In trying to gauge our team’s performance I have looked at the best practice recommendations for participants in virtual teams provided by Flammia, Cleary & Slattery (2016). There are seven main guidelines:
- Identify leaders and define clear roles for team members.
- Create clear guidelines and goals.
- Create feelings of trust, respect and obligation.
- Participate in social- as well as task-oriented communication.
- Reward performance.
- Allocate adequate time.
- Use appropriate technology
There are some areas where we did well: The project manager was excellent at time management, and we always had enough time to do our work (6). The tone of everyone’s posts were always friendly and respectful (3).
In other areas our performance was mixed: We did identify a leader, however there were no clear roles provided for other team members (1). Very clear goals were set, but no guidelines for tasks and processes were established (2). Participants were praised and congratulated on completion of work (5), yet despite general feelings of goodwill, no real feelings of trust or obligation were created.
We did particularly poorly in our use of technology (7), and in social communication (4). While the technology used was ‘appropriate’ to the task, the whole point of this project was to participate in ‘virtual teamwork’, and we really did not leverage the best communication technology in order to create and sustain any kind of team atmosphere or identity. This was also apparent in our complete neglect of socioemotional communication.
In many ways we missed the broader point of the exercise and as a result we have also missed an opportunity: we created documentation but did not create a team.
(Image by Bakerstmd, Creative Commons)
Our final project document was submitted last week with little fuss or fanfare. I have a feeling that most team members found the virtual teamwork experience and the work produced underwhelming. I know that the project manager found it frustrating, as did I and probably a few others.
A more comprehensive postmortem will be required, but a preliminary review of my previous posts show that my own frustrations seem to revolve around our reliance on email and discussion boards as our sole means of communication. Of course, this need not have been the case: we had a range of mediums available to us, from voice calls and video conferencing to specialist virtual teamwork platforms.
At the beginning of the project I suggested that a Skype call may be a good way to initiate the team. This suggestion was opposed by a number of teammates who felt that the time difference between Ireland and the Florida would prove too inconvenient: it never happened. My UL classmate and I also exchanged phone numbers, but neither of us made a call. The team leader did set up a Microsoft Office ‘groups’ account, but I was the only member to use it – on a single occasion.
We did use a Google Doc to submit work, and this platform has some good features. The different editing modes allow you to comment on, and suggest changes to documents. Email notifications let you know if a suggestion has been made or accepted/rejected. This was very useful. However, formatting in Google Docs was dreadful. This may have been due to the way we used the platform: no design specifications or guidelines were agreed upon, and everyone appears to have actually created their work in Word and just pasted into the Doc with its Word formatting attached. The results were more that unwieldy, they were montrous!
While I’m sure there are many other factors involved here, I do think that the way we communicated shaped the way we worked together, and the work we produced. By limiting our means of communication we also limited our scope for collaboration and our teams potential.
(Image: by GDJ, Open Clipart)
I suspect that online dating services and apps owe at least some of their success to the fact that people don’t have to reject potential suitors face-to-face. When I began this project I thought that there may be similar advantages to virtual teamwork. If someone makes a suggestion that you don’t agree with, it can be easier to air your objections online than in person. This kind of directness may also be useful in international and intercultural contexts: we Irish are more noted for dissembling than directness.
I have never been accused of being overly sensitive, and am often too happy to engage in a frank exchange of opinions and ideas; however I did find it difficult to deal with virtual rejection. I was fine when a couple of early suggestions were shot down – I knew there were not going to any major consequences – but I did struggle when I felt that the rejection of a suggestion would have negative consequences.
It can be difficult to object effectively: you appear to be just repeating yourself and, if the discussion has moved on, you teammates may feel that you are stuck in a loop or holding things up. If you try to point out all the potential consequences your post takes on the appearance of a rant (possibly because it is one). Looking for allies is also difficult: there are no indicators as to who might agree with you, or even who is listening.
I still like the directness engendered by virtual collaboration, but procedures need to be put in place for resolving disputes openly and effectively. In the absence of such procedures all you can do is rephrase your suggestion or try to subtly emphasize the consequences. Of course, the phrase ‘subtle emphasis’ does not imply directness, and is probably an oxymoron to boot. Maybe the Irish gift for dissembling has its own advantages.
(Image: Roy Lichtenstein / Public Domain)