At this week's KM Forum eventat Bentley College in Waltham, the theme of the discussion was "Leveraging Virtual Teams and Social Tools for Business Advantage."
A variety of presenters shared valuable (and frequently entertaining) insights, but in this post I'll focus on the first presentation, by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps of NetAge, who shared with us some best practices around optimizing the performance of virtual teams.
Their key themes included:
the definition of a virtual team
- studies performed/published on virtual team effectiveness (including a great article from the May, 2004 Harvard Business Review -- subscription required for full article)
- the building blocks of virtual team effectiveness: people, purpose, links, and time.
Some of the noteworthy best practices for working with virtual teams that Lipnack and Stamps have seen and prescribed include:
- Give your teams rich teleconference AND shared workspace capabilities. You MUST give them both, as they serve very different purposes.
- BAN e-mail as a tool for teamwide communications. It's for old people. :-)
- Create and enforce ground rules for conference calls. Some really useful ones are included in more detail in their presentation, but the caveat remains: Many people know these already, but relatively few have the will and discipline to live by them.
- Standardize the structure of your team workspaces. For team members to find the information they need shouldn't require treasure hunts. (I loved Lipnack's "lightswitch" metaphor here: if you walk into a dark room, of all the hundreds of square feet of wall space available, you still grope around very specific places for the switch.)
- Ifyour collaboration strategy doesn't include people outside your entity/firewall/premises, you're missing the point.
Lipnack and Stamps also provided many tidbits and resources (little mental bookmarks for me) that merit further investigation and reading. I want to think and write about these in more depth, but here's a quick list, as much a placeholder for me as a reference for you:
- Tim Berners-Lee's quote from April 2008: "The Web is still in its infancy."
- The "50-foot rule" about physical proximity needed for effective collaboration, based in part on research by MIT's Tom Allen.
- Michael Sampson's "When to Travel" flowchart.
- Albert-László Barabási's book "Linked." (just went on the Kindle wish list)
- NetAge's "OrgScope" software application for mapping organizations and networks.
It was fascinating to hear from consultants who have studied and coached high-performing teams over many years. Among their many pearls of wisdom was one I'll leave you with, a quote from technology luminary Paul Trevithick about something we as practitioners often see in the field:
"We always get the technology right and the sociology wrong."