Virtual Teams

The untapped potential of virtual teams

image: report coverI’ve been reading ” The Untapped Potential of Virtual Teams”, a study by Siemens Enterprise Communications. It’s based on a survey of 320 people from nine countries and has some interesting findings, including:

  • 79% of respondents always or frequently work distributed teams – this reinforces our view that remote and virtual working is “the new normal”.
  • However, only 44% find it as productive as face-to-face teamwork
  • They found a high level of frustration in collaboration and communication technologies:43% of people feel frustrated and overwhelmed by them and whilst traditional technologies like e-mail and phone are most commonly use,d many people think that video would improve collaboration.

The finding I would like to comment on most, however, is that 75% find their team members more likely to get distracted during virtual meetings. That’s not inconsistent with other findings and our experience.

Quite often when we talk to clients about this their idea is to improve the process of the meetings through better facilitation and engagement techniques.

My first question is “What if they are right?” What if the meetings are of such poor quality content that a random e-mail or something on the Internet is far more relevant and interesting. We’ve all had the experience of sitting on an irrelevant conference call we are expected to attend, listening out with half an ear for any  mention of our name. The tell-tale indicator of this is when you ask someone question by name and they reply: “Sorry, could you just summarise that for me again?”

It is well-established that distraction reduces the quality of our participation, and has been found to be equivalent to a 10 point reduction in our IQ. But it’s also our brains telling us that this current content isn’t really worth paying attention to.

Step one should always be the focus meetings on content is relevant to all attendees: content that requires engagement and participation. If it’s just giving information, particularly to an international audience, then e-mail it instead. If it’s endless activity and status reviews, stick it on a blog so people can ignore it in their own time.

Face-to-face synchronous communication time is far too scarce and valuable to spend on the passive consumption of someone else’s information. It should be about the creation and discussion of ideas and plans.

Step two is to eliminate people who are not  – and should not  – be engaged in the content. They only introduce delay and unnecessary cost. Check who is relevant to attend and decide for every agenda item to try and organize your meetings so that people can join and leave once the topics relevant to them are passed.

Only then should you consider improving facilitation to create high levels of engagement. Otherwise we will just become more efficient at engaging people who don’t need to be involved.

Source: “The Untapped Potential of Virtual Teams“©, by  Siemens Enterprise Communications GmbH & Co. KG, 2012 

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