Virtual Collaboration

This semester we are working on a virtual collaboration project. We have been assigned to teams with Irish, US and French students with a brief to develop a piece of instructional content for a non-technical audience documentating a collaborative tool.  The objective for the first week was that we would all introduce ourselves, and begin to decide on our topic as well as the approach we would take in terms of project management.

So how has it been going? Well, it was a very slow start, people were busy on other coursework, couldn’t log in to Sulis (Sakai), the learning management system (LMS) that we use.  There was a typo in a student’s e-mail address, another “never uses this e-mail account”, some-one else was sick.  So it took nearly a full week of posts and then e-mails before everyone got signed in and introduced themselves.

So while I was waiting, I started thinking about some of the challenges of virtual teams and making them work.  I talked to classmates and friends –  people working in different industries –  and universal feeling was that virtual collaboration is more challenging than working in face to face teams. Research supports this view as well – Gratton & Erickson (2007) make a very interesting observation on team success.  They have found that while large, virtual, diverse teams comprising highly educated specialists are increasingly critical to organisational success, paradoxically, it is these four factor that make it more difficult for teams to collaborate successfully. They also identify eight ways to build successful teams and their paper makes for very interesting reading.  Conley (  identifies three characteristics of successful teams:

  • Trust
  •  Attentiveness &
  • Communication

While trust and communciation may seem to be obvious requirements, attentiveness may not immediately be clear.  Attentiveness essentially means that because its easy to “check out” or fly under the radar, virtual team members have to work extra hard at being attentive through their verbal and electronic interactions.

In my next blog post, I will document the progress the team has made in the last week and what actions team members carried out that helped move the project forward.


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