This was the last week of the writing element of the collaboration. Tomorrow, the document moves to the translation stage of the project. I must admit that I am not unhappy to be handing it over to our French colleagues.
All in all, we got engagement to varying degrees from all but one of the writers. This was probably a reasonable outcome, and certainly better than my past experiences of student teams.
However, it was still a somewhat frustrating experience, not least because it would have been much easier and faster to complete the project on an individual rather than a team basis. Perhaps, that in itself is a point to note – not all projects are suited to virtual teams and a project which is low-stakes, and vaguely defined (certainly to the individuals involved) is a project that is more difficult to get buy-in and focus from the participants. Equally, I think that the content of the project was probably less important than getting an understanding of what is involved in virtual collaboration and where the pitfalls are.
So, if I was dispensing advice on virtual teams, what would that be?
- I have already written about the importance of the team leader in last weeks post but that is at the heart of a successful virtual team.
- It is important to have clarity around the tasks to be completed and team members roles and responsibilities. Our project moved on significantly once I broke down the content into topics to be developed and assigned them to team members.
- All team members must be clear what is expected in terms of communication, especially in communicating availability. Several of my team members posted apologies about not being available due to exams. However, they did this after the exams. It would have given other team members a greater level of comfort about their intentions toward the project had they let us know beforehand.
- Finally, as in all offers of help, a post along the lines of “I can do this by this date” is much more helpful that a post which reads “…….great job, I can’t add anything to your draft but let me know if you need any help with anything……”
But if virtual teams are an unavoidable feature of today’s corporate landscape, I have been thinking about how to make the experience more successful. One approach that comes to mind is “blended collaboration”. Just as in education and learning, there is a recognition that blended learning (that is to say, a mix of online and face-to-face) may improve the learners experience, perhaps this type of approach would facilitate virtual teams in building relationships, structures and trust as the start of a project.
In fact, I have a friend, a software engineer, who does do this. He recently had several trips to China and explained that it was because he was managing a new project with a virtual team and based on his experience, the best way to get up and running was to travel, meet his team in order to build relationships, clarify roles and responsibilities and build trust. Once he has done this initial work, he plans to run the project as a virtual team project with less face to face meetings.
So to sum up, as with so many other things in life, it all comes down to communication and George Bernard Shaw, as always, was on the money with his comment.