Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Talkin' 'Bout Our G...G...Generations: The Hip and the Sage

You probably know that there are currently four generations functioning side-by-side in today's workplace. I use the term 'functioning' loosely because much of what I read about generations fits into the 'WhineLit' genre - "Who are those people!!!!". Not so with Lisa Haneberg's new book Hip & Sage: Staying Smart, Cool and Competitive in the Workplace (Nicholas Brealey, 2009). Lisa's ambitious goal is to catalyze a revolution - "There is nothing so powerful and transformative as a strong partnership and collaboration between our sages and our youths." Her view is that those professionals who nurture hipness and sageness will have a competitive advantage over those that don't.

What does it mean to be 'hip' and or 'sage'?

Hipness is an ability to communicate, connect, and collaborate with those in younger generations. It is a key factor in one's ability to engage and influence younger workers like the Millenials.

Sageness is our natural strengths and characteristics, goals and priorities, and experiences that show up in our skills, drive, judgment, and knowledge.

Hip & Sage isn't just a philosophical text on the need for the generations to learn from one another. It's also very practical with lists, worksheets, web resources, reflective questions, and examples to guide the way. I particularly like the section where she asks us to reflect on how our beliefs fuel our behaviors and our ability to change. I also like where she talks about collaboration - as opposed to participation - and how it is as much a mind-set as a set of actions.

The book begins with the wonderful story of how the veteran singer Tony Bennett came to collaborate with the relative youngster k.d. lang. They were both backstage at a Grammy show and he simply walked over to her and said, "I'm Tony Bennett and someday I'd love to sing with you." How many of us Boomers can walk over to a young Millenial and say, "Please teach me about social networking." The world is changing much too fast to try and learn everything by ourselves.

Check out her book, and also visit her Hip & Sage website

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How Long Before the Virtual Smile Scanner?

I read an interesting piece in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper today about a Japanese train company that is scanning employee faces to see if they smile properly. The smile scanning software is used to make sure that employees are greeting passengers with enough enthusiasm.

Every morning, employees smile into a camera attached to a computer. The smile is analyzed in terms of factors like eye movement, lip curvature, and facial wrinkles. A smile is rated on a scale of 0 (suicidal) to 100 (delirious).

Advice is given to those who need it - "You are too serious," "Lift up your mouth corners". An ideal smile will be printed out for the employee to carry around as reference during the day.

They do say that when a person smiles on a telephone call, you can hear the smile in the person's voice. It certainly doesn't do any harm to smile when you're writing an email or an instant message. A smile does have enormous communicative power. But do I want the webcam sitting on my computer screen to scan my face each morning and print out an ideal smile for me? Nah!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What To Look For When Hiring People To Work Virtually

Yes, that's a picture of me working virtually in what I call Attic World - my real world office. I don't look my jolly old self because I probably haven't spoken to anyone on my virtual team in days. That can be the nature of some virtual work.

While there is no one profile for an effective virtual team member, we can, I believe, point to some very desirable characteristics. The following set of characteristics - that I first introduced in Where in the World is My Team? - can help guide recruitment, interviewing, training and development,and coaching and feedback. Ironically,given that we are talking about the new workplace, I call the framework TRADITIONS. While the new virtual workplace is different in some ways from the old, we don't need to throw out what we have valued before in our people, and start again.

Technological Competence
High comfort level with available collaborative tools
Ability to select and use the right technology for the right objective
Ability to troubleshoot and fix small technical problems
Ability to stay calm and not panic when technology fails
Understands when not to use techology

Results Orientation
Ability to stay highly focused on the virtual team's purpose and goals
Is not satisfied with just being busy, but wants to add value
Is highly self motivated to get things done despite the challenges of distance

Has a strong work ethic
Takes personal responsibility for completing own tasks without continuous supervision
Sets high standards for own work
Doesn't free-ride on the work of others on the virtual team
Reconciles the needs and priorities of the team with local demands

Avoids procrastination
Establishes personal routines and systems for managing own work efficiently
Follows processes and uses tools agreed to by the team
Minimizes disruption to others on the team by, for example,keeping all promises

Spots problems early and acts proactively
Doesn't always wait for permission to fix a problem for the team
Shows great willingness to present ideas and solutions

Time Management
Responds to others on the team in a timely way
Meets deadlines and commitments
Manages workload and doesn't become overextended

