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Summary of Teamwork Meeting
Held 19 May 2001

Part 1: Using Sailing to Develop Teamwork
(Chris Palibrika)

Chris presented information about his company's system for using outdoor sailing to develop team building. No further summary is available at this time.

Part 2: Virtual Teams
(Debbie Waterstone)

Contents

  What is a Virtual Team?
  Facts and Statistics
  Benefits and Challenges
  Strategies and Success Factors
  Performance Implications
  Where Do We Go From Here?
  Resources

What is a Virtual Team?

Characteristics
  Group of people
  Work interdependently
  Shared purpose
  Use technology
  Routinely cross space, time, and organization boundaries

Team members may...
  Work half a block or half a world away from their colleagues.
  Consist of employees from one company or they include representatives from several organizations.
  Convene for a few days to solve a problem, a few months to complete a project, or exist permanently.
View research summary


Facts and Statistics

  The 9-5 office, as we have known it, is more often than not, not an actuality.
  The number of home-based workers in the U.S. rose 20% in 2000 to nearly 24 million.
  The GartnerGroup predicts that by 2002, there will be more than 108 million people worldwide working regularly outside a traditional office.
  One quarter of a billion people on the planet are already online.
  The new corporate reality is a centralized company with a decentralized employee base.
  All of us are smarter than any of us.
View research summary

Benefits and Challenges

In groups:
  What are the primary benefits of teaming virtually?
  What do you see as the key challenges?
  What would you guess to be one of the most important features of successful virtual teaming?

Benefits
  Organizations can get results in a shorter period of time while minimizing time away from the job and the costs of travel and administration.
  Ability of organizations to engage in business internationally without spending large amounts of money or requiring their employees to relocate or suffer chronic jet lag.
  Virtual teams break down geographic barriers that may prevent companies from finding the best people to do a job.

Challenges
  Organizations can get results in a shorter period of time while minimizing time away from the job and the costs of travel and administration.
  Anything that goes wrong face-to-face also goes wrong online, only faster and less gracefully.
  Workers can be in different countries with varying time zones and cultural differences.
  Same challenges as traditional teams: egos, power plays, poor self-esteem and leaderlessness; but these virtual failures are complicated by the absence of face-to-face interaction and by distance and time
  More difficult to resolve interpersonal conflicts when not meeting face-to-face. Also not appropriate when issues are highly emotional or ambiguous or when the team is newly formed or short-lived.
  Communication challenges:
» Those that arise for members across different functions who must simultaneously represent their trained specialization and subordinate their interests to the shared goals of their teams.
» Very easy to miscommunicate, e.g., forgetting to inform a person in the loop, or finding that some people have different expectations as to what's going to happen.
  The need to take more initiative in solving problems
  Unique management issues:
» Managing the invisible team-e.g., leaders have to use influence and powers of persuasion, which is much more complex and much more challenging than giving orders.
» Establishing trust-if you have high trust you don't have to worry about not being in the meeting.
» Communicating and connecting with workers.
View research summary


Strategies and Success Factors

  Virtual teams run aground for several reasons:
 
» Lack of purpose, no program charter
» No agreement as to the roles and responsibilities of each member
» Poor leadership - lousy at program management
» Communication snafus
» No face-to-face kickoff
» Technical glitches
» Failure to close cultural divides.
  Need to be cognizant of the need to follow some guidelines when creating a virtual team; e.g., conducting a team orientation session is one of the most important steps.
  Good "people" thinking is a critical success factor-companies are thinking about bandwidth and technology issues-they're not thinking about the carbon life forms that are using the technology.
  Needs to be alignment around purpose, dealing with conflict, and sharing leadership.
  MUST develop a level of trust
 
» Team members can build trust as they build their social capital or "credit," which comes from sharing expertise and the manner in which it is shared.
» They need to be sure that everyone will fulfill his or her obligations and behave in a consistent, predictable manner.
» The first interactions of the team members are crucial.
  High levels of trust can be established by:
 
» Beginning interactions with a series of social messages
» Setting clear roles for each team member
» Display of eagerness, enthusiasm, and an intense action orientation in messages.
  Regular and accurate communication
 
» Everything you say and do must be clear because there is no room for confusion
» Becomes overwhelmingly important for global teams.
  Ability of individual members to be self-starters
  Good work management system, e.g., project management software (group calendars, tracking system for assigning work and monitoring progress)
  Good technology tools-Internet/intranet systems, collaborative software (groupware), cell phones, email, videoconferencing
  Companies must allocate time and money to train virtual team members; also need to provide the resources to bring teams together face to face when necessary
View research summary


