Waiting for a Reason?

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

Jennifer Pahlka, Contributor

May 7, 2006

2 Min Read

I never met the best boss I ever had. Okay, I have to exclude my current boss, whose vision launched this conference, (no, I am not sucking up) but before that, long ago, I worked at a healthcare think-tank, planning conferences. My boss was a former employee who had moved from the Bay Area to Indiana so her husband could take advantage of a job opportunity, and in the two years I worked there we never met face to face. She called me almost daily, and, in contrast to the other managers around me, was always in a good mood, probably because she was largely immune from the office politics that ran rampant through the organization.

So I was inclined to nod vigorously when I first came across an article in the Harvard Business Review two years ago called "Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?" Two of the authors, Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, the principals at NetAge, are speaking at CTC. Stowe Boyd reported on his interview with Jessica on Collaboration Loop.

In a study of 54 teams in 26 companies who rarely, if ever met face-to-face, Jessica and Jeff found that virtual teams can actually outperform traditional teams if they followed certain practices. From the summary of the article: "The fact that such groups could not assemble easily actually made their projects go faster, as people did not wait for meetings to make decisions, and individuals, in the comfort of their own offices, had full access to their files and the complementary knowledge of their local colleagues."

There's been much discussion of what will eventually drive collaborative technologies to mass adoption. Many people have had their own "aha" experiences where a wiki, IM, or other collaborative tool made such a difference to a project or interaction that the rationale was obvious from then on. Others have pointed to the likelihood of a mass disruption (avian flu, for instance) that requires a significant percentage of the workforce to become virtual workers overnight—and shouldn't we prepare for that now? But here's one good reason to master virtual work now: it could make your traditional teams more productive.

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