Archive for February, 2011


Here goes a review practically longer than the book!

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On one hand there are certain expectations when picking up a pocket book on any subject. I expect some quick tips, checklists, something that I can quickly peruse and refer back to easily. I picked this one up since it was published in 2010 and published by Harvard Business School Publishing. 

My first impression was not good!  Why does a small pocket book, which by definition does not have a lot of room for details, have to go in to “what is a virtual team and why they are becoming more prevalent…….”.  Even if you have never led a virtual team, doesn’t everyone know this by now……   I did pick up a new term though in this section, ”same-place team”. The definition is obvious from the words, i.e. a team where all members are in the same location but I was under the impression that the more common term to use for this is co-located team (A quick scan of google I think corroborates this impression. Googling “same-place team” I get no results, versus the pages of results I received when I google’d “co-located team”.  But not a key point, it is understood.)

After the “Why Virtual Teams” chapter the book does become more helpful. The section on steps for communicating with virtual teams includes “planned spontaneity”.   Agreeing regular times to talk, and everyone knows we will be on the phone or online at such and such a time. Also open for chatting online times which can substitute for the “gathering around the water cooler scenarios”.  Also it includes key items such as agreeing, do you expect someone to respond to an email that you send on a weekend? 

Another important key scenario the book did address is when some workers are co-located and some are virtual, which is a very common situation.  Or even multiple co-located members and multiple virtual members. Sometimes it is easier to manage a virtual team when all team members are virtual than when there are multiple co-located members. It is easier for team members to care about their other co-located members than to worry about the team members located elsewhere.  The individual remote members will be more interested to know what is going on in the different locations because they are usually working “alone”, whereas the ones who are working with a team of two or more in their location, they will tend to be less active in worrying about who is in the other locations.  For these situations the book makes suggestions of how to ease the “isolation” or remote members and get the co-located members involved in helping with those situations. 

Other points I like about the book; I do like the “scenarios” which involve asking the reader what they would do in a particular situation (very realistic situations) and the mentors (authors) provide answers in the form of “what you could do”.  I also like the “Test Yourself” chapter at the end of the book under Tips and Tools.  It is better than most of these “tests”, the scenarios are more details. 

Now on to what I do not like about this book. Again and again I see this in virtual team books, the suggestion that the first meeting with a team, if at all possible should be face to face.  But rarely, if ever, have I seen suggestions of how to do the kick-off meeting if you and your team are in the more common situation of, we can’t do a face to face kick-off meeting, but we still have to start the project somehow.  Where are those suggestions? In this day and age most of what can be done face-to-face can be replicated with online tools. It may take more online meetings to replicate the face-to-face, but it can still be done.  Additionally the Tips and Tools section includes a section of “document layouts” to use for contact information, setting up a virtual team, identifying roles and responsibilities, etc.  The documents, in and of themselves, are just fine and useful, but I would think, given the fact that this was written just recently, that these would be translated now in to an online form and shown that way.  However, this may have to do with the fact that when I look at the references at the back of the book, there is only one article from 2006, most are from around the year 2000.  And the latest source for the book is 2000.  Technology and its use in virtual teams is not a strong suit for this book.  Hence the book was “compiled” recently, but based mostly on old sources.

The idea of a pocket book is one that you can quickly refer to for helpful hints or lists, etc.  (Well besides being one that you carry around in your pocket!!)  Is this, that kind of a book?  No not really. It is a good quick read if you are new to virtual teams.  The scenarios are helpful, the “test” of your knowledge of virtual teams is good, but could you refer to this book again and again.  I think not.  You are better off to make use of the “Quick Guide to Interaction Styles and Working Remotely: Strategies for Leading and Working in Virtual Teams” –

“Leading Virtual Teams – Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges”
2010 Harvard Business School Publishing

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