Interpersonal Effectiveness
Connects with others through engaging conversations
Has ability to develop and maintain trusting relationships across distances via technology
Understands that distance can give rise to many misundertandings and demonstrates patience
Communicates clearly and precisely
Can sense and respond to the feelings and needs of others even though working at a distance
Listens very carefully to others and gives well thoughtout responses
Works hard to be constructive when things get tense

Welcomes ideas from everyone and everywhere
Demonstrates curiosity and a learning mindset
Shows a great willingness to share knowledge and skills across the team
Shows adaptability to change

Understands the importance of relationships to getting things done
Reaches out to others - internally and externally - to help build team capability
Maintains a high presence level with other team members; stays in close contact

Self Sufficiency
Works well in relative isolation with little direct supervision
Can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty and keep going
Takes responsibility for own personal development

While it's not a polished and finely-tuned framework, it can function as a starting point for understanding the virtual worker.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Virtual Productivity Destructors

VitalSmarts and the authors of Crucial Conversations recently completed a survey about workplace problems. According to the research, 13 out of 14 common relationship problems occur far more frequently in virtual teams than in co-located teams. Problems with remote colleagues are more difficult to solve, and they last longer. Common strategies for dealing with difficult remote relationships are:

Screening telephone calls
Not returning calls or e-mails
Leaving challenging people out of the loop on decisions
Avoiding working with certain people

And those are the "nice" strategies.

As the authors of the study point out, the solution isn't co-location, but communication, and they give 5 important tips:

Talk before problems start - establish ground rules for handling future difficulties
Praise early wins - acknowledge individual successes
Never raise individual concerns publicly - keep it one-to-one
Start by clarifying what you DON'T want say - point out any possible misinterpretations of what you want to talk about
Gain allies before raising problems with a group - air your concerns with others beforehand and ask for help in having a productive dialogue

Sunday, August 23, 2009

X, Y, and Boom! I'm Glad I'm Virtual

A recent survey (Technology Gap Survey)published by LexisNexis, and conducted by WorldOne Research takes us into the fascinating world of generational differences in the use of technologies at work. A heavy majority of white collar and legal workers - of all ages - believe that the use of devices such as laptops, PDAs and mobile phones have made people more productive; but that is where consensus ends. Let me begin by defining the generations in the study:

Gen Y - aged 28 and under
Gen X - aged 29 - 43
Boomers - aged 44 - 60

Let's look at some of the findings:

Almost three times as many Gen Y workers (39%) report using gaming programs at work than Boomers (14%)

62% of Gen Y report accessing a social networking site from work versus only 14% of Boomers

While over two thirds (68%) of all Boomers agree that PDAs and mobile phones contribute to a decline in proper workplace etiquette, less than half of Gen Y workers do

While over two thirds of Boomer workers think the use of a laptop or PDA during in-person meetings is 'distracting' (68%), less than half (49%) of Gen Y workers think so

While almost half of Gen Y workers (47%) think it's acceptable to befriend a client on a social networking site, only 24% of Boomers do

Only 35% of of Boomers say they use music playing software at work versus 60% of Xers and 58% of Yers

Twice as many Gen Y workers use video playing programs at work (51%) compared to Boomers (25%)

There is no doubt that differences such as these lead to generational tensions and contribute to sub-par teamwork and productivity. What was surprising in the study was the fact that it was the younger generation who were most concerned that the unrestricted use of software, hardware and the Internet at work may be bad for their productivity:

32% of Boomers think the Internet can decrease workplace productivity, whereas 50% of Gen Y workers think this is the case, and

53% of Gen Yers agree that personal devices such as Blackberries and mobile phones encourage too much multitasking

I'm a Boomer, but these differences cause me very little tension - I work virtually! I've often said to colleagues, "It's a good job we don't work in the same location, we would have killed each other long ago!" I can see another bumper sticker - "Work virtually and achieve World Peace."

You can download the study at a very useful site called docstoc.

Click here!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Uncovering the Implicit Message

Every summer, I spend a week teaching a class on global virtual teams at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon. Working through some papers recently for the 2009 session, I came across the results of an exercise I did in 2008. The exercise aimed to demonstrate challenges when explicit and implicit communication styles encountered one another.

