Balancing Act: Live and Virtual Communities

Is this even possible?
Is this even possible?

How a team feels impacts its productivity and business results.  Imagine if the acrobat above was having a bad day… the results would be disastrous!

A key ingredient that shapes team effectiveness is its culture and having a sense of community.

Geography plays a huge role in shaping culture. Communities that live together use a common language, have common values and rituals. Everyone in the geographic community adopts certain cultural traits that allow them to work together and succeed in their environment.

Imagine if that same community is distributed across different geographical zones and asked to work together on common goals. It will be challenging to say the least. Everything from basics such as values and knowledge, to accepted rituals, to simply working together becomes more difficult. Add different time zones into this mix and you have the challenges faced by many project teams today.

Distributed teams are an inevitable part of our world. Today’s business reality demands that the best talent be leveraged for a project – no matter where they are physically located.  How the project is partitioned, and how the team is actually organized, plays a big role in whether the project succeeds or fails.

In the initial project planning, consideration of physical and virtual teams is an important aspect of setting up teams and projects for success.

In general, a collocated team is more effective for highly intense, fast paced projects that require daily interactions.  People can more easily tune into the nuances of the human network, build trust and form bonds – all of which are critical in problem solving and innovation.

There are definitely situations when virtual teams are practical.  For example, if the project components are split at a macro level such that it does not require daily or weekly calls and negotiations, it is likely that infrequent discussions suffice.  In these situations, there is no need for physical collocation. There are excellent advances in communications technology, such as web conferencing, that make it possible to have the as-need communications.  In fact, this would be more cost effective in this scenario.

It all comes down to judgment.  That judgment comes from you – the program manager.  The key is to bring such factors into the project planning and execution.

What has been your experience in balancing live and virtual teams and how that has impacted your project planning?

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