Making virtual teams work

Cutting Through points to a great paper on Making virtual teams work

A recent paper from Dr Niki Panteli from Bath University’s School of Management looked at ways of developing trust within virtual teams, and it’s worth a read if you’re in the throes of building this sort of organisation. The three main characteristics that are identified are shared goals, the dynamics of power within the team, and communication. And it’s this last one for which technology can play a major part.

Trust is a huge aspect of any teams, and as this paper discusses, our ability to create and maintain trust in virtual environments is somewhat limited.  Trust comes out of regular interaction, shared context, shared vision, the belief that we are striving for the same goal, etc.  Beyond physical, face-to-face interactions, none of these are precluded by the concept of virtual teams.  The issue with virtuality is that in the traditional way we manage these things, there is no opportunity or capacity to build these aspects into the teams.  [Admission: I've given the Panteli paper only a cursory review.]

As I wrote the above, I immediately went to thinking that blogs - the process of blogging - could create those elements above.  My take on the activity of reading and writing in public is that I have built a community amongst those people who I read and write about regularly.  If I can feel like a community member with people I've never met (for the most part), just imagine how I might feel if we all knew each other or we all knew that we were driving toward the same goals.  How much more interested would I be in reading their writings and considering the successes and difficulties they discuss?

Some of these same effects have been attributed to other community-supporting tools, such as mailing lists or forums or virtual rooms.  However, my experience with these has been somewhat less "connection" than I have gained through blogging.  One thing people have attributed to blogs is that they belong to the owner, rather than being managed elsewhere, so the owner feels more vested in the care and feeding of their writings.

I don't really think blogs are the be-all, end-all.  But with the right set-up, I think the regular give and take associated with active blogging could enhance the creation of shared context amongst the participants.

3 Comment(s)

Thanks for wandering on by Rethink(IP) for this week’s installment of the Carnival of the Capitalists.  If you are scratching your head trying to figure out what the heck Rethink(IP) is all about – head on over to the Blawg... Read More

Bill Bruck said:

I think that, whether mediate by the web or not, teams are fundamentally about people working together with people. And of course trust is an essential dynamic.

F2F, trust is build of shared conversations, from which we gain an understanding of the other person, and shared commitments, from which we come to believe that a person will do what they say they will do.

The problem with much of the VTeam technologies today is that they are not optimized for conversation. We experience them as websites, not team centers. The tools for project management are robust, the tools for dialog are weak in many collaboration platforms.

Blogs are an answer, but perhaps not the best answer to thsi problem. Blogs are optimized for a Hyde Park experience - strolling from soap box to soap box, listening to proclamations, then standing on your own.

Good discussion forum software is optimized for, well, discussions. The integration of a strong discussion engine into a team center is, IMHO, the single best thing that can be done from a technology standpoint to support trust building.

(We have a white paper on creating and maintaining online communities that applies as well to online teams at http://www.q2learning.com that might be of interest in this regard.)

Thanks for wandering on by Rethink(IP) for this week’s installment of the Carnival of the Capitalists.  If you are scratching your head trying to figure out what the heck Rethink(IP) is all about – head on over to the Blawg... Read More

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