In the exercise, I took a blank piece of paper and at the top I (Person 1) wrote an explicit statement ("Don't do that!"). I then passed the piece of paper to the person on my right (Person 2). Her task was to look at my statement and write the same meaning, but in an implicit way. She then folded the top of the paper over my original statement, and passed it over to the person on her right (Person 3). He/she would look at the statement passed over by Person 2 and write the same meaning, but in an explicit way. Person 3 would fold the paper over Person 2's statement, and so the paper would go around the group with people writing explicit or implicit statements.

Here are the results (explicit statements are in bold):

Don't do that!
Would you mind not to do that
Don't do that!
Could you please find something else to do
Stop doing that
If you wouldn't mind focusing on something else
Look over there
When you get a chance, glance over in that direction
Look over there
If you look in that direction, you may find what you need

Things went well until the 6th person shifted from the word 'do' to the much more indirect phrase 'focusing on something else'. 'Focusing' implied something visual, and so the meaning shifted away from stopping a certain action to looking in a certain direction.

These types of exercise are always fascinating because they demonstrate just how fragile human communication can be.

Global virtual teams are often working across high context (indirect)and low context (explicit) cultures, as well as through communication media that restrict the social cues we use to interpret meaning. The chances for miscommunication increase exponentially on global virtual teans.

What's to be done? I said in Where in the World is My Team? that we must work hard to make the implicit, explicit. If we don't, we sow the seeds of confusion and conflict. Being explicit, of course, is easier for those who come from low context cultures (at least in terms of language; their actions and thinking can still be hidden from view). As a global virtual team leader, it would be my responsibility to create the conditions in which greater explicitness and transparency is the norm. How?

Create greater awareness on the team of the different styles (explicit and implicit)
Demonstrate the potential impact of the differences on team communications
Talk with the team about the challenges of working virtually, and of the need for everyone to adapt and be alert for actual or potential misunderstandings
Raise awareness of - and examine - the assumptions people have about the different styles, e.g., explicit is rude and aggressive while implicit is noncomittal and even deceptive
Provide opportunities for the team to use rich communication media so that people can see and hear more of the communication context, e.g., facial expressions, tone of voice
Establish the principle of what I will call "sitting in the audience seats" - am I saying or writing something that the audience could find vague, confusing, or worse?
Encourage team members to talk and to ask open-ended questions of one another so that misunderstandings come more easily to the surface
Role model and encourgae a style of communication that is straightforward, transparent and friendly

Friday, May 15, 2009

What's Up Doc?

I'm not much of a Twitterer myself, but I can see the value for members of virtual teams who want to feel more connected. There are, of course, multiple uses for such a tool, including learning. I just came across this piece from ABC News about the use of Tweeting during surgery. It opens your eyes to the potential of this microblogging service.

Don't be alarmed! I'm sure the patient survives.

See Why Doctors Are Tweeting here!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making a Business Case

Annoying executives want to know WHY? When making decisions about introducing new ways of working (among other things)they're usually not satisfied with what, where, when, who and how? Tell me, WHY?

Here is something to tell them:

British Telecom is saving itself $355m a year through efficient use of conferencing. That figure is worth repeating - $355m or 238m British pounds! Whatever way you look at it, that's a lot of money. This figure comes from BT's Agile Working Practice, and was reported by economist.com (thanks to my TMA World colleague, Steve Pritchard for pointing it out to me).

In 2007, BT's 107,000 employees held some 751,000 audio, web, and video conferences with an average of 12 participants in each one. Conferencing is part of a holistic approach to thinking about how work gets done - making better use of company property, reducing CO2 emissions, flexible working and improvement of work-life balance, and reducing business travel. In the last 12 months,BT has reduced its expenditures on air travel and accomodation by around 70 percent.

So, there is something to say when you're asked "WHY?"

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You Got Virtual Rhythm?

A recent research report (Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20-Number 1)) by Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath of Stanford University reinforces the view that human beings - along with much else in the natural world - are built to synchronize - coordinate their actions. Cultures abound in rhythmic rituals like group dancing and chanting (e.g., football fan singing)that have the appeal of enabling us to perform together in time. Synchrony appears to be built into our brains in the form of mirror neurons - imitation has been key to the emergence of cultures and human survival.

