Tag Archives: Social network

Team Structures are Changing: Virtual vs Traditional Teams Discussion on Twitter

Virtual Team Work at Lego
Virtual Team Work at Lego (Photo credit: publicmind)

I retweeted an article “@WarrenWhitlock: Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams RT @HarvardBiz” and said “Easy to say, Hard to do” (see http://bit.ly/GBTfrd)

In summary the 3 points the author made were this (related to Virtual teams):

  1. They can enlist the best expertise from any location
  2. They can reduce the cycle time of projects by shrewd use of a “follow the sun” schedule
  3. They can tap a diversity of input
And that to do this you must:
  1. Put processes in place
  2. Communicate less — but in the right ways
  3. Keep conflicts focused on tasks

Having worked in both the traditional and virtual team, the statement made is technically true – yes, they *can*, but there are additional factors that must be considered, including (but not limited to):

  • Culture – Some cultures are significantly different in their work approach. For example, a team I worked with I observed British developers frustrated by Indian developers because the latter were (in the main) only executing the work they were asked to do, not take initiative to code based off understanding implications of the work at hand. Culturally, they were following the pattern that applies to them. Equally the Indian developers felt they were “put upon”. We had to implement a middle layer to counteract this
  • Language – When there’s not a common language, translations can cause issue. Also causes issue when trying to communicate with other channels
  • Timezone – Collaboration is essential; having a group in Chicago talking to a group in Baroda has to consider the 10.5 hr time difference. Makes calls very hard to do without impacting personal time
  • Emotional attachment – Having worked with external consulting development groups, some have exhibited traits akin to “I coded the work requested. I’m gone in 3 weeks so I don’t care if it runs slow when you hit 10k transactions”. They don’t care about the future of, and so aren’t attached to the quality of the product.
  • Operational – Trying to overcome network, security and hardware boundaries can be difficult – e.g. a firewall rule between two regions might create issues for the team

Is there anything better?

Team dynamics are changing; the use of and demand for Enterprise Social Networks means that  teams are more formed around the product or service rather than the logical team (e.g. Marketing, Communications).

Instead, we increasingly see individuals from IT, User Experience, Client Service, Marketing, Communication collaborating together to form a closer bond and share the emotional involvement; this avoids the “not my job” and blends where one starts and another stops. Virtual teams certainly will continue to exist and in some cases, work very well. However they should be used judiciously and not on small sets of factors alone (e.g. financial).

The Organizational Chart is dead – Bring on People Value!

Org Charts – Order from Chaos?

Org chart
Image by jonny goldstein via Flickr

The company I work for has undergone many changes in the last 3 years. Many of these changes have seen people move from manager to manager and/or team to team.

During these cycles of change there tends to be much unrest. People are used to order and structure; these changes introduce dynamic situations which lead to uncertainty. As a consequence it’s quite normal for people to search for order. One of those ways is to look for an organizational chart which will describe where either they or their manager sit in the hierarchy and therefore provide some form of assurance that they are still relevant in their organization.

Throw away your Org Chart

What use does it serve? Think about what value it really offers – for example, how often do you refer to any org chart that is published? Here’s what I mean:

Traditional Org Chart Item
Traditional Org Chart Item

This is an example of how my Org chart entry would read. It tells you only that I’m a program manager. Great. Tells me nothing of value. There’s no concept of what value I add to the organisation or any other relevant information.

Additionally, Org charts don’t tend to be searchable – something that you might hope would redeem their purpose.

There is no Org Chart – Time to empower the people!

Now let’s put a spin on this – here’s what we should move to:

No more Org Chart - People Value!

This is no longer part of any Org Chart; this is my profile. This tells you now not just what my current professional position relates to but also what past experience and personal interests I have. This metadata is also now searchable (the hashtags are twitter-esque to represent this) so anyone in the organisation can now find me based off the rich set of data I have added to my profile.So now the concept of putting this in situ of an Org chart now seems less relevant. I’ve provided the key information for anyone in my organisation (or if such a thing were possible – to partners and clients – or anyone!), anywhere in the world to find me against a topic or subject I either have an interest in or can offer support, advice or other words of encouragement. This is far more valuable from the offset and creates empowerment for employees to feel they have access to discover and create networks enterprise-wide, get informed and build relationships without formal structure which limits and offers little intrinsic value. This in turn unlocks knowledge coffins that beset many organisations, enabling more people to be more knowledgeable. As the CEO of HP once said “If HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more knowledgeable”.

This is just the beginning

This forms part of a bigger picture of what is essential called Enterprise 2.0 or Social Media; creating data which is searchable and consumable allowing the creation of networks of people that previously would not be possible is incredibly powerful. However this empowerment can cause traditional company culture to baulk at the thought that employees now have the power to shape and adapt the very same corporate culture they are trying to control. This is a snowball that is still fairly small but is rapidly gaining speed and size. Visionary groups such as Gartner and Forrester are predicting that companies will either adapt to this way of thinking of sink in a mire as employees circumvent their archaic processes (see Yammer) to create their own social networks. Microsoft, Oracle and IBM are three huge players who also recognise this trend and are readying their offerings through 2010 and beyond – this is just the beginning.