Archive for August, 2008

The Value of Virtual Teams

Are there any advantages of virtual project teams to the project or the team?

Other than benefiting the individual does the project or the team benefit from virtual operations or virtual team members?

Dan Light

Win More Federal Business

Most definitely. Virtual project teams allow you to pick the best people for your team regardless of geography. The benefits to the individual generally make for happier and more productive team members and you often get unique insights and perspectives that you wouldn’t get from a co-located team.

The challenges, of course, are the lack of personal contact. The camaraderie and team dynamic that comes from co-location and the non-verbal communication and nuance that comes from a face-to-face team. I’ve found that the best way to deal with that is to bring the entire team together on some neutral ground for a kick-off meeting. Use the opportunity to do some immersive team-building and force the awkward socialization with exercises and assigned seating at meals to mix the team up a bit. If you have an opportunity to do some brainstorming around your project or initiative, that’s also an excellent way for team members to get to know each other personally.

Once you have that “personal connection”, the virtual team tends to work much better together than a group of semi-anonymous voices on the phone or in a web-meeting.

One other “gotcha” to be aware of (and one that most organizations overlook) is that if you have a co-located group and a bunch of virtual team members, meetings will often have an underlying “us vs them” dynamic. People in the room will have side conversations that don’t carry through to the virtual team. Virtual team members will IM each other or exchange background emails and it’s easy to divide the team. I generally use an “all or nothing” approach. If the team is virtual, meetings should take place entirely on the phone or online (even if some of the team sits next to each other). Make extensive use of online whiteboards and other information sharing tools. It’s too easy to exclude virtual team members if you have a group of people physically meeting in a room.

Clarification added August 28, 2008:

I would also like to note that I find virtual teams to be better at communicating issues than face-to-face teams. (at least once they’re established). People today are much more aware of the need to communicate clearly and effectively when it’s in an email or IM. Verbal communication is much more fraught with nuance and interpretation. There are advantages to both approaches, but I find that once a virtual team gets over the initial hurdle, the communications are generally more efficient and precise than face-to-face teams. Your mileage may vary.

The value of Reputation

Would you share a key business lesson you learned?

Hi, my Business Networking International (BNI) associate and I are the education coordinators for our chapter and are writing 50 life/business lessons, one for each week. We will seek publishing later on down the line, and readers would value a diverse population. Do you have a story of a lesson you would wish to share?

Kevin Harville

Total Success Teams / New Eras Media

Your only asset with any true long-term value is your reputation.

Providing less than your very best, bad-mouthing your competition, overselling, under-delivering or misrepresenting yourself will all come back to bite you eventually. If you’re honest, open and ethical in your business dealings, you may lose out to someone “less scrupulous” in the short term, but your reputation will ultimately earn you back far more in the long run. You’ll also sleep easier at night knowing that you’re doing the “right thing” for your customers and for yourself.

The “Chief Innovation Officer”

If you just met someone who introduced themself as ‘Chief Innovation Officer’, what would you assume they actually did in that role?

Simon Stapleton

Commercial Director at Webventur

I’d assume that the board spent too much time reading “Wired” magazine and thinking about titles to make the company look progressive. 🙂

Innovation has to be pervasive in the culture, not driven by an individual. While I applaud companies for realizing that innovation is important, assigning an “individual” to that role would make me assume that they “don’t get it”. This would be especially true if the title was in a non-engineering company.

Innovation initiatives need to be separated out from the mainstream projects, administrativia and organizational politics. But the drive and sponsorship needs to come from the entire leadership team and not an isolated individual. In short, the Chief Innovation Officer needs to be every “C” level executive, every manager and every individual in the company.

If it was a development or engineering company, I would assume that the CInnovationO it’s just the head of R&D with a shiny new “cool” title.

I’ve met quite a few very impressive individuals with titles like these. But it doesn’t stop me from cringing when I see them printed on business cards. They’re so nebulous, that they could mean anything from “head of coffee flavour selection” to “Right hand to the CEO”. If the title comes with the underlying organizational commitment and culture, that’s a whole different ballgame. However, all too often it’s just a bandaid for a company that simply doesn’t get it.

Documentary Obfuscation for Titillation and Pecuniary Augmentation

Why do we write policies like this?

Dear friends,

Maybe you understand this – I don’t. Here is the opening paragraph to a prototype Employee Handbook, provided to free for all on the SHRM website. It reminds me of something from the Broadway spoof of corporate America, “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying).” It was provided to SHRM by a law firm. Here goes:

Whether you have just joined our staff or have been at XYZ for a while, we are confident that you will find our company a dynamic and rewarding place in which to work and we look forward to a productive and successful association. We consider the employees of XYZ to be one of its most valuable resources. This manual has been written to serve as the guide for the employer/employee relationship.