The researchers wanted to find out if collective movement triggered a more cooperative spirit, and to do this they devised some experiments. In one experiment, To quote from a Scientific American article about the study, "Relative to students in a control condition, who had simply ambled about, the students who had walked in lockstep around the campus were more cooperative in subsequent economic games, felt more connected to each other and trusted each other more . . . Participants were willing to incur direct costs to themselves to cooperate with the students with whom they had synchronized."

In both of the experiments, the participants were physically together. How do we support the 'urge to merge' in a virtual environment and build the cooperative spirit. Rhythm is the key, creating that sense of marching, dancing or singing together - finding the heart beat of the team. Rhythm created in team rituals, communications, meetings, and processes. Without rhythm, a virtual team loses any sense of cohesion.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The New World Of Work

Interesting facts, interesting music. Check out this video from e3unlimited on what's going on in the global workplace.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'Rules' For The Virtual Playground

As I said in an interview for a magazine recently, I'm not the kind of person who takes one idea and stretches it over two hundred pages in a business book. I tend to come up with many ideas and see where they take me. Some of the ideas will not be fully formed when they get to the page. I tend not to see ideas as objects, but as organisms that grow and evolve and yes, even die. I remember someone once telling me that my drive to tweek and change was my greatest weakness. So be it. I value the creative process and learning above any idea fixed in time.

In Where in the World is My Team? I proposed a set of ten rules that should guide members of virtual teams. Looking at them again recently, I slashed the number in half to make them more user friendly (but without losing substance). And here they are:

Be Present
Be Aligned
Be Transparent
Be Thoughtful
Be Accountable

And, if you like acronyms - PATTA.

Be Present: Use all the tools at your disposal to stay connected with the team as much as possible. Let people know 'you're there' and whether or not this is a good time to contact you. Do what you can to create a 'one team room' feel. Being Present is not just about building and maintaining relationships, it's also about staying aligned.

Be Aligned: Distance can create havoc on virtual teams because it is so easy for members to lose touch, become distracted, lose sight of what the team is trying to accomplish. To maintain focus and direction continuous information flow and feedback is critical, and this requires deep presence.

Be Transparent: Also, how can alignment be strong if a member's presence lacks transparency. All the presence in the world won't support alignment if there are hidden agendas,a lack of sharing, or vague communications.

Be Thoughtful: When working across distances via technologies team members must never lose sight of the fact that people are at the other end of the cable or satellite signal. Showing consideration for what others need in the virtual space is part of being transparent, but also provides the emotional threads that minimize distance.

Be Accountable: None of the above rules can contribute their full power if personal accountability on the team is weak. Distance can dilute the feeling of accountability and give rise to highly dysfunctional behaviors like freeloading - not keeping promises and relying on others to carry the workload of the team.

I would recommend that when virtual teams are forming they work together to embed these five interdependent rules into their way of working together. The rules don't need to be called rules, and each one doesn't need to be analyzed to death in terms of specific behaviors. Sometimes in our desire to be value-added we over-engineer. Give a team the 'rules' of the virtual playground and let them play.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mass Collaboration Invite

Don Tapscott, author of such books as Wikinomics,is inviting people (via The Times of London) to engage in a mass collaboration effort. The Internet and Web 2.0 tools are having a huge impact on businesses in all sectors. They are opening up new possibilities for how we innovate and bring together capabilities to compete. Over the next several months, you can look at Briefs posted by business leaders describing their major challenges in the new environment. You can then contribute ideas for solutions to those challenges.

You can link to the invite here! If this link doesn't work copy and paste the following into your browser http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/related_reports/business_wisdom/

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Always Look On the Bright Side Of Life

The work of Marcial Losada is not well known, but deserves to be. He describes two states of human functioning - Flourishing and Languishing. Flourishing is a state of goodness, generativity, growth and resilience. Languishing is the opposite - impairment and limitation. According to Losada, a key predictor of flourishing - whether of individuals, marriages, teams or organizations - is the ratio of positivity to negativity affect (the Positivity Ratio).

Working from within a nonlinear dynamic systems approach, Losada represents flourishing and languishing in a set of mathematical equations. Being mathematically challenged, I'm not going to go there except to highlight some findings.

In his work with teams dating back to 1999, Losada learned that higher functioning business teams (based on the criteria of profitability, customer satisfaction, and 360 degree evaluations) had significantly higher positivity-negativity ratios than low performance teams. Based on extensive sampling of speech acts over time, Losada found that flourishing is associated with positivity ratios of 2.9. Those identified as languishing had positivity ratios that fell beneath 2.9. There can be too much positivity on a team (that upper limit was found at a positivity ratio of 11.6346).

