As published in the Project Management Institute (PMI) NH Chapter Apr. 2005 Newsletter for HeiterConnect, Inc.
Working with virtual teams is rapidly becoming standard practice, on or off shore. This is the third in a 4 part series on the Fundamentals of Virtual Teaming. In this article we’ll focus on the virtual project team as a living system and how information plays a role.
Last month, we discussed how identity is critical to the success of our project team as a living system. As we look at the role of information, we turn again to “The Irresistible Future of Organizing“, by Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers. Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers explain that sensitive informationprocessing exists in “the edge of chaos,” a place where new information enters without the team losing its identity. The information appears chaotic but is the “nutrient of self-organization.”
As Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers show, “Only when information belongs to everyone can people organize rapidly and effectively around shifts in customers/partners, competitors and environments. People need access to information that no one could predict they would want to know. They themselves didn’t know they needed it until that very moment.”
To ensure the success of our teams we must find better ways to increase this information sharing. When our project teams worked in the same physical space, we could rely on team libraries, bulletin boards, and informal discussions among team members. In the virtual space, we need to leverage available technologies to ensure all team members have the information they need.
Regularly scheduled conference calls and web conferencing are very commonly used vehicles for information sharing. Web conferencing technology allows us to supplement the audio call with shared visuals, giving participants a chance to see and hear what is being discussed. We may share a presentation, collaborate on a document, or demonstrate something relating to the topic being discussed. This approach is also very effective for “brown bag” or more informal learning sessions among team members.
Among some teams, email is still a heavily used tool for information and knowledge sharing. You may create an email alias that allows team members to send things to one email address that gets forwarded to the entire team. Managing email can be a difficult challenge for many team members, but unlike conference calls it does provide a “written” record that can be referred back to.
Instant messaging has become popular among many teams. Typically effective for shorter, less complex topics, it provides a real-time exchange of information among team members. “Chat rooms” are available with most instant messaging technologies and allow all team members to message in the same space, but it is difficult to follow conversations with more than a few participants. This is why instant messaging is typically used for one-on-one communications and does not ensure information is made available to all team members.
Collaboration technologies are now available to help us ensure information is available to all team members in a way that can be organized, accessed, and archived after a project. Commonly used technologies include project web sites, forums, discussion boards, and team collaboration spaces. Each of these technologies allows team members to contribute information and ensures all team members have access. The success of these tools depends on you, as project manager, modeling the behavior you expect from your team. Instead of emailing your status reports, send a link to the project web site, or just a reminder that the updated status report is available in the team’s collaboration tool.
With a strong identity and this readily available information, team members have what they need to develop informed and creative responses for the challenges they face. Next month, with the last in this series, we will focus on how interaction plays a role in our virtual project teams…
<– read part 2