How do you actually practice getting better at team communication? How can you perform team building for physically separated teams?
My presentation would be partly focused on the problems described above and briefly showing the project I’ve created and how it can be used to help solve this.
I created a project that endeavors to provide an activity (sort of a multi-player puzzle game) to help people with this problem. The goals were for it to be simple to learn (no complex riddles or guessing required just simple trivial logic, quick to play ( < 15 mins), require communication to solve plus actually be fun. (This is a public live beta but is also a work in progress as I add features.)
The activity is designed to require coordination between players using only audio (phone, Skype, etc.). Each player has part of the puzzle visible only on their display but must communicate with the other players for entire team to be able to solve the puzzle. This forces users to visualize the problem and potential solutions. It also requires users to agree on terminology and exactly what things mean.
These are the actual (lack of) skills that cause real world communications problems. People think they are agreeing on something but in reality there is a large gap between the understandings of each of the team members. The general approach to this problem is to have post-mortems and everyone agrees to "communicate more clearly", etc. without any real tangible plan to get there. Additionally, this can create a blame game where people point fingers so it isn't their fault that a project date slipped, etc.
This activity is outside of normal team dynamics and project schedules so it free people to focus on just the simple task of solving the puzzle. It also allows light team building as there is a sense of accomplishment when working together to solve something. It can also be used as a tool to help reveal leadership potential. Does someone just take charge and run everyone else over? Does someone work to get everyone equally involved?
A little about the puzzles:
Each puzzle is designed so that each person has a metal plate (e.g.). In the center of this plate is a 3×3 gridded area (The plate can be thought of as at least 5×5). Some number of the 9 squares of the 3×3 plate are missing. Each other player has a similar plate with different (unknown) holes in the 9 squares of the center 3×3 center area. The puzzle is to shift and/or rotate each plate (individually) in such a way that the holes line up (or not). The puzzle is solved when a light that is directed at the stacked plates that it creates a pattern of lit 1×1 squares. It should be noted that to see light through all plates means that all of the plates must currently have a hole at that position. Each player can see the target goal state, some number of the squares in the 3×3 target area will be outlined as a goal square. Each player can adjust their plate to one of 36 positions. It can be rotate around the center by 0, 90, 180, or 270 degrees (4). It can also be shifted 1 row left, 1 row right, 1 row up, 1 row down or 0 rows up/down and/or left/right (9). Rotations (4) * Shifts (9) gives 36 possible positions. Then each player can lock in their positions. When all players are locked, the game scores to see if you are right. If not, you get a strike. Three strikes and you lose. NOTE: You can’t see the effect of other players plate in your display – only your plate and the goal.