survey in USA Today
of 419 companies reports that 60 percent cut their travel budgets
in 2001, and 50 percent expect that 2002 travel budgets will fall
below 2001 levels.
in virtual teams, this news is devastating. Face-to-face communication
is the way that humans have interacted, built relationships, and
worked together for millennia. Meeting face-to-face puts people
in a familiar environment that feels warm, comfortable, and easy
where they can interact. Virtual teams always knew that between
all those emails and conference calls, the travel budgets would
provide a sweet oasis where people could come together to re-energize.
world sped up. The economy took a nosedive. Travel budgets evaporated.
Virtual teams had the carpets literally ripped out from under their
feet. Now there was no oasis to jumpstart the sense of team. Suddenly,
leaders found relationships and team spirit significantly more difficult
can no longer afford to wait for the next face-to-face meeting to
develop rapport, build sense of team, and create high-performance
teamwork in every sense of the word. They have to learn how to do
that from afar.
an exciting new generation of very creative leaders has broken new
ground by creating a warm, interactive team environment, virtually.
They have learned how to create the next evolution in teamwork:
The Evolution to Bionic
past 20 years, teamwork has evolved through three very distinctive
1: Collocated Teamwork. Everyone on the team works in
one location. Their technology for success is to keep other parts
of the organization out of their way, as they creatively tackle
the job in front of them. As people rub elbows throughout the day,
they have a warm and comfortable environment, rich in communication
cues, to enable them to feel like a team, act like a team, and produce
results as a team. Not only do people see each other day by day,
but they also see team progress unfold in front of them.
2: Virtual Teamwork. At least one person works from a
different location: homes, customer sites, distant offices, or
mobile locations, anywhere in the world. Their technology for success
is twofold. First, to learn to use and rely on email, voicemail,
and conference calls for most of their team communication—rather
than going down the hall to talk. Second, to travel to be together
in a more familiar communication environment—face-to-face. In fact,
many people who work on virtual teams often comment that face-to-
face meetings are often the only place where the team really feels
team spirit, joy, and camaraderie. As a result, people squeeze as
much work and play into that same site visit as possible because
they know that distance will drain away that spark.
3: Bionic Teamwork. The leader and team are intentionally
smarter about how they use technology to extend a human touch, build
their sense of team, and collaborate in ways that often are superior
to traditional face-to-face meetings. Technology isn’t looked upon
as a device. Instead, it humanizes and supercharges interaction
in a way that makes the leader or team better, stronger, or better.
It doesn't matter if the team has ten people in ten locations, people
on Bionic Teams work together as comfortably in a digital space
as other teams do in one physical place (as if they had flown to
be together). Most Bionic Teams will travel for at least one face-to-face
meeting, but their strength is that they have learned how to be
a lively, interactive team, from afar.
rely on many of the same technologies that virtual teams use—such
as portable computers, e-mail, cell phones, and conference calls.
Leaders of Bionic Teams, however, go one step further. They use
a new generation of collaborative technologies—web conference, electronic
team rooms, and desktop video conferencing—in ways that drive exceptionally
fast interaction and exceptionally cohesive teamwork. Bionic Teams
want every upgrade, and they upgrade every technology they use.
Why? Because it gives them a whole new world of ways to exchange
the communication cues that people need for high-performance human
merely having videoconference and web conference technology, for
example, does not make your team Bionic. All of us exist in a sea
of technology, yet only a few are achieving great leaps in rapport
and results. To create Bionic Teamwork, leaders need to take another
step: to use technology in ways that build relationships, speed
the interaction, personalize the communication, and otherwise add
synergy when the team collaborates, from afar. If you have not seen
a significant rapport or productivity leap when using web conferencing,
video conferencing, and electronic team-room technology—don’t blame
the technology. It only provides the infrastructure for success.
Leaders need to provide the rest by applying that technology to
the team in ways that help people work better together.
Five Leadership Practices
to Create Bionic Teamwork
be no compromise in the level of teamwork that you and your global
team believe you can achieve virtually. Bionic Teamwork is not about
technology. Instead, it is about how the team uses technology to
create high performance teamwork, from afar. Some of these suggestions
you can put in place today, while others will require that you step
into a whole new world of technology.
Personalize your voice presence.
effectively from afar, our voice presence must feel as close, personal,
and warm as if we were sitting right next to each other. Why, then,
do we tolerate any voice technology where words screech through
a speakerphone, sounding little better than the voice of a drive-through
order-taker at McDonald's? Whether you are talking through a speakerphone
or listening through one, your voice presence is immediately compromised.
No communication that feels like shouting is good communication.
Speakerphones make team conversations too public, as well, making
the eMeeting environment too unsafe for honest, open talk.
create a warm voice presence in three ways. First, always use a
headset in all 1:1 phone conversations and small-group web conference
meetings. A headset will make your voice sound warm and personal.
