Rocky Mountain
Information Management Association

Virtual Teams

Meeting Notes - October 10, 2000

Virtual Teams: What Works?

1. Find the "Yes" people who have the authority to make a decision and make them your best friends. Lots of people have authority to say "No" and can get in the way of progress, especially when you are not all together where you can discuss things.

2. Establish common goals, get consensus, and write them down. If you do not have consensus, those who disagree will be communicating while you are sleeping. Disagreements will escalate to management, and you will not be there to defend yourself.

3. Establish a Web site with all the information you need, including simple administrative things like how to get a cell phone and how to schedule a video conference. Virtual team members do not have administrative assistants to handle these things and to answer questions. This Web site will take some effort, but think of them money you save by not needing administrative assistants.

4. Management by Walking Around still applies. You still need face-to-face interaction with people and you have to find a way to do it.

5. Teleconference - have a facilitator who enforces agreed upon rules. Some discussions should go off-line if they do not require the whole group to listen. If you do not have a facilitator, you will probably find the people involved probably are not listening, but are doing other things. Standard meeting basics still apply, such as having an agenda and taking minutes.

6. Video conference - great for a kick-off meeting, not good for weekly updates because people feel the are on stage. For the kick-off it is useful to see the people so you can visualize them in future teleconferences.

7. Have a communications plan and a designated person with authority to send items to the entire group. It can be confusing if everyone broadcasts everything to everyone.

8. You cannot supervise virtual team members, but you can lead. Leadership basics and Teamwork basics become far more important than when you have a team that is physically together where people have continuous opportunity to interact and work things out.

What Does Not Work:

1. Chat rooms on the Internet - can be very confusing 

2. Communications that cannot get through corporate firewalls and filters

3. If you do not establish trust, you cannot get anywhere. Trust is lost when people do not communicate and respond to requests.

4. Cultural differences can really get in the way unless you physically travel to meet the team and get to know people as people and see the culture so you can take things in context of the people and the culture.

5. Isolation leads to turnover. People need a feeling of belonging.

6. Beware of people who do not speak up. You need to know what they are thinking so you need to ask. If you don't, they will be talking off-line and you will have no opportunity to respond or clarify.

7. Technology is great but it can be abused. You can avoid an unpleasant phone call by leaving a voice message or e-mail. Sometimes you need to talk in real-time.

Isn't it great?  You don't have to go to work to be at work.  Your project team can be anywhere in the world, and so can you.  A geographically disbursed team can develop successful business solutions as well as a localized team. Or can it?   

Are you planning a project where the team members don’t work in the same location?  What expectations do you have of the team and the outcome of the project?  What types of pitfalls await you?  Our panel members will share their war stories, both defeats and successes, to help you determine if a ‘virtual team’ will work for your next project.  

The Panel Members 

Sue Karlin entered the computer software field as an application programmer/analyst. Since then, she gained over 15 years of experience in technical management and leadership covering all phases of the software development lifecycle. She has professional experience in technical team building, implementing/managing project models, process improvement and ISO9000 certification, customer-centric quality metrics, software release management, and software testing (automated and manual).  For the past several years, Sue has worked as a member of the IS management team at Corporate Express, leading the System Test Team and developing it into a full-fledged Quality Engineering organization. 

Robert Welch
is Vice President of Business Development Tango Technologies, a world-class IT outsourcing partner.  He brings a depth of experience in Market Development, Sales, and a very broad technical expertise. His track record includes a history of impressive sales growth in markets such as Enterprise Software Solutions, Industrial Automation, and IT Consulting. These skills were honed within the frameworks of Texas Instruments, Siemens, and as a successful Technology Consultant. Robert’s education includes a BS in Physics from Vanderbilt University. His Graduate studies were at University of Tennessee’s MBA Program.

Wayne Bullington
is a consultant with Spherion Technology Architects.  Recent projects include the development of business-to-business (B2B) applications for the Entertainment industry and the deployment of a B2C application.  Mr. Bullington has a wide variety of Information Technology skills such as project management, methodology, process improvement, system conversions, service delivery, application development cycles and customer support.

Dee Ann Campbell,
Certified Project Manager, IBM Global Services.  She is an experienced project executive with over seventeen years experience in the computer industry ranging from programming to application design to project management. She specializes in the design and installation of large custom computer systems and has led the development of mission-critical systems for companies in a variety of industries including manufacturing, health care and travel and tourism. Ms. Campbell has extensive experience in Project Management, Systems Integration and large scale Application Development.

Steve Wille
is back again as our ever-popular panel moderator, guaranteed to keep the discussion lively and a little controversial.  Steve is Vice President of Information Technology for Diners Club International / Citibank.  Steve has experience with off-shore systems development and other dispersed virtual teams.


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