Everyone has played the game of telephone at some point. You know how it goes. One person starts off with a phrase like “the red balloon floated to outer space.” That person passes it to the next person and the next person. Then, 20 or 30 people later, the final answer is completely unrelated, like “the orange baseball was hit to the outfield.” How’d that happen?!
Now, imagine taking the game of telephone and adding visuals. Instead of just saying the phrase to someone else, now you have to actually draw the phrase presented to you. Well, we pretty quickly found out what happens when you add art and pictures to communication.
A few weeks ago, we played a virtual game of telephone as part of a fun afternoon of team building. With our team scattered across the U.S. and many new faces coming aboard the team over the past six months, we thought it was important to have some productive fun to strengthen our bond.
We also wanted to learn a few lessons along the way about the importance of communication, especially in a remote work environment where messages can easily be lost in translation from the sender to the final recipient. So, if you want to know how internal communication can be improved in the workplace – especially if your team is working remotely – then check out what lessons we learned from our team bonding exercise.
Takeaways From Our Virtual Team Bonding
1. What’s the Context?
One of the primary takeaways from the team bonding exercise is the importance of making sure the recipient understands the context of the message. What can often happen when your team is working remotely is that context is missing or not completely clear when an assignment is made.
In the Game: Each person initiated a phrase of their own choosing. The next person had to draw what the first person came up with, but if that person didn’t know what the phrase meant, they drew whatever came to mind. And that got passed down the line to the next person and the next person until the last person ended up drawing something completely different. We got some pretty unique results!
Work Translation: Without proper context or meaning, instructions can easily be lost as the work is being done — especially if there are several layers of communication involved. The recipient needs to be 100% clear about what is being expected of them, what the ultimate deliverable should be, and when the work needs to be completed.
2. Does Everyone Have Enough Time?
Another key takeaway from our team bonding exercise was making sure everyone has enough time to do their work.
In the Game: When we started the virtual game of artistic telephone, everyone was given about a minute to do the drawing assigned to them. We had time to flesh out a picture, maybe add some color, and add some word bubbles to better explain the picture.
Then, we changed it up to the speed round, where everyone had about 15 seconds to slap something together. Well, the results were very different, and the drawings were quite hilarious. Folks like me with no artistic ability ended up drawing a few lines, maybe a square, perhaps even a circle for phrases where we lacked time to flesh out an idea. Under the pressure of a tight deadline and not enough time to work out the details, the output was definitely not as good.
Work Translation: The lesson we learned here was that it can be challenging to know exactly how much bandwidth everyone has in a remote work environment, which is a reminder of how important it is to communicate what’s on everyone’s radar on a given day or week. Does everyone have enough time to do their work? Otherwise, it’s easy for the work to pile up and the output to not be as good.
3. Can The Person Do The Work?
Another takeaway is the importance of maximizing strengths and placing employees in the best possible position to do their work. This often requires proper communication about work assignments. In other words, have the appropriate steps been taken to make sure that each person has the ability to do the work assigned to them? And, if they don’t have the ability, do they have the means to communicate their need for help?
In the Game: The visual game of telephone revealed that some of us have great artistic ability and others of us lack artistic ability. Since I fall in the category of having zero – and I mean zero – artistic ability, I could have used a lifeline to call on someone with more artistic ability to draw the phrase assigned to me.
Work Translation: In our game, it was every person for themselves drawing what was assigned to them. In a real work setting, though, you don’t want employees to feel like it’s all on them to complete a project or understand what’s expected of them. Unfortunately, when employees are working remotely, it’s easy for siloed work to develop where an employee feels like it’s all on them to figure out the assignment or execute it.
That’s why it’s important for employees to have an outlet to ask for help with an assignment. We emphasize collaboration and teamwork – and we literally use Teamwork for project management – to help us keep projects on track and to ask questions about projects so that assignments can be completed to the best of our abilities. If you don’t have a project management tool to support remote work, then you definitely need one!
How Internal Communication Can Be Improved in the Workplace
Overall, what we learned from our virtual game of telephone is that effective micro communication adds up in a big way. Through a humorous way, we learned how important it is for everyone to be on the same page so that we can best support our clients.
Conversely, gaps in communication can lead to inefficiencies, poor work output, and siloed thinking. It’s easy for gaps to form when your employees aren’t sitting together in the same workspace with quick access to each other to ask questions in the moment.
When working remotely or virtually, keep this in mind: it’s better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. Some of your team members may not want to ask questions and want to try to figure things out on their own, but this can often lead to re-work because key details were missed. Reinforce the importance of being extra communicative by asking more questions or requesting more information.
For us, this fun exercise was a good reminder of how important communication is when working remotely. We know this helped us also be a better listener for our clients. We strive every day to support our clients’ marketing efforts — and we know important communication is to make sure we’re all on the same page about how to help your business grow!
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