In a paper I will reference below, Losada and Fredrickson connect the positivity ratio to Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. What lab experiments have shown is that negative emotions narrow people's thoughts and actions (e.g., fight, flight), while positive emotions widen the range of thoughts and actions (e.g.,play, explore). Flourishing teams - those with a high positivity ratios - are characterized by:

Goodness - happiness, satisfaction
Generativity - broadened thought-action repertoires
Growth - enduring personal and social resources
Resilience - survival and growth in the aftermath of adversity

Positivity is nonlinear - small inputs can yield large outcomes. Low performing teams exhibit linear control while high performing teams exhibit nonlinear control. In the language of chaos theory, low to moderate teams are associated with point attractors (like being confined in a small cell) and repetitive limit cycles (like being confined in a slightly larger cell where you can walk around in a repetive pattern). High performing teams are associated with chaotic attractors (a space in which behavior doesn't repeat itself, but still remains within certain bounds). An example of the latter might be a team guided by a shared vision with a few simple 'rules' guiding interactions).

What does all this mean? To put it very simply and crudely good feelings go a long way to making good, adaptive, flourishing teams. Generating a culture of positivity, however, can be difficult because there is also what is called a 'negativity bias' - the bad is stronger than the good! One study at Penn State University showed that independent of culture and age, we have a 2.667 bias toward recalling more negative than positive emotions. The challenges of working together across distances probably increase that negativity bias, so always be on the lookout for mindsets and behaviors that drop you below the Losada line at 2.9!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Changing Digital Landscape - Yes and No

The International Telecommunications Union (an agency of the UN) recently published its new ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) Development Index (IDI). It looks at developments in ICTs across 154 countries between 2002-2007. End-2008 figures for key ICT indicators are also included in the report.

What does the Index tell us?

There has been a clear shift to mobile cellular technology. Last year there were an estimated 4.1 bn mobile subscriptions (6-in-10 of the world's population), up from 1 bn in 2002. About two-thirds of the mobile phones in use were in developing countries, up from less than half in 2002

Internet use has more than doubled - 23 percent of people used the Internet last year, up from 11 percent in 2002. Only 1-in-20 Africans went online in 2007.

Five percent of people worldwide have broadband Internet at home, compared with 20 percent in developed countries

The most advanced countries in ICT are from Northern Europe with the exception of the Republic of Korea. The top ten countries are:

Korea (Republic)
United Kindom

Eastern Europe is the most dynamic region on ICT developments

China ranked 73 in 2007 up from 90 in 2002

Countries with high income levels pay relatively little for ICT services, while those with low income levels pay relatively more - often due to high tariffs for fixed Internet broadband in some developing countries. Countries with the lowest ICT prices are:

United States
Hong Kong (China)
United Arab Emirates

Overall, the magnitude of the global digital divide remains unchanged between 2002 and 2007

Find the press release here

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lessons From Virtual Warfare

I don't usually read books about war but Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P.W.Singer intrigued me. I heard the author interviewed on National Public Radio, and some of his stories seemed highly relevant to those of us soldiering in the virtual team space.

The focus of the book is on the emerging RMA (revolution in military affairs)driven by the introduction of increasingly sophisticated robotic systems into war zones. Most of us are familiar with images of the unmanned Predator drone flying over the landscapes of Iraq and Afghanistan. These planes are operated by pilots sitting at video-game-like consoles in distant places like Nevada. The drones are just one example of robotic systems that gather and transmit information about potential targets, and then carry out operations to destroy or nullify those targets. They are all part of the new networked and information-rich military force.

This is not the place to discuss the ethics of using such systems. All I will do in this posting is to highlight some of the lessons we can learn from the experiences of the virtual military.

1. Taming irrational exuberance - many people are seduced by the thrill of new capabilities while not comprehending the complexities they bring. Some in the military thought new networked capabilities would basically solve the problems of 'the fog of war' (the difficulty of getting good information in the midst of battle) and the 'friction of war' (actions rarely working out as planned). But, of course, they didn't. New capabilities bring new complexities - in battle and in our teams.

