It’s no surprise that these virtual times are weird, difficult, and draining, and for many of us, staying engaged with our team has been one of the biggest challenges. While at a recent ACMP NorCal event of change managers and leaders, we were asked to share our solutions for keeping Propeller teams energized and engaged amidst the seismic work upheaval resulting from changes and new demands of the pandemic. 

The way we see it, there are four elements for creating a human-centric culture of effective collaboration for any team, especially virtual teams. These dynamics are Play, Presence, Vulnerability, and Wellness. These elements are cyclical and they feed into each other. We suggest teams start with Play, so we’ll focus on this element! 

Image: The four elements for human-centric engagement (image by Propeller)
Image: The four elements for human-centric engagement (image by Propeller)

Play: A Trust Builder (and Dopamine Booster)

When we play at work and with our teams, we lower our guard slightly and enter a state of flow—allowing us to innovate and design creative solutions. Teams that play accelerate the trust and belonging process so when disasters or challenges strike, they have already established a safe harbor for creating solutions together. They don’t fear the judgment of others on the team because they’ve laughed and bonded with each other. By overcoming these roadblocks as a team, they cultivate resiliency—the awareness that they can overcome anything as a team. Play really is a virtuous cycle in itself. 

We encourage teams to leverage Play to promote engagement, belonging, innovation, and resilience. Play can take the form of creative brainstorming, ice breakers, or anything that fosters joy. A lot of us know that dopamine is the natural and “happy chemical” created in our brains. In your teenage years, you start to lose dopamine naturally; essentially the use it or lose it theory applies. Through Play, we are engaging with this chemical to ensure that we are maintaining healthy levels of dopamine. It brings us into the moment, whether it’s through laughter, moving our physical body, or enhancing feelings of enjoyment or connection. 

Joy and Energized Collaboration: More Important Than Ever 

Play is hard to define because natural play means something different to every one of us. Play represents activities that promote joy and a sense of timelessness. Think about the moments in your life, especially in your childhood, when you truly felt free from the confines of time by participating in an activity that promoted a sense of joy. Remember the feelings of freedom, creative expression, and the sense of just “being?” This was likely a moment when you were engaged in a playful activity. Recognizing the types of activities that draw you into a state of play can tell you a lot about where you might find release or where to turn when you’re in a creative slump. 

These moments are important to reflect on because when we understand how we play, we are more likely to incorporate more play into our lives or encourage others to play when they are with us. Because play has an improvisational nature, it is ideal for creative brainstorming and problem solving, making it a great tool for team collaboration. 

How to Create Play Virtually 

One of our favorite ways to incorporate Play in the virtual workplace is by kicking off a workshop or meeting with a scavenger hunt. Give your team 45 seconds to find three particular items in their office, and when the timer goes off, ask them to share their items on camera. Time and time again, this activity increases the team’s joy and engagement, and often leads to a sense of belonging and connection, especially when an individual shares a story about a particular item. 

For more Playful ideas and inspiration, download the resource deck below. 

Image: The Propeller Team Engagement Workbook
Image: The Propeller Team Engagement Workbook

Download Team Engagement Workbook

We’re excited to share these elements for creating a human-centric culture of effective collaboration, especially important for virtual teams. Be sure to subscribe to the Propeller blog to receive future content updates.