Fifth Generation Work - Virtual Organization

                 
Home Applications Articles Technology Leadership Consulting References Feedback Site Map
   

Methods and Technologies

 

Introduction

 

This page describes some information and communication technologies and methods used by both face-to-face teams and virtual teams.

 
       

Technologies

  There are variety of information and communication technologies that support teams of people. Many of these technologies are groups under the subject of Computer Supported Cooperative Work or CSCW.  
       

CSCW / Groupware

  The following matrix illustrates some of the information and communication technologies that support virtual teams -- working together with anyone, at anytime, from anywhere.
  • working together at the same time and place
  • working together at the same time but different place
  • working together at a different time but the same place
  • working together at a different time and place.

Applications are listed in (normal text) and major products or product groupings are listed in (italics).

 
  Same Place Different Place
Same Time Face-to-face Meetings, Open Space Technology (PCs, Electronic Whiteboards, Projectors) Virtual Meetings, Distance Learning, Help Desks, Telework, Group Authoring, Video Conferencing, Open Space Technology (LiveMeetng, NetMeeting, Interwise, WebEx, Instant Messaging, Windows Messaging, PCs, Electronic Whiteboards, Projectors, Cameras, Telephones, Audio Bridges, Moodle)
Different Time Team Rooms
Electronic Mail, Group Time Management,
Distance Learning, Computer Conferencing
(Outlook, Voice Mail, Telephones, Groove, Moodle)
 
       

Conferencing

 

There are three basic forms of conferencing:

  1. Audio conferencing
  2. Data conferencing
  3. Video conferencing

Telephone companies provide audio conferencing bridges as a service and as a product. Other companies (see References) also provide products for audio conferencing.

Microsoft's NetMeeting is a good example of a data conferencing product. While NetMeeting also supports both audio and video conferencing, currently it is best at data conferencing.

Microsoft's NetMeeting and LiveMeeting;  Interwise; and WebEx conferencing are good examples of multimedia group conferencing products. There are many other products that address the conferencing space. NetMeeting, for example, lets team members share and collaborate using applications such as Word, Excel, Visio, and any other Windows based application. Chat and whiteboard are other supported functions. While audio and video over IP are built-in, network bandwidth limits constrain the quality of service.

Search the Internet for a list of other suppliers.

 
       

Collaboration

  Groove software ( http://www.groove.net  ) is a very good collaborative software product for all kinds of organizations and people looking for a means of working together while apart.  Groove provides a Windows interface to a collection of tools designed to help people work together more efficiently.  This researcher uses it in a variety of virtual team and community of practice environments.

One key advantage is that Groove works on a peer-to-peer basis and does not require anyone to set up and administer a server site.  Everything necessary is done at the desktop or laptop level. 

Groove supports both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

 
       

Electronic Mail

  Microsoft Outlook is the primary electronic mail systems for most organizations.  Eudora is used by many organizations. And, there are certainly many other electronic mail systems available.

Search the Internet for a list of suppliers.

 
       

Electronic Whiteboards

  Electronic whiteboards are very useful in meetings for collaboration on ideas and capturing them electronically. Ideas, once captured can be distributed electronically to meeting attendees.

Search the Internet for a list of suppliers.

 
       

Projectors

  Projectors that connect to PCs are very useful in meetings. Slide presentations can be displayed from the PC without the requirement for making viewfoils or transparencies. Electronic copies are easily distributed to team members via electronic mail. Finally electronic presentations can be modified during the meeting and agreement reached.

Search the Internet for a list of suppliers.

 

PCs

  Of course, personal computers of all kinds are very useful in creating content as well as collaborating with other people.  
       

Other Hardware

  PDAs and cell phones are other obvious tools.  
       

Calendars

  Calendar systems are useful in coordinating team members schedules. Some calendars show free and busy times and some also allow meetings to be scheduled and conference rooms and other resources reserved.  Calendars are very useful in communicating scheduling information with other team members.  Outlook provides a very good calendar, useful for both individuals as well as groups and it can be downloaded into some PDAs and cell phones.  
       

Security

 

Security is an important consideration for virtual teams especially if transmitting sensitive information over a network. A variety of firewalls and Internet security software packages are available.

Many email and conferencing products support various types of encryption or other security methods and it may be prudent to check with your suppliers about this.

 
       

Methods

  Teams use a variety of methods during the various interactions taken by team members. Some of these methods include establishing a code of conduct, setting meeting agendas, decision-making, brainstorming, nominal group technique, and open space technology, just to name a few.

There are many other methods useful for teams. See the References section for some publications.

 
       

Purpose

  Teams have a purpose or reason for being. A purpose is sometimes referred to as a charter or as a mission statement. It is important for teams to document their purpose as well as to agree on its meaning and to support it. The purpose becomes the team's target.

