Friday, December 12, 2008

Digital Leadership

In February 2009,at the Training Magazine Conference, I will be running a session on "Successful Leadership in a Global Virtual Workplace." As economic conditions worsen, businesses must seek opportunities to further leverage global talent to develop new sources of competitive advantage.

Evolving digital information and communication technologies are making possible the creation of virtual workspaces (what I call WorkWebs or WoWs). What are the questions that digital team leaders need to be asking to create the most productive environments for their teams?

You can read my thoughts on the emerging world of digital leadership in a recent article in Training Magazine. You can access the brief article here.

The Training Magazine Conference will be held in Atlanta, GA - February 9-11.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virtual Distance Unbundled

In Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, published by Wiley in 2008, Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly help us deconstruct the concept of 'virtual distance'. Virtual distance is defined as "a psychological distance created between people by over-reliance on electronic communications."

Virtual distance is said to be responsible for a:

50% decline in project success
90% drop in innovation effectiveness
80% drop in work satisfaction
83% fall off in trust
65% decrease in role and goal clarity
50% decline in leader effectiveness

It was to help minimize these potential consequences of 'working together apart' that I developed The Six Cs of Global Collaboration. But how do the authors help us unbundle virtual distance so that we can better manage its effects?

Virtual distance is comprised of three different types of distance:

Physical Distance - psychological gaps created by geographic, time, and organizational distances. "People tend to "cooperate less, deceive more, and are less persuaded when just the 'perception' of physical distance increases."

Operational Distance - psychological gaps that grow because of day-to-day problems in the workplace. Issues that are generated by:

Communication distance - a feeling of disconnectedness resulting from a lack of
shared context or from a less than optimal communication medium is used
Multitasking - feeling distant from everything because of attention to
Readiness distance - feeling of detachment when technical problems (particularly
those that persist) disable our ability to cooperate.
Distribution asymmetry - a sense of disconnected either by being isolated or of there being too many people in one place where a lot of power is located.

Affinity Distance - psychological gaps resulting from the feeling of emotional disconnectedness between virtual team members. Gaps can be generated by:

Cultural distance - resulting from differences in team member values
Social distance - resulting from differences in status
Relationship distance - resulting from a lack of past connections and a high
level of unfamiliarity
Interdependence distance - resulting from a sense that there is no shared vision a feeling of mutual dependence

Data gathered by the authors indicates that when virtual distance is managed properly, results can be very positive:

Innovation behaviors increase by 93 percent
Trust improves by 83 percent
Job satisfaction is better by 80 percent
Role and goal clarity rise by 62 percent
On-time, on-budget performance is better by 50 percent
Helping behaviors go up by almost 50 percent

I think Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard Reilly have made a real contribution to conceptually mapping virtual distance. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Shift to Cooperation

There are some good videos on the Internet that help us better understand the new world. Here are two that I find very insightful, even though they date all the way back to 2005! Ancient artifacts? I don't think so.

Part 1 of The Shift to Cooperation is a link to an entertaining talk given by Howard Rheingold author of Smart Mobs . He puts cooperation and new forms of wealth into a broad evolutionary perspective. Part 2 is a talk given by Clay Shirky author of Here Comes Everybody. In it he talks about the new infrastructures of cooperation, and the creation of cooperative value. They are both about 20 mins long, but I think well worth a listen. I'll post interesting videos related to collaboration as I find them, and please let me know of others you feel should be posted. I cannot post these videos, but go to YouTube and search for:

Part 1 - Howard Rheingold: Way-new collaboration
Part 2 - Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. Collaboration

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The 'Missing S' Factor: Tiny Bits Of Information, Big Impact

Precision in virtual communications is critical. This week, I was part of a team making a presentation to a prospective client. Apart from the ominous blizzard that greeted me the night I arrived,I expected things to run pretty smoothly. The car rental firm was very nice - upgrading my car and making sure it had a GPS installed for my 1 1/2 drive from the airport to my hotel. Weather conditions were nasty, but I looked at them as adding flavor to the adventure (something to do with the male psyche, perhaps!).

