Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pathways into working in virtual teams

I'm working with Mark Turpin and Sibrenne Wagenaar on a study into impact evaluation of knowledge management interventions for the IKM emergent research programme. Since Mark is based in South Africa, and we are based in the Netherlands, we have to use online tools to communicate and organize our work.

When we had a skype conference call, we opened a chatroom to take notes. However, Mark couldn't see the chatroom and I explained what he should see on the bottom of the screen. He couldn't see it. Then it appeared he had a Mac computer and it was showing up at the top of his screen! It makes me think starting to work online has similarities to working in a different culture. You have to be prepared to open yourself up to new ways of working and alternatives to what you expect. It's a whole new world and you are a total stranger till you get familiar with it.

Sibrenne and I have worked online quite a lot, but Mark is new to our way of working. It's amazing to see how easy he is picking up on working with various tools, as compared to efforts to introduce tools in organisations! We are using skype, Unyte, various google docs and write for the giraffe weblog. Mark is enthusiastic about google docs and has started using it for other projects too, and has recently started his own weblog about learning and social capital in South Africa.

Linking this to the lessons about teaching web2 tools to researcher by Pete Shelton, I think you can say that Mark has experienced how it can work from peers (us) and is therefore able to apply it to his own work situation. And ofcourse we are great, patient co-workers that don't make him feel stupid when he doesn't know how it works (or do we?)...

I'm not sure if I linked already to the article that I wrote with Sibrenne about tools for virtual teams - (because it is in Dutch I may not have linked it on this blog but here it is for any interested Dutch speaking persons)

1 comment:

Mark Turpin said...

Thanks Joitske!
Maybe I can add a couple of ideas?
One is that working in virtual teams like this seems to be much easier if you have also had the opportunity of a couple of face-to-face meetings as well (as we have had). This gives you the opportunity to get to know the person a little as well - after this the interaction online becomes a little more 'human'. Of course this is not always possible, but I think it can create a stronger sense of human engagement and interaction (slight distraction here as breaking news comes in that our President (Mbeki) has been fired).
Another learning for me is that it is possible to do exciting work online - yesterday for example we have a 3-way skype conference call that we document simultaneously on skype chat (giving us a record of the conversation for later), while also checking our diaries and working on a shared Google document at the same time. This creates the potential for real interactive engagement and a sense of creating our work together.
While interviewing Scott yesterday for the IKM research we are doing (on evaluating knowledge management strategies) I also shared with him some of these online ways of working, which he will now also take into his RENEWAL network - a good example of how asking questions in itself can be a useful intervention into a system!