Performance Implications

  "Virtual teams are the people-operating systems for the twenty-first century." (Lipnack, Stamps)
  Pro opinions about virtual teams:
 
» Smarter than traditional teams because most of the communication is digitally encoded and there is a repository of shared information.
» More productive because of increased employee satisfaction.
  Con opinion:
 
» Since informal communication is missing, teams aren't as productive.
  Virtual teams hold out a promise that employees will be judged more on what they actually do than on what they appear to be doing-evaluation not influenced by other things.
  You have to focus on the objectives themselves and see what's measurable.
  Learning can be effectively situated in virtual space. Situated learning occurs within communities of practice as members adjust to each other's needs.
 
» Rarely follow "corporate doctrine."
» Reflects local experience and meets local requirements-key to success.
» Managers of virtual cross-functional teams need to understand this phenomenon and use a "hands-off" style that empowers team members.
» You can't anticipate every team need to develop formal work practices.
  Critical competencies:
 
» For virtual team leaders: performance management and coaching, appropriate use of technology, cross-cultural management, career development, building trust, networking, and developing team processes
» For virtual team members: project management, networking, the use of technology, self-management, crossing boundaries, and interpersonal awareness
  Consultants and trainers are starting to find ways to help people work in the vague and unpredictable world of remote connectivity. Virtual team members must:
 
» Learn to think differently about how they develop and track goals.
» Superior team participation skills-determine who belongs on the team at various stages, have ability to quickly assimilate into the team.
» Develop a team charter, define roles and responsibilities, plan kickoffs, set up remote agendas, run virtual meetings.
» Communicate with one another-learn new ways to express themselves and to understand others in an environment with a diminished sense of presence; also across cultures.
» Switch between being a leader and a follower.
  Clients want to know how to:
 
» Overcome information overload
» Manage their time and make decisions
» Build and manage remote teams that participate and contribute
» Structure and manage meetings
» Get the most out of technology
» Deal with performance problems
View research summary


Where Do We Go From Here?

  Scenario:
 
» Ask Jessica Lipnack what the workplace of the future will look like, and she will describe a scene that sounds as if it comes from a galaxy not so very far, far away.
» Predicts that powerful online workstations will one day replace our PCs - and our cubicles.
» Here's how it will work:
 
1. As a writer for TRAINING, I could fire up my computer and head for the virtual editorial department without having to leave home.
2. Once there, I would not only find my own works in progress, but a log of published stories and the background information used to produce them; notes on sources; and minutes from our editorial meetings.
3. If I needed to see photos for a story, I could "walk" down a three dimensional hall to view them in the art department.
4. Along the way, I could pick up electronic messages, pass finished assignments on to my editors, and chat with co-workers next to an online watercooler.
  What virtual teams begin to get at is a better fit in the way humans organize for work, and in the way information technology dispenses information.
  By bringing people together to pursue shared aims, they add to the stock of social capital-they frame new relationships and bank trust that they can draw upon in the future. Matter, when used, degrades. Information, when used, accumulates!
  "It's 90 percent people and 10 percent technology. It's clearly an area where the hard stuff is really the soft stuff." [Bob Buckman of Buckman Labs in Memphis, TN]
View research summary

Resources

Book: Mastering Virtual Teams, by Deborah L. Duarte and Nancy Tennant Snyder. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999. 229 pages.
Book: Virtual Teams, by Jessica Lipnack & Jeffrey Stamps. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000. 283 pages.
Article: Computerworld, Feb 5, 2001, p34. "Think of People When Planning Virtual Teams," by Julekha Dash.
Article: InfoWorld, Nov 13, 2000, v22 i46 p55. "Virtual teams going global - Communication and culture are issues for distant team members," by Steve Alexander.
Article: IIE Solutions, April 2000, v32 i4 p26. " Virtual Teams: Connect and Collaborate," by Tony Elkins.
Article: Technical Communication, Feb 2000, v47 i1 p51. "Situated Learning in Cross-functional Virtual Teams," by Daniel Robey, Huoy Min Khoo, and Carolyn Powers.
Article: Training, March 1999, v36 i3 p28(7). "Working on world time," by Kim Kiser.
Article: The Academy of Management Executive, August 1998, v12 n3 p17(13). "Virtual teams: technology and the workplace of the future," by Anthony M. Townsend, Samuel M. DeMarie, and Anthony R. Hendrickson.
Article: Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998, v76 n3 p20(2). "Trust in virtual teams," by Diane L. Coutu.
View research summary