Without a well defined, understood, and supported purpose, it is not likely teams will be successful.

 
       

Meeting Agenda

  The agenda is the control point of a meeting. Every meeting should have an agenda.

Good agendas state the purpose of the meeting, what subjects will be covered, who will cover them, how much time will be allocated to each subject, and expected outcomes.

Agendas should be developed by the team for the next meeting and distributed ahead of time.

Sample Agenda

Date: mm/dd/yy

Purpose: The purpose of this meeting is to review the project status and schedule to see if we're on target.

Agenda Item Responsibility Time
Introduction Bob 9:00 am
Status reports Susan 9:15 am
Schedule review Kelly 10:00 am
Process check Bob 10:50 am
Adjourn   11:00
 
       

Process Check

  A process check is a method for reviewing or looking at the performance of the meeting. It is normally conducted at the close of the meeting. The meeting facilitator is interested in "what went right" or positives and "what went wrong" or negatives during the meeting in order to improve the next meeting. Essentially this is part of a continuous improvement process for meetings.

The facilitator may elect to go around the room and ask each meeting participant in turn to respond or simply ask for people's thoughts as they occur. Note: it is important to leave sufficient time for this part of the meeting if the data collected is expected to have meaning. People need to feel they are not being rushed and this is an important part of the meeting.

Sample Process Check

Positives Negatives
Everyone could read the slides. The slides were difficult to read.
I could hear the speakers just fine.. I couldn't hear the speakers.
 
       
       

Code of Conduct

  Another term for code of conduct is the term "ground rules." By either name, it provides a basis for conducting meetings, how team members will interact, and what kind of behavior is accepted or not accepted.

It's a good idea for team members to establish ground rules for the following:

  • Attendance policies
  • Location of meeting and the time
  • Assignments
  • Breaks
  • Duties of members
  • Agendas, minutes, and other records (responsibility)
  • Expected behavior
  • Other items as necessary

Note: Virtual teams may want to include an item for responding to electronic messages -- voice or email. For example, it may be important to acknowledge receipt of a message requesting information, however, long it takes to actually formulate a response. This way, the requestor actually knows that the message was received and that it will be worked.

 
       

Decision Making

  Good decision making is obviously very important for most teams. Fortunately there are a variety of good methods useful in decision making and they are relatively easy to learn. Some of these methods are:
  • Brainstorming
  • Consensus Card Method
  • Criteria Rating Technique
  • Delphi Technique
  • Nominal Group Technique
  • Paired-Choice Matrix

There are a variety of publications available on decision making that explain these methods or techniques in detail. See the References section for some publications.

A decision log is useful during the life of a team and may be of value in subsequent teams. A decision log may include information about decisions made such as:

  • Date
  • Decision title
  • Description
  • Decision-making process (consensus, manager, ...)
  • Implications of decision
  • Rationale of decision
  • Context of decision
 
       

Action Item Log

  An action item log is useful to keep track of various tasks that come up during the course of a project and are assigned to team members to be worked. Completed items are crossed off as they are completed.

An action item log may include:

  • Action Item number
  • Name
  • Description
  • Date assigned
  • Person assigned to
  • Expected completion date
  • Actual completion date
 
       

Brainstorming

  Brainstorming is a method for groups to generate a large number of ideas. It is useful in problem solving, decision making, planning, and related applications.

Brainstorming works well in groups that meet face-to-face as well as with groups that meet virtually.

Steps:

  1. Select a topic and time frame
  2. Poll each participant for their ideas.
  3. Write them down. (NO evaluation of ideas here.)
  4. Stop when time is up or no more ideas are offered
  5. Now, evaluate, prioritize, and select ideas
 
       

Open Space Technology

  Hypertext reference.  
       

General Problem Solving Method

  The following seven steps make up a general problem solving method or as it's sometimes referred to as a rational decision-making method.
  1. Diagnose and define the problem
  2. Collect and analyze relevant data
  3. Develop alternatives
  4. Evaluate alternatives
  5. Select the best alternative
  6. Analyze possible consequences of the decision
  7. Implement the decision
 
       

Lessons Learned

After Action Review

  Lessons learned, or After Action Review's in the US Army's terms, can be a useful document for subsequent teams or subsequent projects. Lessons learned captures key points about the success or failure of a project and why, which should be useful for continual quality improvement.

Information to include:

  • What was the project about? (context and description)
  • What when right during the project? Why?
  • What when wrong during the project? Why?
  • What should be changed for the next project?
  • Was the overall project successful or not? Why?
  • What information do you think would help subsequent teams from your project experience?
 
Last revised:
June 05, 2006
     
David Gould, Ed.D.
daveg@seanet.com
1999-2006 All Rights Reserved