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This year the growth of online meetings, workshops and remote working has changed the way that teams are collaborating on projects. While there are a lot of benefits of virtual collaboration, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real and it can often feel challenging keeping the energy flowing in online sessions.

The process of running online workshops has presented new challenges and opportunities for facilitators. The challenges of looking at a screen for prolonged periods can be draining for participants and create large dips in energy. Despite this there are opportunities for teams who want to push the boundaries of what they thought was possible online. There are new ways to create engagement and connection. 

As an international company we have been working remotely with teams around the world and clients for years. As such we have developed an array of out of the box tools to create connection and keep spirits high when running sessions online. We would like to share some of our favourite activities that work well virtually and in person.

Part of what makes a workshop or co-design session special is giving everyone a chance to share their own unique points of view. The following activities are part of our Warm Up Cards Kit to help facilitators leverage the collective intelligence in a group of people, and develop innovative solutions using collaborative, human-centred approaches.

Air Band

Encouraging a group to lose their inhibition through play is a great way to prepare for ideation and group integration. This activity works well for small groups, around the size of a band 4 or 5 people. If you have a larger workshop divide them into break-out groups and then send them back to the main session after they have had a chance to practice on their own. Choose party anthem songs with lots of guitar solos and dramatic vocals, for example, ‘Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now’. Participants from each group will rejoin the main session and form a pretend band, each taking the role of one of the band members – vocalist, guitarist, drummer, and so on. Each band member will pretend to be playing imaginary instruments along with the song. This is particularly fun watching in Zoom or Google Meet in gallery view. Another technical consideration is using the music sharing functions through Zoom or Google Meet so everyone is listening to the same song at the same time. 

Ask people to find or create simple costumes with items from around their homes. They can wear wigs, costumes, and whatever else they can find to add to their performance. Stream the music through the online meeting platform and ask the bands to start performing. With larger groups it is fun to get smaller groups to play for each to give everyone a chance to laugh and maybe sing along!

After the activity, ask the participants: How did you feel? What role did you choose and why? How was your interaction with the group? What did you think about the fact that everyone was “playing the same song”?

Debate

It is important to understand why we get attached to certain ideas and find it hard to change our point of view. This debating exercise helps participants practice empathy and active listening. Ask participants to write controversial themes in the chat function of your meeting platform. Divide the participants into two groups. You may need to create a chart with groups names and use it as the facilitator’s screen background. That way people can reference it so everyone knows which group they are in. A representative from each team will be selected to be the first to debate. The facilitator will select a theme at random and present it to the team leaders. The team leaders are the only two who are allowed to speak during the debate. Ask other participants to remain silent for the duration of the debate. It works best if they place themselves on mute. If they want to take over the role of team leader, they should raise their hand. The debate will stop and they will take over the debating role. 

The facilitator plays the role of instigator who looks for opportunities to spin the debate on its head, to challenge points of view and make team leaders question their beliefs and points of view.

When the activity concludes ask the participants, how did you feel defending your points of view? How did it feel changing opinions mid-way through debating? Ask them if while listening to their opponent, where they actively listening or thinking about what they are going to say next? How attached did they feel about their beliefs? Is ideological flexibility a weakness or an asset? Does empathy help with creating inclusive dialogue? This exercise will help to open the participants minds and be open to thinking about new points of view.

Switch

This role-playing game teaches participants how to improvise, ignite creativity and develop changing scenarios. Select two people in the group and give them a place and a scenario, for instance, “on holiday in Japan”. The two participants speak to each other to role-play the dialogue that would take place in this scenario. 

After a few seconds, the facilitator yells out: “Switch!”. The person who was speaking when you gave the “switch command” has to switch the last word they said for something else. 

For example: 

  • I was in Tokyo without my wife. 
  • Switch! 
  • I was in Tokyo without my wallet. 
  • Switch! 
  • I was in Tokyo without my clothes. 

Once the dialogue has progressed for a few minutes, choose another pair to enact a different scenario. After the activity, ask the participants, what did you feel when you were speaking and heard the “switch” command? What was most difficult about it? How did the command impact the flow of the scene? Did they switch words to similar-meaning words, or did they feel adventurous and get creative with the word swaps?

Learn More

In this brave new online and remote work environment it can feel difficult to create a thriving team culture. And it can also be difficult to keep everyone engaged. With innovative thinking it is possible to create a welcoming and creative environment online with a good facilitator. 

If you’d like to develop your facilitation skills, check out our Facilitation Experience. Participants will leave this course with the capacity to mediate groups and build creative solutions based on Design Thinking. If you would like more ideas, download our Warm Up Cards Tool Kit. This tool kit is a collection of cards that helps with facilitating projects, meetings and innovation sessions. Be sure to reach out with any questions.

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Megan Davis

Originally from Michigan, now living and creating in Melbourne, Megan considers herself a citizen of the world. She has been discovering stories since 2012, specialising in narrative strategy and storytelling for businesses that are daring to create new realities and futures.
She has traveled the world conducting workshops in New York, London, Berlin, and most recently Lisbon at the House of Beautiful Business in 2019 to teach people how to connect with storytelling to deliver strategic business results.
Putting empathy first in business and life, she loves sharing her knowledge by speaking, training, and consulting on projects that are changing the world.

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