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:
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.