Teams are an essential ingredient in the recipe of a high-performing organization. But not all teams are truly successful. For many employees, team-based projects utilize valuable resources and precious time. So, how do you build stronger teams that meet deadlines, stay within budget, and drive organizational goals? It starts with top-notch team development.
Experiential learning, otherwise known as “learning by doing” is uniquely equipped to address the challenges of teams and create lasting behavior change in all team members, making it a valuable tool in any virtual training program’s toolkit. In virtual experiential programs, team members get “hands-on” with their training, working together to solve a themed challenge that parallels the workplace challenges they face as a team. Thanks to its engaging, inclusive nature, virtual experiential programs get each team member in the habit of participating fully in the team experience.
Through the use of themed, immersive situations, virtual experiential programs differentiate themselves in 7 ways from traditional online team training. Here’s how.
Themed online training creates a safe environment in which participants can take risks and learn from their failures. If the virtual team-building training is simply a simulation of a common workplace scenario, participants would be less likely to take risks because no one wants to risk failure at work.
Immersive virtual experiential programs inject excitement and fun into team-building sessions, which helps keep participants engaged throughout the duration. In our experience, even participants who start off unsure about participating in a virtual experiential program - because they can’t immediately see the value or are turned off by the game-like atmosphere (common in many team-building exercises) - are all smiles by the end.
Even though the virtual experiential program may feel like a game, participants must use their real business-related skills in a real situation. The experience is challenging in the same way a real work scenario would be.
Virtual experiential programs end with a thorough debrief, where the connections between the themed experience and participants’ on-the-job reality are made. During the debrief, a facilitator explains that the strategies the participants can use to win in the experience are the same strategies that they can use to “win” at work as a team. Plus, because the themed nature of the experiential learning activity doesn’t usually correlate to just one specific business problem, facilitators have flexibility during the debrief to make connections to several different problems brought to life by the experience. This is especially important for team-building training because dysfunctional teams are rarely dysfunctional in just one way. If a team exhibits multiple dysfunctional behaviors during the training, the facilitator has the freedom to address them all during the debrief, adjusting how much time they spend discussing each one according to training priorities.
A virtual experiential program creates a clear line of sight between a team’s behaviors and their effect on an outcome. Teams are often formed at work to tackle big projects. These team projects have a lot of moving parts, long timelines, and fluctuating budgets—which makes it hard to pinpoint the cause if the project doesn’t turn out as anticipated. During a compressed virtual experiential program (exercises usually don’t take more than two hours), however, the effect of a team’s behavior becomes crystal-clear in a short amount of time. Team members come out of a virtual experiential program knowing exactly what behaviors cause dysfunction, and they can feel confident that applying their new skills during on-the-job team projects will make a big difference.
Virtual experiential programs powerfully builds conviction in team members. That’s because an experiential program is distinctly different from role-playing exercises often used in team-building. In an experiential program, participants are not asked to adopt a role—they’re required to be themselves. By being themselves, instead of playing a role, participants cannot elude responsibility for the exercise’s outcome; no one can excuse the outcome of the training experience by saying, “Oh, that wasn’t really my fault; I was just playing a role.” Participating as themselves, therefore, builds conviction to change, because they’ve experienced first-hand how they personally acted and reacted in a situation. They’re then able to carry that personal conviction to change into their work, owning their actions and taking responsibility for outcomes—and they can better understand how their past actions led to specific outcomes when working with their teams.
Virtual experiential programs reinforce the idea that, succeed or fail, win or lose, the outcome of an experience has been earned together. When you’re a member of a dysfunctional team, it’s tempting to “pass the buck” if something goes wrong, blaming other team members for negative outcomes. This happens when teams are operating in silos and team members don’t see—or refuse to recognize—how their actions affect the larger outcome. The immersive, intimate nature of a virtual experiential program makes it extremely hard for participants to pass off responsibility. Effective experiential programs are designed for maximum engagement; with the help of facilitators, participants work together to solve the themed challenge or fail trying. In an experiential program, “failing” together is fine because failure reveals crucial team dynamics that are affecting team performance in the real world. Failure becomes a learning opportunity during the debrief, as participants come to understand what behavior changes they need to make to change performance outcomes. In virtual experiential programs, the focus on the team-building exercise is always on achieving an outcome together. This approach trains team members to identify and work toward a common goal, rather than simply fulfill one’s duties and then “check out” from the team dynamic.
Tackling challenges as a team requires your teams to be firing on all cylinders—with each member in tune about team goals, roles, communication, and leadership. Engaging, fully immersive, and memorable to boot, virtual experiential programs give team members the skills they need to transform into a high-performing team. Consider implementing an experiential program at your next virtual meeting or team-building event to see your teams work together more efficiently and creatively than ever before.