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)
Today we received feedback from the translators in Paris, who had some suggestions and questions about the text we sent them two weeks ago. ‘Translator’ is the only well-defined role on our team, and I think our failure to create other task-orientated roles has been the biggest mistake we have made so far.
The role of project manager was filled – but not defined – early on. The project manager has been excellent at establishing deadlines, and is also good at creating data-sharing platforms. However, the tasks have been divvied out indiscriminately, with everyone else doing a little of everything, and having responsibility for nothing.
The result is a Frankenstein of a document, made up of different parts of different people’s work. No one can be too happy with this: the project manager has had to do a lot of time-consuming stitching together of bits and pieces, while the rest of the team point to problems but do not feel empowered to take action. Much work will also have to be duplicated in order to ensure consistency in writing style, images, and highlighting techniques.
I believe that part of this problem results from the project manager’s view of the project as a text-generating exercise, rather than an information design project. However, the rest of us must share most of the blame here: we have shied away from taking on roles and responsibility. If, as I suspect, we have done this in order to avoid criticism or taking risks, then this kind of ‘CYA‘ activity has left us all exposed.
(Image: Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)