Recreate watercooler moments

Virtual First | Teamwork Kit

Healthy organizations depend on basic but meaningful ties across teams (“bridging”). Use this exercise to build bridges between groups that don’t know each other well, make meetings more human, and encourage serendipitous encounters virtually. 

 

5–30 MINS | VIRTUAL TEAM PRACTICES

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1: Try an icebreaker

Start your meeting in a human way, with one of these activities:

  • Small groups (6 people or fewer): Warmly welcome everyone by their first name, and ask new participants to introduce themselves. Pick an activity and ask each person to share their answers.
  • Big groups (7 or more people): Pick an activity for the entire group. Then divide into subgroups of 3–4 people to share answers. 
ICEBREAKER ACTIVITIES HOW IT WORKS

Check-in rituals (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

Ask how each team member is feeling by choosing one of these questions/rituals.

 

  • What’s your internal weather right now (sunny, thunderstorm, cloudy, drizzle sunsun behind small cloudsun behind cloudsun behind rain cloudcloud with lightning and raintornado)?
  • In one word or one color: How are you feeling?
  • If your mood right now were an animal, what would it be? Why?
  • What’s one thing you enjoyed doing this week?
  • Share one high and one low from the week.
  • In an abstract way, draw how you’re currently feeling. It might be a cloud floating in the sky or a snail hiding in its shell. Hold it up to your laptop camera and discuss.

Quick questions (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

Choose one or two of these icebreakers to avoid an awkward Zoom silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Getting to know new colleagues
    • Where did you grow up?
    • If you were famous, what would it be for?
    • What’s something small or unexpected that brings you joy?
    • What was your dream job when you were a child? How does that compare with what you’re doing now?
    • What’s something important to you that your peers might not know about?
    • What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on?
    • What’s one of your biggest challenges right now?
    • What’s one way we could help each other?
  • Ways of working
    • Which habits or rituals help you maintain focus?
    • What sparks creative energy for you?
    • What stresses you out? How do you decompress?
    • What helps you stay in a state of flow?
    • What was the best project you’ve ever worked on? What did you love about it?
    • What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on? What made it challenging?
    • What’s your favorite efficiency tip?
  • Superpowers
    • Which of your talents shines bright in your current role?
    • What’s a talent you used to show off as a kid? 
    • What’s your human superpower (for example: capable of falling asleep anywhere)?
    • What’s something you can teach in one minute?
  • Dreaming about the future 
    • Which goal—personal or professional—do you hope to accomplish this year?
    • If you could do any job in the world, what would it be and why? 
    • What’s a skill you’d like to develop?

Check our Creative Conversation Cards for more ideas.

Show-and-tell (10–20 minutes)

A virtual treasure hunt.

  • Find an object near you that has a story or personal meaning and share it.

Last photo (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

A modernized version of show-and-tell.

  • Ask participants to share a story about the most recent photo in their phone that isn’t curated or edited. No cheating! 

Rapid-fire connections (15 minutes)

 

 

 

 

This is a great way to quickly build trust and community by giving pairs of people something to bond over.

  • Round 1: Create random breakout rooms with two people in each. Give them five minutes to tell each other about where they’re from and then create a secret handshake (or set of gestures for Zoom) inspired by that information. 
  • Round 2: Recreate the random breakout rooms with different pairs of team members. Give them five minutes to tell each other about a recent failure (big or small) and then create a life motto inspired by that information. 
  • Round 3: Recreate the random breakout rooms with different pairs of team members. Give them five minutes to tell each other about a recent success (big or small) and then create a touchdown dance inspired by that information.

2: Simulate serendipity

Use these tools and exercises to virtually reinvent the watercooler moment.
Team pairing
  • Try a tool such as Donut, a Slack extension that randomly pairs team members for 1–4 weeks and encourages them to bond over non-work topics, or Connections, a bot that helps team members connect and build strong bonds using watercooler topics, interest groups, and meetup roulettes.
  • Use “random” pairing in Zoom for breakout rooms, to make sure you don’t always have the same teammates together in a group.
Cowork as a team
  • Set up a Zoom coworking session. Start with a 10- to 15-minute check-in to learn what everyone is working on, then have them add their project to a doc for accountability. Put on some music and cowork for one hour. If anyone feels blocked, ask them to speak up and talk through it with the team.
Status updates
  • Write async weekly status updates, to make sure team members know what everyone else is working on. See something you’re curious about? Ask. If someone is blocked, offer your help!

More resources

3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Warmly welcome everyone to your meeting, and ask new participants to introduce themselves.
  • Next week: Add 5–10 minutes for a conversation starter at the beginning of every meeting.
  • Quarterly: Schedule an org or company-wide coworking session.
ICEBREAKER ACTIVITIES HOW IT WORKS

Check-in rituals (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

Ask how each team member is feeling by choosing one of these questions/rituals.

 

  • What’s your internal weather right now (sunny, thunderstorm, cloudy, drizzle sunsun behind small cloudsun behind cloudsun behind rain cloudcloud with lightning and raintornado)?
  • In one word or one color: How are you feeling?
  • If your mood right now were an animal, what would it be? Why?
  • What’s one thing you enjoyed doing this week?
  • Share one high and one low from the week.
  • In an abstract way, draw how you’re currently feeling. It might be a cloud floating in the sky or a snail hiding in its shell. Hold it up to your laptop camera and discuss.

Quick questions (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

Choose one or two of these icebreakers to avoid an awkward Zoom silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Getting to know new colleagues
    • Where did you grow up?
    • If you were famous, what would it be for?
    • What’s something small or unexpected that brings you joy?
    • What was your dream job when you were a child? How does that compare with what you’re doing now?
    • What’s something important to you that your peers might not know about?
    • What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on?
    • What’s one of your biggest challenges right now?
    • What’s one way we could help each other?
  • Ways of working
    • Which habits or rituals help you maintain focus?
    • What sparks creative energy for you?
    • What stresses you out? How do you decompress?
    • What helps you stay in a state of flow?
    • What was the best project you’ve ever worked on? What did you love about it?
    • What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on? What made it challenging?
    • What’s your favorite efficiency tip?
  • Superpowers
    • Which of your talents shines bright in your current role?
    • What’s a talent you used to show off as a kid? 
    • What’s your human superpower (for example: capable of falling asleep anywhere)?
    • What’s something you can teach in one minute?
  • Dreaming about the future 
    • Which goal—personal or professional—do you hope to accomplish this year?
    • If you could do any job in the world, what would it be and why? 
    • What’s a skill you’d like to develop?

Check our Creative Conversation Cards for more ideas.

Show-and-tell (10–20 minutes)

A virtual treasure hunt.

  • Find an object near you that has a story or personal meaning and share it.

Last photo (5–10 minutes; 1 minute per person)

A modernized version of show-and-tell.

  • Ask participants to share a story about the most recent photo in their phone that isn’t curated or edited. No cheating! 

Rapid-fire connections (15 minutes)

 

 

 

 

This is a great way to quickly build trust and community by giving pairs of people something to bond over.

  • Round 1: Create random breakout rooms with two people in each. Give them five minutes to tell each other about where they’re from and then create a secret handshake (or set of gestures for Zoom) inspired by that information. 
  • Round 2: Recreate the random breakout rooms with different pairs of team members. Give them five minutes to tell each other about a recent failure (big or small) and then create a life motto inspired by that information. 
  • Round 3: Recreate the random breakout rooms with different pairs of team members. Give them five minutes to tell each other about a recent success (big or small) and then create a touchdown dance inspired by that information.