WHY do we write employee communications in such a stilted, demeaning way? Does anyone talk like this? For one thing, “the employees of XYZ” cannot be “one of its most valuable resources.” “A dynamic and rewarding place in which to work” is one of those say-nothing, just-had-to-fill-the-space phrases that knock you over the head with their emptiness. You should see the rest of the manual! Do you know why otherwise smart people who can write killer marketing materials and compelling copy for the media and other audiences, almost always write this vapid crizzap when writing for employees?

Liz Ryan

Workplace Expert: Career Advisor, Speaker, Author, HR pundit; Yahoo! Hotjobs Networking Expert; BusinessWeek Columnist

Somewhere along the line, the general public has bought into the idea that verbal obfuscation is somehow synonymous with eminent prerogative and meritorious intelligence. (trans: If it’s hard to understand, it must be official or written by someone very smart 🙂 Along the same lines, a 500 page manual is somehow more valuable that a 10 page flyer (even if they contain essentially the same information)

As part of a process re-engineering initiative that I led, we went after documentation that had a low “signal to noise ratio” and had people rewrite them using the simplest wording possible (while maintaining the meaning, of course). In one case, we had a 50+ page manual reduced to a 3/4 page checklist. Even our legal department bought into the idea and reduced a huge software support agreement to a single page written in plain english instead of “legalese”.

I’m sure that if someone took a critical look at most of these “on boarding” manuals, most of them would reduce to a single page welcome letter with a bullet list of expected conduct.

Imagine the energy, fuels, time and resources that could be saved by removing all of the communication of “non-information”.

While I have a great respect for wordsmiths and authors, Corporate communications generally aren’t the place to flex your literary muscles. This is especially true in the age of globalization. Many people reading your memos and manuals may not be fluent in the language. Using flowery language and less common words will certainly lead to misinterpretation.

Check out the Campaign for Plain English:

The Value of Instant Messaging

What is the most compelling reason to use “Instant Messaging” or “Texting” technologies in your professional or personal life?

Why do you use IM or text? Do you see these technologies spreading in the coming years?

Bill McDade

President at Arcella Global Corp.

I use IM for a number of purposes:

1) Quick information gathering in real-time. I can pull together a group of people in an IM conference for a 2-minute discussion in a matter of seconds. Usually without interrupting what they’re doing (much). The same goes for 1:1 exchanges.

2) Multitasking. When on a conference call or working in a room with another group, I can receive or pop-off a quick IM to keep on top of issues without leaving the room or breaking the flow of a conversation.

3) Supporting remote work. I work with a lot of geographically diverse teams. IM is the online equivalent of calling over the cubicle or leaning over to the person next to you in a conference room for a side comment/discussion.

All of these things require a particular mindset and discipline to stop them from becoming disruptive. But once the culture is well established, it’s difficult to understand how you ever survived without it.

One thing that I find particularly valuable is that IM forces people to think about the question that they want to ask or the response that they want to provide. Instead of listening to someone blather for 5 minutes with irrelevant “filler” information, you get nice concise questions and answers. You can also forgo a lot of the social pleasantries of a phone or face-to-face conversation. (not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s certainly a time saver)

The Most Valuable Corporate Training….

What is the most valuable professional course that you’ve taken and why?

Please share your experience with training in the professional environment. What is the most valuable class or course that you’ve taken? Why was this experience so impactful?

Bill McDade

President at Arcella Global Corp.

I’ve taken a lot of professional courses and I have a spew of alphabet soup after my name with the various certifications that I’ve received. However, the most valuable training that I ever received was when i worked for a company called CableData.

As part of the “on-boarding” process, they ran a multi-month program called CDIT (CableData Intensive Training). It included the standard “this is our product and how to use it”, but it also included working in every department throughout the company to understand how everyone fit together in the overall process. You didn’t spend a lot of time in each role, but it gave you perspective that’s impossible to get any other way. In a given day you might find yourself working with the people on the loading dock, running the collators that stuffed the bills and flyers into envelopes or taking customer calls on the help desk. At the end of the process, they actually arranged for you to work on a customer site and cycle through the jobs that their tools impacted. (that included riding with cable installers and seeing what kind of customers *they* encounter in a day. It was an enlightening and somewhat humbling experience.)

This was about 20 years ago, so I doubt that they still do the same sort of training today. But it’s an experience that stuck with me. I learned that no job is inherently more valuable than anyone elses and that it takes a lot of different gears to keep the machine rolling. Knowing it intellectually and experiencing it first-hand are radically different things.