Culture & Competency

Get to Know Your Virtual Colleagues as People – and Good Things Happen (to Important Things Like Productivity)

Larry talks about the power of non-task and personal relationships as a contributor to the performance of distributed teams:

Most managers know about the water cooler effect. However, not enough understand the meaning of the concept and how it relates to performance and collaboration. People thinking about how to support collaboration and performance need to keep in mind the simple fact that employees don’t only gather around the water cooler or coffee pot to get a drink. They often use getting a drink of water, or a cup of coffee, as a pretext for taking a break, and information sharing happens incidentally as they interact in that informal process, sometimes playfully, with their peers and, in exceptional organizations, their managers.

A couple of studies released this summer dealing with performance and collaboration in teams merit consideration in this regard. Not so much for what they specifically say about performance and collaboration as much as what they imply about the importance of social relationships to both.

Key points:
– If team members understand each other as people, they perform more effectively on virtual teams.
– Personal knowledge of others means people are more likely to freely share what they know, because they perceive it may help others on the team.
– As opportunities for face-to-face collaboration decrease, the importance of social networks increase.
– According to research from MIT Media Lab, productivity increases were positively associated with spending time talking to other people.
– Similar findings were found in a study of call center agents at the Bank of America.
– Shared experiences are more important than shared information.

My Comments
1. Trust between collaborators is an important factor related to collaboration effectiveness. Spending time talking to and learning about the people you work with provides the mechanism for trust to flourish – if they are trustworthy – or diminish – if they are not worthy of your trust.

2. When working with others on an important project, go and see them. Make it work. Spend 2-3 days with team members working together, eating together, doing fun stuff together. It will create a good foundation for future work … and greatly speed the relationship building. Aim to repeat this every six months.

3. It makes sense that when people experience the same thing together – creating shared history and shared memories – it binds the group together in a much deeper way than merely having the same information. The more life threatening the experience is, the greater the possibility of cohesion. This isn’t to advocate life threatening team building exercises, just a reflection on some hard realities of life.

Categories: Culture & Competency