2. Creating Doctrine - tools are being generated at a rapid rate, and how we use them is driven largely from the 'bottom up'. We typically lack a workable plan or doctrine for making the best use of the technologies. At the start of the Second World War, the French had more tanks than the Germans, but it was the Germans who developed the doctrine of the 'lightning war' that coordinated air, artillery, and infantry into a concentrated force. This doctrine drove the Germans to build faster and more reliable tanks, and ones that could communicate and coordinate with one another via 2-way radios. In 1942, the US Army had to rip out radios from Rhode Island State Police cars for tanks being shipped out to North Africa. And so, we need to stop thinking of our new technologies as useful bits and pieces, and to start thinking of them holistically. Creating collaborative advantage depends on our ability to make the best use of our new technologies, not simply to use them. The emerging doctrine in the military is swarming, but that's for another day.

3. Sensing The Disconnect - the military is in the process of creating a new class of soldiers - 'cubicle warriors'. These warriors experience war differently. Pilots of the Predator drones might witness terrible events during their shifts, but then they drive home to their families, watch TV, coach soccer, and attend Parent-Teacher meetings. He or she is disconnected from the reality on the ground, even though the emotional intensity can be very high. All virtual team leaders need to be very conscious of their disconnection from the ground reality. They must be very careful of not projecting their own reality onto those of others on the virtual team - the ground realities (e.g., cultural orientations) can be very different from location to location. Just because you have an abundance of information doesn't mean you fully understand the context - realities that lie outside of your information-gathering systems.

4. Working Hard To Build Cohesion - cubicle warriors will carry out operations together, but might never actually meet. As one air force lieutenant colonel says, "Make no mistake, this war is being fought on chat." The impact of relative anonymity on cohesion can be enormous. Virtual space is isolating, and it is much harder work to build trust and connection. Without trust, units "just become chess pieces on a board." "Ninety percent of the time, you don't know who you are talking to," says one cubicle warrior and in virtual chat everyone thinks they have a vote. Military chat rooms, therefore, would often become free-for-all contests. This raised the need for chat-room etiquette - no e-mailing in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, no explanations!!!!!!!!, and no emoticons. These rules helped a smoother flow of information, but problems remain - you lose the emotions, the sense of urgency, the seriousness.

5. Doing What Adds Value - the new systems have also given rise to others classes - 'tactical generals' and 'strategic corporals'. Strategic corporals are the younger, junior troops who now have the ability to call in airstrikes, for example - something a 40 year old colonel would have done in the past. Empowerment on the ground carries a lot of responsibility, and it is the role of the distant leader to provide the parameters and guidelines for decision making. Too often on virtual teams, confusion abounds because of unclear roles and responsibilities and vague decision criteria. What about the 'tactical general'? As generals become more virtual and distant from the actual battlefield, the power of the technologies also gives them greater power to micromanage troops on the ground. As Singer says, ". . . unmanned systems are blurring the line between timely supervision and micromanagement." Because of the abundance of information, generals often overestimate how much they really know about what is happening on the ground. As one Major said, "You get too focused on what you can see, and neglect what you can't see." Generals want to get involved in the battle details and direct the action. The result is often delay and inappropriate decisions. Ground units may also get caught up in power struggles between 'tactical generals' in different locations. One ground commander talks about receiving three sets of conflicting orders for one operation. The need is for generals to practice 'enlightened control' - set the right goals, objectives,and strategy, and resist the seductive urge to intervene tactically at the micro level.

6. Focusing - it is difficult to keep virtual warriors focused and in 'battle rhythm'. A commander, therefore, must continually reinforce the criticality of the mission. One colonel talks of helping his troops have the mental and emotional sense that they are in the battle space they are looking at. He tells them that when they step into their place of work, they are stepping into Iraq or Afghanistan. As virtual team leaders, we need to think about the virtual project space we are creating, and how to keep our people focused and high engaged in that space.

7. Humanizing The Workspace - there's no doubt virtual communication can feel highly impersonal. In one study of drone pilots, two Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs were given different personalities. The one had a humanlike voice and mannerisms, and would say things to the pilot like "Hey [Joe] we did an awesome job -great working with you!" or it would even tell a joke. The other would say "Hello" in a monotone voice. During the mission, the personable AI would advise and inspire. The other would just say, "Pay attention, high priority." The personable AI team finished tasks faster.

