For decades, conventional wisdom went something like this:

  • Work is work.

  • Personal life is personal.

  • Mental and emotional wellbeing are personal issues, and therefore have nothing to do with work.

(This line of thinking takes me back to logic problems from my high school math classes. If p, then q. If not q, then not p. Or does that mean that p is the inverse of q? It’s been well over 20 years since I last took math.)

The relationship between mental health and work started gaining more attention over the last decade, especially since the pandemic started in March 2020. This is a very good thing. Workplaces, after all, are made up of people. If you want people to show up and succeed, they need to be healthy, in all the definitions of the word.

This isn’t rocket science.

But there is a close analogy to earth science.

Let me explain.

Most models of organizational health don’t factor in wellbeing at the individual level. Furthermore, they usually don’t account for variation in how different people feel, think, and act in any situation.

When we factor in mental health and emotional wellbeing, we’re adding one huge, nuanced area of pressure (namely the interpersonal dynamics, such as behavioral differences, internal biases, stress from home, relationship issues, etc.) to another (organizational structure and operations, which includes things like workload, process, cross-team coordination, capacity, etc.).

These two sources of pressure impact every facet of the workplace, and slowly build over time.

This is where earth science comes in. Specifically, earthquakes.

Under the earth’s surface, geologic plates shift and bump up against each other, which builds pressure over time. If there’s no way to diffuse that pressure, a major earthquake is inevitable.

Fun fact: California has dozens of earthquakes daily. Don’t believe it? The key is that they’re small and less noticeable. If the pressure built up instead, we would likely see a doomsday scenario from the movies.

Teams are in constant flux, and that constant flux results in the steady build up of pressures over days, weeks, and months. From onboarding new clients and talent to managing projects and tools, change and movement affect people, and it’s critical to let out the pressure in small, controlled ways.

That’s what is at the heart of our work at Barometer XP. We use games to explore and release little bits of pressure about specific challenges a team is experiencing. By addressing these small pressure points along the way, you can avoid the tectonic shifts that might cause irreparable damage.

We’ve reached the point where it’s almost a cliche to talk about how hard it is to make meaningful connections with colleagues through Zoom boxes and Slack channels.

“Ugh, I’m so sick of Zoom” has become the new “I can’t believe this weather” as the small talk statement to foster some quick agreement at the start of a conversation.

Yes, connecting virtually, be it over phone, video, or written message, is way less satisfying than in person.

Yes, we are all sick of spending so much time staring at screens, and have found ways to keep meetings focused and short.

And yes, these remote ways of communicating force a more formal structure that doesn’t leave space (physical or metaphorical) for spontaneous, serendipitous interpersonal conversation.

But there are lots of simple, fun, and very effective ways to encourage great connection and engagement among remote teams.

Here is our 3-step process for boosting engagement for your remote team.

Step 1: Take A Pressure Reading

The Pressure Matrix is a simple, free tool to assess your team’s greatest strengths and spot potential (or already existing) pain points (learn more about the Pressure Matrix here). There are two ways to use the tool.

  • Individually: In our online assessment, you read different statements about team culture and select which statements best apply to your team. Once you finish, you’ll receive an email report that highlights which of our 9 culture components are the biggest pressure points for your team.

  • Collectively: The interactive cards in our online Pressure Matrix include statements of how each component manifests if it’s a strength for your team, and what it looks like if it’s a source of pain.

Step 2: Make Time for a DTR

In the dating world, there’s something called the DTR (Define the Relationship) conversation, in which the parties check in to see if they are on the same page as to where the relationship is and where it’s going.

The same type of status check is important in teams, too. Wouldn’t it be useful to to know, for example:

  • Is everyone on the same page regarding their roles?

  • Are people clear on the team goals and priorities?

  • Do any processes need updating?

Barometer XP’s Pressure Matrix is the perfect tool to guide your team’s DTR. Just have each person complete the survey individually, and email to get the aggregate responses.

In comparing each person’s survey results, you’ll get a sense of whether people are in the same place regarding team culture, and gain insights into how to make the team even stronger.

Step 3: Play a Game!

Variety is the spice of life, right?

So why not vary up your team meeting format and play a few games? Not only will games give you a chance to relax and have fun together, you’ll also gain valuable insights into how each other feels, thinks, and acts in different situations. Plus you’ll create some great memories, which are essential in building strong team identity.

Need help picking the right game for your team? No problem, just email and we’ll give you some suggestions.

Better yet, want Barometer XP to lead your team through all 3 steps? Email to learn more about our Sync to Swim package!

Updated: Jul 21

A great team creates more value than the sum of its individual parts. To achieve this status, we must set up each individual for success. A team can’t function well if its members don't have clarity on their own role, which includes understanding the importance of their work at different levels of the organization.

