Team Building with virtual and live participants – learnings from Event Camp Twin Cities 2011

It has been almost a month since Event Camp Twin Cites 2011 (ECTC11) and I’ve had time to reflect on what I learned about creating team building sessions in a hybrid meeting environment. I wanted to share those insights with you.

Background:

Back in late June, Ray Hanson asked me to help develop an interactive team / gaming experience for ECTC11.  We wanted to push the envelope and go out on a limb in creating a hybrid meeting experience that was different than anything that had been done before – in other words, we wanted to create a customized hybrid team building program that was interwoven throughout the entire two-day event where both live and virtual participants were working together on the same team doing real team building challenges.

To the best of our knowledge, this had not been done before.

Sure, there have been sessions before where live and virtual participants were placed on teams and worked on challenges.  Any number of technology suppliers provide the means for people to compete in a trivia challenge or earn badges where their scores or efforts get rolled up to a “team.”

 This isn’t team building – it is team gaming. 

Team gaming allows for individuals to participate and compete and even feel like they are part of a team but it doesn’t allow for a deeper, more sustained bonding and trust building that are necessary for team building.  If you want to add some energy and fun for an hour into your event, team gaming challenges are great.  If you want to help teams work better together and really get to know the people that they are on a team with, you need to do team building.

We used ECTC11 as a laboratory to try to see if this could be done in what we called “The Great Event Camp Challenge.”

What we did:

As mentioned before, team gaming for events is not too daunting – as long as you are focusing on individual participation from both live and virtual participants.  However, creating a custom team event for a hybrid audience presented some significant challenges.  We needed to look at how people engaged in the event, how they communicated with each other, how learnings were going to be processed, and how teams would work together as a team and not just as individual participants.

For the Great Event Camp Challenge, we decided to interweave the team sessions throughout the event.  We developed three different avenues for teams to participate:

  1. Team Challenges
  2. Team Badges
  3. Team Case Study

Each of the avenues provided teams with ways to earn points.  Ultimately, we had decided that we wanted this event to be competitive to help keep teams engaged and attentive.  The team with the most points won. 

Challenges:

Throughout the event, we weaved in four team challenges.  These challenges were focused on getting team members to know each other better, reflect and share information with each other from the various content that was being presented at ECTC11, and work together.  Challenge 1 involved building out their team wall, getting information on each team member, and building a team identity.  Challenge 2 involved working together to brainstorm ideas about future meeting concepts and identifying future trends based on the team’s collective knowledge.  Challenge 3 was a trivia challenge where team leaders needed to get input from the team and enter in the team’s response.  Challenge 4 involved a virtual treasure hunt where teams found clues across the internet and found a virtual treasure.

Badges:

We also provided teams with the ability to earn badges throughout the event.  Badges were of two kinds (although the teams did not know this).  First we had badges that were based on correctly answering questions that participants gained from the various learning blocks (i.e., ECTC11 was broken into five different learning blocks that focused on a specific topic such as the future of meetings or mobile technology.  Each of these learning blocks had multiple sessions that went on in two different rooms). Secondly, we had action based badges.  These badges were earned through the entire team doing something.  For instance, we had a “Twitter Basic” badge that focused getting everyone on the team set up with a Twitter account, following each other, and creating a team # tag.  In all we had 13 different badges that teams could earn.

Case Study:

Overarching all of this was work that teams had to do on a case study.  The case study was introduced via a custom video that introduced the teams to “Same Old Way Meetings” who needed help in three different case studies involving clients who were looking at doing things differently.  The case study was designed to have teams utilize the insight and information that they gained from the entire conference all wrapped up nicely in a four minute video.

Difficulties and what we learned:

There were many difficulties that we had to deal with in regards to integrating the virtual and live participants.  First, we had to examine how team members would interact with one another; how would they communicate with each other; the process for getting to know each other; and how they would each contribute to the challenges – as a team.  .

When working with in-person audiences, the facilitator has much more control and flexibility in how the game runs – being able to adapt and modify as necessary based on how the live audience is responding (i.e., add commentary to the game or change the timing based on how quickly or slowly the event is going).  In a hybrid situation, much more of the control of the game goes to the technology partners – facilitators need to be able to work within the capabilities and format that are required for a hybrid program.  This requires that potential issues and problems need to be thought of in advance and contingency plans put in place to help mitigate any issues.

The technology itself can be a challenge.  We used four different technology platforms for The Great Event Camp Challenge.  This was too many.  What we really needed was one single platform that provided a “home” base for all team members when they could participate in the game as a team.  What is missing is a technology or game platform dedicated to a true team experience for hybrid events.  The technology for this is not quite there yet – although I know of a few enterprising companies that are working on making it a reality soon.

Communication between live and virtual team members worked for some, but not for all. We did not have dedicated Skype or other visual communication elements set up – that would have been beneficial.  Again, having a technology platform (i.e., team wall) that would allow for this type of communication would be fantastic.

Timing and engagement were also an issue.  ECTC11 had a lot of moving parts in addition to The Great Event Camp Challenge.  This made the schedule really tight and forced us to have teams use their free time to work on the event.  This was not optimal. Engaged teams used this time up and as a result, did not get as much interaction with other non-team members.  Non-engaged teams did not participate as much.

Insights

The Great Event Challenge was truly a laboratory that allowed us to examine what worked well and what didn’t work well in implementing a team game in a hybrid meeting.  There were a number of lessons learned:
1. Focus on making your “game” a real team building event.  Make sure that team members have opportunities to work together and build trust, get to know each other, and work through issues and problems.

2. Have a single, simple to use, game platform where all the information about the team event as well as participation in the game occurs.

3. Make sure that you have an easy, structured way for virtual and live team members to communicate.  In advance, set up dedicated team Skype or Google+ accounts where virtual and live members can interface with each other real time.

4.  Provide dedicated time to work on the game components – don’t have teams try to work on challenges during their break or free time.

5.  Utilize existing communication vehicles to provide instructions and overviews of the game challenges.

6. Start planning the hybrid team event and how it will integrate with the other components of your event many months in advance.  Make sure that all parties are talking to each other and that presenters, designers, and planners are all included in on the design of the team building event.

Conclusion:

I feel that team building events can add a lot to a hybrid event.  They allow for greater participation, increased bonding, and a way to help reinforce key content points.  At ECTC11, we pushed the envelope.  I would recommend that people looking to add a team game element to their Hybrid event that they start off very simply.  Bring in one technology that can bridge the live/virtual divide.  Use one or two types of games to involve people.  If you are going to bring this into your meeting, you need to know that this type of design requires some significant up-front design as well as having a major technology component to make sure that it works.

That being said – it is really cool!

3 thoughts on “Team Building with virtual and live participants – learnings from Event Camp Twin Cities 2011

  1. An excellent post and evaluation of team building for hybrid events. Your last sentence, “If you are going to bring this into your meeting, you need to know that this type of design requires some significant up-front design as well as having a major technology component to make sure that it works.” sums this up perfectly. Actually all aspects of virtual and hybrid events require significant up front planning and design.
    Pat Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP
    P&V Enterprises

    Like

  2. Pingback: Team Building Vs Team Bonding | CallCenterBestPractices.com

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