Next morning, I left the hotel one hour before the presentation, and programed the address I'd been sent via an e-mail into the GPS. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at a shabby appartment block that in no way could have been my desired location (times are hard for many clients, but not that hard). I make a call to my main client contact, but all I get is voice mail, and e-mail didn't give me any alternatives like a cell phone number. I call a colleague in the U.S. to go online and direct me to the main company site. After several hair-raising mis-turns onto crowded one-way streets, I arrive at the main site. It's already client presentation time, and it involves video-conferencing links with stakeholders in a number of countries.

I run into a building and show the receptionist the address I have. After a search, she finds that I need to be at Building 23 (which wasn't communicated in the instructions). "But is the address I have the correct one?" I asked, "because I showed up at someone's appartment. I'm sure they thought I was looking for illegal substances." She looked at the address again. "Not quite," she replied. "There's an 'S' missing at the end of of the street name. 'S' for South. A tiny piece of information that contributed to my being 45 mins late for a very important presentation. Any lessons?

Check before sending. Easy communication methods often lead to easy mistakes. We exchange more, but communicate less. Are all the key bits and bytes included and easily visible?
Switch perspectives. Put yourself in the receivers place. Are there any words or phrases used that could create ambiguity or uncertainty?

And, if you are the receiver,

Check on vital information. It may take a short amount of time, but could save you a lot of time and stress later.

I'd love to hear your stories about missing bits and bytes in e-mails.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Complex Collaboration

Some virtual teams are formed to work on complex projects. These teams are usually large, diverse, and populated with experts - conditions that often act as barriers to success rather than enablers. Lynda Gratton, Professor of management practice at London Business School, and Tamara Erickson president at the Concours Institute, studied such teams to pinpoint those factors that helped them overcome their challenges. Eight practices were identified in four categories:

Executive Support
Investing in signature relationship practices, e.g.,investing in office spaces that foster communication and collaborative activity, rotating employees across businesses and geographies
Modeling collaborative behavior, i.e., demonstrating collaborative behavior within the senior team
Creating a 'gift culture', i.e., having executive embed mentoring and coaching (gifts of time) in their own routine behavior

Focused HR Practices
Ensuring the requisite skills training,e.g., appreciating others, engaging in purposeful conversations, productively and creatively resolving conflicts, program management
Supporting a sense of community, e.g., sponsoring group events

Team Leadership
Assigning leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented

Team Formation and Structure
Building on heritage relationships, i.e., forming teams in which between 20-40 percent of team members already have a connection
Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity, i.e., ensure roles on the team are very clearly defined and understood; the path to achieving team goals can be ambiguous, but not the roles

You can read more about the results in the article 'Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams'in the Harvard Business Review, November 2007. Lynda Gratton also has an excellent book on energized and vibrant workplaces called Hot Spots, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007.

Friday, November 21, 2008

For The Tool Box

I'm not a chaser after the latest collaboration tools, but occasionally some interesting ones cross my path and I'm happy to pass them on.

Backpack - intranet, share information, schedules, documents, task lists. If you visit 37 Signals - the software company - be sure to also check out Basecamp (project management/collaboration), Highrise (online contact manager and customer relationship management tool), and Campfire (real-time group chat). Click here!
Dimdim - an open source screen sharing and web meeting tool. No download is required. Click here!
EtherPad - developed by a team of ex-Googlers, this tool allows users to write collaboratively on the same document in real-time. Click here!
yousendit - here's one I use all the time for transfering large files over the Internet. Click here!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leading Virtual Teams

Several years ago, I gave a presentation to ASTD on guiding principles for leading virtual teams. This morning, a participant in a virtual class reminded me of the principles, and I thought it might be useful to post them here:

1. Be proactive
2. Focus on relationships before tasks
3. Seek clarity and focus early on
4. Create a sense of order and predictability
5. Be a cool-headed, objective problem solver
6. Develop shared operating agreements
7. Give team members personal attention
8. Respect the challenges of the virtual environment
9. Recognize the limits of available technologies
10. Stay people-focused

Read more about them here!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Global Layer Cake

OnPoint Consulting recently surveyed 48 virtual teams (VTs) across industries to identify specific practices associated with VT success and VT leadership.

Team members:

1. Demonstrate a high level of initiative
2. Are willing to assume leadership responsibility
3. Have a shared process for decision making and problem solving
4. Are clear about how their work contributes to the success of the organization
5. Provide timely feedback to one another
6. Trust one another to get things done
7. Are willing to put in extra effort to get things done
8. Work together effectively
9. Help one another achieve team goals

What are the behaviors of the most effective VT leaders?

