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.

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