Learn whatever you can from wherever you can even if the source gives you nightmares.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Reality of Perception

The Conference Board recently published a report on Managing a Distant Workforce. As Linda Barrington, Research Director and Labor Economist, says in the press release, "The issue of whether or not to allow employees to work at a distance is no longer a cost benefit issue - it is simply the reality of doing business."

First, I'll just bullet point a number of the findings, and then I'll think a little more about perception and reality in the virtual workspace.

Some Findings:

More than 60 percent of those surveyed agreed that managing same-site employees is easier than managing distant employees.

Nearly 80 percent believe the extra costs of enabling employees to work at a distance do pay off.

Five practices were found to be shared among effective distance teams: in-person meetings; clear agreements on accessibility; good use of group software; adequate company support; clearly defined roles for members.

Great distance managers must first and foremost be inclusive, empowering, supportive, and trustworthy. Then they must have mastery of management fundamentals, e.g., setting goals, evaluating, giving feedback and coaching. Finally they must have a very high level of competence in cultivating relationships, focusing on outcomes,, and developing employees.

One more finding points to a difference in perception between managers and distant employees: 53 percent of managers reported spending more than an hour a week developing working relationships with distant employees, but only 18 percent of employees believed that their managers spent that much time with them. Hmm . . . a perception gap.

I can't afford to purchase the report, but I would love to dig deeper into why this large gap exists. Managers who are connecting with a number of distant individuals might well feel they are spending a lot of time building working relationships with their people. Each individual, however, is only feeling a fraction of that connection time. I also wonder what managers mean by 'developing working relationships' - is delegating a task by e-mail perceived by the manager as developing working relationships'? Does the employee perceive it in the same way? A manager might spend a considerable amount of time crafting an e-mail that an employee reads in a few minutes, and so the subjective perception of time spent in developing a working relationship can be very different from manager to employee. Would the employee perceive the delegation interaction differently if it had been conducted via a telephone call? Perception is complicated and slippery, which is why I find statistical data often raises more questions than it answers. Don't get me wrong, statistical data has a place as a complement to thought (but not as a substitute for thought).

Whose perception is more accurate, the manager's or employee's? As in communication, we must look at effectiveness from the point of view of the receiver. If the message received is not the intended message the communication fails, regardless of how much time or effort the sender spent in communicating. In terms of the amount and effectiveness of time spent on developing working relationships, the focus must be on the perceptions of distant employees (receivers), not those of the managers (senders).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Get The Picture

I just found an interesting press release issued on Dec. 10 2008 by Gartner Inc. (OK, for some it's ancient history). The release highlights the findings of a Gartner Report called "Video Killed the Document Czar". To summarize:

About 73 percent of the Internet audience watch a video online at least monthly

The popularity of online video with consumers will trigger a similar interest in video within enterprises

Software for the management of images and video is the fastest segment of the content management market - 44 percent of enterprises having such products today, but 22 percent intending to install it in 2009

Users will find the ability to incorporate video into other document types to be compelling, so that by 2013 more than 25 percent of content that workers see in a day will be dominated by pictures, video, or audio

Some might be shocked and horrified at the prospect of all this visual and auditory information transfer (another nail in the coffin of 'The Word'). Others might be concerned that this will lead to employees at all levels becoming star-struck, concerned more with performing and posturing rather than efficiency and effectiveness. As always, the problems won't be with the tools, but with how we use them and for what purpose.

Some years ago, my late father-in-law built a wonderful grandfather clock for my wife's older sister. When she picked it up in Virginia - in pieces - he gave her a video of how to put it together when she got home to New York. My father-in-law was too ill to travel at this time, and what he was able to do in the video was to show not just tell. He was able to communicate more of his tacit knowledge than if he had just tried writing down instructions. Sine that time, we have seen an explosion in short instructional videos on sites like VideoJug and YouTube. Imagine the power of that learning medium in virtual teams; imagine the possibilities for knowledge transfer and skill development.

Are there challenges to be overcome, and likely downsides? Of course! But for now, imagine the possibilities!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Make An Impact in 99 Seconds!

Next week, I'm speaking twice at the Training Magazine 2009 conference in Atlanta, GA. My first session is the normal one hour event, and I'll speak on leadership in a virtual global workplace. The second event is called Virtual Communication: Is It For Real? and must only last for 99 seconds! Naturally, I've struggled more with the 99 second presentation than with the 60 minute one.

