Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Evolving Art of Virtual Teamwork

Book Review: Virtual Teamwork: Mastering the Art and Practice of Online Learning and Corporate Collaboration edited by Robert Ubell

Despite the glut of books on social networking (or perhaps because of it) there is a scarcity of peer-reviewed source material on virtual teams. Virtual Teamwork takes an important step toward bridging that gap.

Distance learning and virtual collaboration are here to stay. Team projects are now the norm in most organizations, often across geographical boundaries. In the past ten years I have been involved in three virtual teams for three different employers, as well as being involved in several distance learning efforts. The results have been mixed, but this is an indication of how this sector is evolving, not a question of its validity.

As many organizations are discovering, it is not just about the technology. "Cute cat" tools like Facebook or Twitter are obviously not a solution for corporate or educational communication. The fact that millions of people use social media does not give it value - millions of people also watch "reality" TV shows. Wall Street made it clear that Facebook was over-valued. But just installing Lync or some other flavor of the month messaging tool into the corporate software pool isn't the answer either if no one uses it.

The essays that editor Robert Ubell has gathered covers many of the hurdles that one encounters in virtual teams. Although they are often couched from the perspective of one discipline, the insights can be applied across the spectrum. For instance, the problems that occur in team projects in a university class are not any different than one sees in a corporate environment, and the solutions bear equal weight as well.

While there may not be enough detail for organizational leaders looking for a blueprint ("use software X, it will solve all your problems"), Ubell and his contributors have given us a research based framework to build on. As such, I find Virtual Teamwork an invaluable resource that promotes 'out of the box' thinking towards managing virtual teams and collaborative groups.

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