Issue # 1 - Virtual and Geographically Dispersed Teams

In this issue you will find:

1. An introduction to the topic of Virtual and Geographically Dispersed Teams

2. A book review of Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps

3. Web sites and other resources on the topic



Teams have become a way of life in most corporations. They are one of the few work arrangements that enable the knowledge and experience of many to be brought to bear on increasingly complex and difficult problems. But teams give rise to their own unique problems of joint decision-making, shared ownership, role clarification, etc., and not all members are equally skilled or predisposed to work in a collaborative way. When the challenges of virtual and remote teaming are added to the inherent organizational struggles over interdependence and collaboration, new problems are created and, therefore, new and creative approaches for supporting the work and interaction of teams become necessary.

The complexities and demands of today's marketplace have also set the stage for teams that are not necessarily co-located--virtual teams (VTs) and Geographically Dispersed Teams (GDTs). Many factors have created the increasing need to rely on teams that are not all in the same office building at the same time, sitting in the same conference room. While corporations have had remote sites for many years, the difference now is that people at different locations are increasingly being asked to work interdependently and to share accountability for a single product, project, or outcome. The paradox here is that the needs of the marketplace have increased the need for interdependence and collaboration, while other market conditions and the personal needs and desires of the workforce are decreasing the possibilities of co-location and face-to-face communication. Properly supported and facilitated VTs and GDTs can be one effective response to this paradox.

In our work with teams of all types in corporations and as faculty of The Fielding Institute's master's program in Organization Design and Effectiveness, a program that is conducted entirely on-line we have developed a model for how to support and facilitate the start-up and development of effective VTs and GDTs. Our approach utilizes a combination of occasional, carefully planned and facilitated face-to-face meetings and thoughtful, strategic use of technology and telecommunications tools. This approach includes:

- A face-to-face start-up meeting intended for the creation of a clear set of team agreements, the development of clearly articulated and agreed-upon goals, the development of a clear set of roles and responsibilities, the creation of a conflict-resolution process, and training in the use of electronic tools and applications the team will be using.

- Readily available technological tools and the appropriate support.

- Carefully structured sub-tasks.

- Strong leaders who are willing and able to manage the process and help bring the team to closure and consensus.

- Periodic face-to-face meetings.

- Strong commitment from the team members.

The current conditions in today's marketplace and the personal and lifestyle choices being made by the workforce make VTs and GDTs a necessary component of most companies. If properly facilitated and appropriately supported technologically, they can be an effective competitive advantage rather than being the source of a new set of problems.


2. A Book we've enjoyed on this topic is:

"Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology"
by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps (John Wiley & Sons, 1997)

The purpose of "Virtual Teams" is to look at how teams are transforming into "organizations that spread out and reach across boundaries." (p.xix) Lipnack and Stamps base their findings on extended research and experiences. The conceptual framework of systems theory has been used to develop the concepts and model. In each chapter, cases from companies like Eastman Chemical, NCR, Tetra Pak, and Sun Microsystems are used to illustrate these concepts and model. Chapters are titled:

Chapter 1: Why Virtual Teams? The New Way to Work
Chapter 2: Teaming from the Beginning. How Groups Became Virtual
Chapter 3: The Power of Purpose. Do, Doing, Done
Chapter 4: Through the Worm Hole. Links for Virtual Teams
Chapter 5: Teaming with People. The Paradoxes of Participation
Chapter 6: It's All in the Doing. Virtual Team Life as a Process
Chapter 7: Virtual Places. Home is Where the Site is
Chapter 8: Working Smart. A Web Book for Virtual Teams
Chapter 9: Virtual Values. Generating Social Capital

This insightful and hands-on reference offers essential information on:

- The basic virtual team principles: people, purpose, links
- The skills and technology necessary for creating a successful virtual team
- Enhancing personal communications electronically

Even if technology plays a major role in this emerging era, the focus of this book is clearly the people side of the organization/technology relationship. Lipnack and Stamps share best practices on how virtual teams can work, but caution that this is not a panacea, in fact "it is harder for virtual teams to be successful than for traditional face-to-face teams." (p.xxi)


3. Web sites and Other Resources we've found about this topic include:

* 1998 Organization Development Network Annual Conference - Nov. 14-18 in New Orleans. There will be a number of sessions on the topic of virtual teams (including one given by millpond group on Monday, November 16). For further information about the conference, go to

* Collaborate 98: A Virtual Conference on Virtual Teams is running through October 3. It has been archived and is still available for reading. The web site has just about everything on this topic, including an enormous number of references and links. From the Home Page, you will need to register for the conference, and then you'll be able to access the keynote speeches, workshops, discussion groups, and exhibitors as well as the Bookstore and Reference Library.

* The June 98 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is a special issue on virtual organizations. Of special interest is the article on "Trust in Global Virtual Teams."



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