And so, the gist of what I'll say in just over a minute and a half is as follows:

Can virtual communication be real? By real, I mean is the result shared understandings across distances and cultures. I believe it can be, but we need to pay attention to four factors:

Regularity: We must create a communication heart beat. With regular and frequent communications we support the development of human connectivity, not just technological connectivity.

Explicitness: We must make the invisible visible, and the unspoken spoken. Distance creates many blind spots in our understandings. Clear, precise communication is a must, but so to are deep questioning and dialogue to uncover differences in assumptions and meanings.

Alignment: We must select technologies based on our objectives, not for their convenience or familiarity. Align the tool with the need. Relying on e-mail alone might help you exchange lots of information,but doesn't do an awful lot in helping you win hearts and minds.

Language: We must be vigilent in making sure we are speaking the same language, even if we are speaking the same language. What does 'keep me posted' mean to you, and what does it mean to me?

So, when virtual, think REAL.

I feel sure that's over 99 seconds. What are they going to do? Drag me off the stage kicking and screaming! Actually, I think that was mentioned in the invite e-mail.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Who's Cranky Then!

Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed about Where in the World is My Team? by Wayne Turmel. If you don't know Wayne,he's a former stand-up comedian, corporate drone, and Director of Faculty at Communispond. He's now president of Greatwebmeetings.com and host of one of the world's most successful business podcasts - The Cranky Middle Manager Show.

For some reason, he's decided - out of the goodness of his heart - to run a free (yes, free)webinar on Managing Remote Teams - Using Webmeetings To Keep Them Engaged. The date is February 26, 2009 and the time is 1pm (US - Eastern Standard Time).

You can register now. Dress is optional.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Expertise Visible and Potent

Happy 2009!

It's a fact of the human condition that we relate to one another as partial selves (I'll call it the Partial Self Axiom). Can you ever know another person completely? We would often like to, but in reality we can't. I think I know some people very well, but they can never be totally accessible or predictable to me no matter how long I have known them or how intimate the relationship has been.

But let me come down from the lofty heights of the 'human condition'to thinking about capabilities on virtual teams.

It's often the case that virtual team members have little knowledge of one another. If we are working together on a virtual team, we are unlikely to be anonymous, but we are likely to each have a high degree of partiality. We certainly don't need an intimate knowledge of each other to collaborate effectively, but we should - to maximize team strengths and potential - have a rounded picture of each other's individual capabilities and expertise. If we don't, we are likely to be quilty of waste and neglect.

Even if it is as simple as posting team member CVs on a team intranet or taking time to share work and educational experiences in a virtual meeting, find a way to conduct a Capability Audit (although that sounds rather grand). Here are a few simple, but important questions:

Team Expertise (Knowledge, Skills, and Experience)

Who on the team has what expertise?
How can we share and make best use of this expertise?
What expertise gaps do we have in relation to our goals?
Who can fill our expertise gaps and how?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Interior Design: Virtually Speaking

I'm sitting at my desk in Attic World. In front of me is a large computer screen, speakers, wireless keyboard, lamp, some reference books, and a clutter of papers. On a desk extension to my left is the rest of my desktop, and a combined fax/copier/scanner. The room is full of books, more piles of papers, and filing cabinets (the piles of papers should be in the filing cabinets, but they're not). This - you could say - is my virtual workplace; the place in which I work virtually with others around the world. It's not too bad as far as Attic Worlds go, although a coat of paint and an intense cleaning wouldn't hurt.

The fact is, however, this room isn't really my virtual workplace at all. Actually, I rarely use the term 'workplace' any more prefering instead to talk about my virtual 'workspace'. That workspace only comes into existence when I interact with colleagues via the technologies available to me. It is constructed everytime I interact with them collectively or individually, and is deconstructed when the interaction ends - although, very importantly, the spirit of that space can linger and even influence future virtual workspaces.

Here's one way to think about our virtual workspaces - mindsets are the rooms we work in and move between, communications are the windows, and behaviors are the furnishings.

Ideally, the rooms will be light and well-ventilated, and stimulating to the senses. The windows should be crystal clear,and enable you to see what you want and need to see. And the furnishings should be both comfortable and flexible. Something to think about when you next interact with your virtual colleagues. We are all designers of our virtual workspaces.