the importance of larger events for having fun, fostering community, and building new connections.

Example: Microsoft’s Got Talent – Several Microsoft Regional teams in the US hosted wonderful 90-minute virtual talent shows with hundreds of audience members and nearly two dozen performances including singers, dancers, comedians, poets, and magicians. It offered the whole team an opportunity to take a break and even gather the family to enjoy it together. The performers all had fun sharing their talents with the group. Here are some considerations for orchestrating this type of event:

  • Setup a Channel or a Team to plan the event
  • Get executive leaders onboard and agree on a good date to maximize attendance
  • Determine number of “acts” you want to include
  • Decide if you want to offer prizes
  • Consider including auditions, especially if you need to narrow down the number of acts.
  • Create a nomination Form for performers where they can upload a short clip of their talent and include the judging criteria and any rules.
  • A Teams Live Event tends to work best. Plan for a dry run in advance.
  • Create a Run of Show with the schedule for the actual event, so everyone will know when they will be on screen.

There are also a number of key roles involved:

  • Emcee – a key role for making the show flow. Helps to have someone who is witty and can adlib easily. May need to set parameters to keep conversation HR appropriate and family friendly. This person has the largest role in the show. Our host changed costumes, created “sponsored by” moments and added silly commentary in addition to introducing the acts.
  • Judges – how many will you have and what personas should they take on? Are they individual contributors or Managers? Do they represent a broad range of employees?
  • Performers – the brave people who will perform from their home. Determine how many and how they audition. Are family members allowed to participate, etc.?
  • Audience – the people watching the event and voting (if applicable). Can the audience bring family members to watch?
  • Producer – manage the back-end details of the actual event
  • Vote counter and Q&A moderator – tally up the votes and answer questions in the chat


Example: Town Halls - Our leadership at all levels from our CEO Satya down host frequent town hall meetings. These are great opportunities to celebrate anniversaries, success stories, and great work by individuals and teams. These used to be a mix of in-person and virtual, but quickly shifted to fully remote for all presenters and attendees during the pandemic. This Microsoft IT Showcase article shares how Microsoft senior leaders brought employees together during COVID-19.


Share Your Team Building Ideas

We hope you were inspired by some of these ideas and can incorporate them into your organization’s team building initiatives. We would love to hear from you. Please share ideas that have worked well for your teams in the Driving Adoption Community.



Ryan McKinney

Ryan is a Customer Success Manager at Microsoft and is passionate about enabling others to leverage technology to drive measurable impact for their teams and organizations.  He leverages his experience across strategy consulting, business development, team leadership and change management to drive positive outcomes from innovative technology solutions.  He is based in Dallas, Texas, and works with large enterprise customers with a global presence.


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‎Feb 22 2021 08:54 AM
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