So what can teams do to make sure each person has clarity on their role, value and impact?

In the second part of this series, we covered the Traditional Retreat – 3 pressure points that build a strong organizational foundation. When a good plan is combined with compassionate, thoughtful leadership (see Part I), teams are prepared for success.

But how do teams celebrate together and ensure the work continues to be meaningful?

In this article, we cover 3 final pressure points that strike an important balance between process and results. Individuals need to validate their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Organizations need to improve their operation and value proposition.

Let’s dig in.

Value and Appreciation

At the intersection of “What” and “Feeling” is Value and Appreciation. When individual contributions are fully trusted and utilized, people have the space to flourish and show off their talents without the fear of being micromanaged.

When workspaces are experiencing Value and Appreciation as a pressure point, people may lack a sense of worth or acknowledgement. As simple as complimenting someone for their work sounds, it’s amazing how many employee successes we take for granted and how often letting them go unnoticed can affect dependability or performance over time. This is true for individuals who have just joined a new team as well as for senior employees who have been with the team for many years. Encouraging behaviors and praising positive results will cultivate a caring community that attracts like-minded individuals.

To address this pressure point, we suggest games that allow for creative expression like a Scavenger Hunt. Open-ended search prompts can range from whimsical (i.e. find something blue and larger than your head) to sentimental (i.e. find something that represents your superpower). By honing in on a desired conversation, scavenger hunts bring forward stories about people and their state of mind. As an added bonus, the game gets people out of their seats and exploring their environments through a new lens. Perhaps nothing is more powerful than empowering people to be curious and appreciate what’s around them.

Clarity and Complexity

At the intersection of “How” and “Thinking” is Clarity and Complexity. When people communicate genuinely and have strategies to address conflict, leaders will benefit from a team that coordinates well and leans into the systems in place.

When workspaces are experiencing Clarity and Complexity as a pressure point, it’s likely that people are uncomfortable with the current processes. That discomfort might be due to a minor clarification needed to unblock progress, a major structural issue with the way information flows through the team, or anything in between. When everyone knows who to talk to and where to go for help, teams can tackle any problem with confidence.

To address this pressure point, we suggest games that challenge players to communicate over different mediums. Visionary is one of our favorite customizable games. Like the popular game, Pictionary, players attempt to communicate an image. Whereas in Pictionary, one player knows a secret word and tries to draw it as fast as possible while their teammates guess, in Visionary, one player is given an image (the stranger the better) and has 2 minutes to describe it to an active team of drawers (who don’t get to see the image).

The goal is for the original image and drawing to look as similar as possible, based solely on the Visionary’s instructions. To be successful, teams will have an underlying system that helps the describer share more details in less time. Inevitably, the image comparisons will never look identical, which offers moments of levity between real reflections of how to improve.

Impact and Legacy

At the intersection of “Why” and “Acting” is Impact and Legacy. It can be very difficult to push through a project or moment of adversity when you don’t see how your work matters long-term. Reflecting on success can boost energy and keep the team focused on the right things.

When workspaces are experiencing Impact and Legacy as a pressure point, people seek a greater sense of pride or accomplishment over the outcomes of their efforts. Those terms mean different things to different people. Some want work to be seen and felt, while others want work to look and feel right. There's no right answer, but not understanding the range of perspectives will be costly to everyone involved.

To address this pressure point, we suggest games like Telestrations where players quickly get to see how their contributions affect an outcome. We particularly love this game because it’s easy to learn and activates everyone in fast-paced rounds. Based on the concept of Telephone – whispering a word or phrase around a circle – Telestrations adds drawing and time pressure dynamics.

Alternating between drawing a word or phrase and guessing what it is from the drawing, players pass dry-erasable booklets around for 1 rotation. To avoid a lot of waiting, every player starts with a booklet and different start words. At the end, each person reveals the progression of drawings and guesses in their booklet, usually resulting in some hilarious misinterpretations.

There are plenty of clever ways to debrief this game for learning insights, as well as opportunities to play virtually through free web apps like Gartic Phone.

Pathways of Validation

Regularly valuing people’s contributions, showing why they matter, and practicing communication skills all validate a team’s process and results. Organizations thrive when they have managers who can celebrate and promote success while encouraging colleagues to strive for more.

With so many different learning and working styles, no workplace is the same. Neither are games, which makes them effective spaces to simulate scenarios, as well as reflect on attitudes and behaviors. Whether you are an individual contributor, team leader, or professional facilitator, we believe in adding play to your toolbelt. Just remember, the magic is in the game setup and debrief.