Drafts: A fun way to keep a remote team connected
Virtual happy hours, or "no work talk" meetings are fine, but were not a good fit. Instead we did Fantasy Drafts, but not about Football
What do these things have in common?
- Dora the Explorer’s Backpack
- Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster
- A Submarine
- A Large Open Top Piranha Tank
- A Construction Crew that specializes in Evil
- A Portable Still
- Large Round Chrome-plated conference table with one very elaborate chair
- A Doomsday Device
They’re the things some members of my team picked during our “Things you’d want to have on a desert island” fantasy draft.
You’ve probably read as many articles as me about keeping a remote team connected…I have too. Virtual happy hours, or “no work talk” meetings are fine, but were not a good fit for me or my team. Instead we did Fantasy Drafts, but not about Football
The premise is simple….
- Pick a topic (the more open, the better)
- Schedule a meeting
- Everyone gets 5 picks, one at a time (serpentine-draft-style)
- Keep it light, laugh, enjoy the stupidity, and get to know each other
Select the right topics
This shouldn’t feel like something people have to do a lot of preparation for.
We found that the most fun topics were the wide-open ones, but also those that required very little research.
Here’s the full list of the 43 draft topics we did in between April 2020 and August 2021:
Fast Food Menu Items
Build a Sandwich (5 ingredients)
Things to take back in time to impress people
Change a main character in a movie
Fictional characters to have with you during an apocalypse
Best “Worst” Movies
You are President; Fill your cabinet: Attorney General, Sec of Defense, Sec of Treasury, Sec of Transportation, Sec of Commerce.
5 things to take to Mars
Cast a Sitcom (Real or Fictional)
Things North Carolina is known for
Personal Electronic/Entertainment Devices
Iconic tv/movie vehicles
Iconic Movie\TV\comics vehicles that aren’t cars or trucks
Musicians to Party with in Vegas
Things that should be illegal but aren’t
The Year 2020
Survive the Zombie Apocalypse with items from a shed
Things you loved as a kid but hate as an adult
Songs you have to turn to 11
Things that are trashy if you’re poor but not if you’re rich
Rescue Team to save a loved one
Movies you can watch over and over and over again
Draft Day: Running the “meeting”
Someone should be in charge of running the draft while keeping things moving so that it fits in the scheduled time.
Because you’re doing this remotely, everyone’s going to be on Google Meet, or Zoom, or any of the thousand other video conference options. Just make sure you can present your screen, so everyone can see what’s being picked, who is next etc.
Use a collaborative spreadsheet or document (we used Google Sheets). Set it up with a row per round, and the people’s names across the top. Here’s a template to get you started.
Google Sheets - create and edit spreadsheets online, for free.
Create a new spreadsheet and edit with others at the same time -- from your computer, phone or tablet. Get stuff done…
You can get fancy if you want, and have a timer, but really it’s just a case of letting everyone have their picks. Of course, once someone picks something, nobody else can pick it for this draft. If there’s a debate about if something’s too similar…then maybe put it to a vote. I mean, it’s low stakes, so who cares anyway.
If you’re unclear about a “serpentine” draft…that just means the draft order reverses each round. If you pick first in the first round, you pick last in the second round. If you pick last in the first round, you pick first in the second round.
3. Let the discussion flow
This is where the team-building actually happens. Each person is going to have their own perspective, preferences, picks during the drafts, and that’s where everyone gets to know each other. Make sure you build in time for that. It’s not just about making pick after pick after pick. The key is to let the group talk about them, maybe with some light-hearted jokes at each other’s expense….but just make sure everyone’s comfortable and friendly. After all, this is happening “at work.”
The game within the game
During these drafts, some inside-jokes developed. Then we realized there’s a game within the game.
Some of us tried to slip a hidden theme past the rest of the group, without them realizing. Like somehow, Bill Paxton kept showing up, or Bill Paxton movies.
Other times, the running joke was when someone picked something controversial. For us, the main instance of that was “BBQ” picked during the “Things North Carolina is known for.”
Anyone who knows anything about North Carolina (including me, an Australian) knows that “BBQ” can be one of two things…..Eastern Carolina (Vinegar-based) or Western Carolina (Tomato-based). So…when someone took “BBQ,” as a single pick, it meant someone (me) then couldn’t pick “Western Carolina BBQ.” I mean…it’s like picking a “sampler platter” as your favorite appetizer! You picked multiple things!
Sorry, I digress.
The point is, inside jokes and running themes emerge, and before you know it, the team has a common language and shared experience that makes everyone feel a little more connected and collegial.
An excuse to get to know each other
I mean, that’s the bottom line. In a pre-remote-work world, your team would probably talk in the hallway (are there any water-coolers anymore anyway?), or go to lunch together, or run into each other in the parking lot. That’s when they’d talk about random things like movies they saw, or shows they watched, or music they’re listening to.
The draft idea is just an excuse to get together in a low-stakes scenarios, and help everyone get to know each other. If you do wide-open topics like “comedy movies” or “shows you’re watching during lockdown” then you’re quickly going to find out what your team likes….and if other team members share those same things, hobbies etc.
So…keep it easy, check-in with your group to make sure they’re all comfortable with the concept and topics…but keep in mind it might take a few drafts for people to open up or get into the idea. The first draft we ever did had a lot of hesitation and explanation about what a draft even is.
Credit for the idea
I got this idea not from a productivity or remote-work article on medium…but actually from my favorite podcast: All Fantasy Everything. If you want a recommendation of which episode to start with as a taste-test, check out the Taco-Bell draft, or “Words that make you sound smart.”
Here’s two of the drafts we did:
Try it out
As everyone continues to try to keep their teams together, collegial, and collaborative during this unusual time, this might be something to try. And if not, there’s a BUNCH of other ideas on medium for remote-work and team-building engagement approaches.