1. Effectively manages change
2. Fosters an atmosphere of collaboration among team members
3. Communicates team goals and direction
4. Invites constructive feedback from team members
5. Empowers team members to make decisions
6. Shares information in a timely manner

The research resonates with lessons learned in my own experiences with VTs. One thing we have to be careful of in a global environment, however, is interpretation. What does 'demonstrating initiative' mean in different cultures? Do we recognize it when we see it in different cultural groups? Are we sure we would all have the same understanding of 'timely feedback', or 'empowers'? Do we all see the value and wisdom in assuming 'leadership responsibility'? What I'm saying is that beneath seemingly clear statements can lie layers of complexity to make our brains - and everything else - hurt! Those of us working on global virtual teams don't need to be trained anthropologists, but we do need to be alert to differences in perception and meaning that can turn our best practices into worst nightmares.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where in the World is My Team? Video

Want to see a short video about the book? Here's a direct link to it on YouTube.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seizing the WoW Advantage: The Next HR Challenge

I recently wrote an article for Global HR News in which I discussed the importance of The Six Cs of Global Collaboration for leaders and participants in virtual work environments (what I call WorkWebs or WoWs). Slash and burn cost cutting measures in these bad economic times will tend to destroy capabilities on which future competitiveness will rest. From a short-term tactical point of view, it will be necessary to reduce - sometimes severely - costs in a business. Strategically,the challenge is to get smart and better leverage global talent through creating cost-effective collaborative environments that support the innovative design, development, and delivery of products and services. You can read the entire article here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Email Responsiveness: I'm Not Normal And That's OK!

I'm not addicted to email. I will only check my inbox maybe 4-5 times a day (twice in the morning, once at lunch time, and twice in the afternoon). If I didn't do that, I know my productivity would nose dive (mostly because the work I do demands a lot of concentration). I think I upset some of my colleagues who wonder why I'm not replying immediately. According to the research I'm unusual, and my colleagues are 'normal'. Work conducted by Dr. Thomas Jackson at Loughborough University in the UK reveals that most people will respond to email as soon as it arrives (70 percent of alerts getting a reaction within six seconds - faster than letting the phone ring three times). He also found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after an interruption by email. And so, those who are checking their email every five minutes waste 8 1/2 hours a week figuring out what they were doing before the interruption! For more interesting findings on the use of email visit this!

The Six Cs of Global Collaboration

In working on - and coaching - global virtual teams (GVTs), I identified three major challenges magnified by distances and difference: team member isolation,team fragmentation, and confusion. Turning these challenges on their heads, GVT team leaders and members must work hard (usually harder than in face-to-face teams) to generate high levels of engagement, cohesion, and clarity. How? Studying these teams led me to six GVT performance zones, or what I call the Six C's of Successful Global Collaboration. Let me give you brief definitions of what they are:
Cooperation:Ability to develop and maintain trusting relationships across geographies, time zones, and cultures
Convergence:Ability to establish and maintain clear navigational markers in virtual space, e.g., common purpose and strategy, shared priorities and performance measures
Coordination:Ability to synchronize work across distances through establishing common platforms, processes, and tools (as well as clearly defined GVT roles and responsibilities)
Capability:Ability to build team capability through leveraging the knowledge, skills, and experiences of GVT members across all locations
Communication:Ability to establish shared verbal and written understandings across distances via technology
Cultural Intelligence: Ability to develop and maintain an inclusive virtual workspace environment

Where in the World is My Team?

This blog is about the digital work life - something I am intimately familiar with. I don't have a colleague within 3000 miles of where I typically work - they are scattered across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Actually, my workplace isn't really a 'place' at all but a virtual space, and I enter into it from many different real world places. Whether we work for a large, medium,or small organization - or even for ourselves - the virtual workspace is becoming pervasive. Love it or hate it, the real world of work is virtually real.

After about 15 years of working on or with global virtual teams (GVTs), a colleague suggested I write a book about them. Hmm. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read another business book let alone write another one! If it was to happen, I had to find a way to make it instructional and fun (for me as well as the reader). And so, 'Where in the World is My Team?' evolved into what I have come to call an instructional soap opera.

The intent of this blog is to have a conversation about the new world of work. Building on the content in the latest book, I want to ask how we can make our virtual workspaces work for us, our teams and our organizations?