With today’s inexpensive corded headsets, and more expensive wireless
ones, people can talk in a normal tone, as if they were in a one-to-one
conversation. Using the headset totally changes the tone, warmth,
and clarity of your voice.
using the mute button in small group meetings. One of the worst
habits of the virtual teamwork stage is the misuse and abuse of
the mute button. It immediately stifles communication and breaks
team trust. In live team conference calls, when someone tells a
funny story, we should hear spontaneous laughter, not silence. When
some topic is unpleasant, we should hear the groans. When someone
asks a question, we should immediately hear voices in response,
as if we were in one room. The only time Bionic Teams use a mute
button is (1) if the team has over 10 people live online, or (2)
if there are loud noises in anyone’s background (like a dog barking)
that would distract the eMeeting.
you use a conference room, get the best professional audioconferencing
equipment. Effective communication requires that voices sound normal
and natural, not unclear and distant. Most speakerphones are so
poorly equipped to do group conferencing that the speakerphone button,
not the mute button, should be disabled. On the other hand, meeting
room audioconference equipment has microphones and speakers specifically
designed to relay voices from or to a group. Anyone in the conference
room who is sitting more than 2-3 feet from the audio conference
equipment should use a remote microphone that extends from the base
talk is spontaneous and natural. Words are spoken in a normal voice
and received clearly at other sites. Survey your team about voice
presence any time team equipment or the team environment changes.
In this age of fantastic technology at low prices, don’t settle
for anything less than the best voice equipment. A few hundred dollars
goes a long way to connect your team in more ways than a phone link.
If voices feel close, people will feel closer to each other.
Use web conference technology to let teamwork unfold
to WorldCom's 2001 Meetings in America study, only 19 percent of
businesspeople use web conference technology. To create Bionic Teamwork,
web conferencing is the most important technology since the invention
of the phone and email. This new tool lets globally dispersed people
collaborate on whiteboards, documents, polls, chats, and web tours,
among many other important features. Web conferencing adds a visual
dimension to communication that supplements your great audio connection
(professional audio equipment or headset).
Why is web
conferencing a new critical tool? It provides an infrastructure
through which a team can interact with tremendous ease and speed.
There is a big difference, however, in how virtual teams use it,
contrasted with Bionic Teams. Virtual teams use web conference technology
mostly to give PowerPoint presentations to people at other locations.
Others linked to the session are in a more passive state, watching
one slide change to the next, or participating on one or two polls.
on the other hand, use web conference technology to speed interaction,
decision-making, problem solving, collaboration, and results. Instead
of one person clicking, everyone on the team is clicking, keying,
and verbally interacting throughout the entire online meeting—but
in a very organized, structured, yet spontaneous way. Imagine the
most interactive face-to-face meeting you’ve ever seen; Bionic Teams
interact many times faster and more intensely, from afar, through
their web conference technology. All eMeeting participants watch
teamwork unfold onscreen, as the people collaborate on many dimensions
provided by the web conference technology.
Put all team members on a level playing field for team
being connected to a group is a basic human need. Yet, the way a
team selects and uses technology often excludes those off in the
distance. For example, one team had nine people in one location,
and one other about 1,000 miles away. During the team meeting, nine
sat together in one conference room, and the other was linked by
a conference call. Even though not intentional, the one remote person
was always excluded from participating as a full member of the team.
He said, "I felt like the forgotten stepchild." The problem
is much greater than hurt feelings. It’s also broken trust, broken
sense of team, and broken teamwork.
The key problem
in this case was the difference in communication cues in the two
environments. The nine were all in the same room, functioning like
the collocated team. They could see each other's facial cues, sense
when to cut into the conversation, grab the marker to ride on the
flip chart, and exchange ideas freely. The one distant team member
couldn't see the flip chart, nor pick up a marker to add to it.
He also couldn’t see the group's reaction to his suggestions, or
sense that the group was listening to him at all. The difference
was the cues.
to participate, to contribute, and to be heard. In our virtual team
stage, anyone who is away from the others is normally at a big disadvantage,
as in the previous example. The Bionic Teamwork approach would put
all ten at their individual computers with headsets, so everyone
on this small team could communicate on an equal playing field.
meetings, leaders also need to be sure that all team members have
equal access to and participate in videoconferencing technology.
Today, any meeting room can be outfitted with videoconference technology
for as low as the approximate cost of a coast-to-coast U.S. coach-fare
airplane ticket (around $2000). This technology eliminates one of
the most common mistakes—having some people participate via videoconference,
while others only link by conference call. The result is an unequal
opportunity to view and participate in the meeting, as well as an
uneven exchange of communication cues. The result is always broken
communication and teamwork.
videoconferencing, people no longer have to be in a videoconference
room to participate in a videoconference meeting with others who
are. Desktop video camera technology exists today that can let people
working from home offices, hotels, and mobile locations (through
laptop computers) use desktop videoconference technology so that
all can view each other’s faces, no matter where in the world the
people happen to be. Improvements in bandwidth and video compression
technology make today’s live videoconference images significantly
more natural than the Charlie Chaplain versions that were so distracting
in years past.
People still need to travel.
teams are still in a significant transition, learning how we can
create trust and rapport from afar. Technology, used well, will
reduce the need to travel, but not eliminate it.
The big difference
in travel for leaders to create Bionic Teamwork is in the purpose
of the trip. Virtual teams travel to do the work. Bionic Teams travel
to build relationships. When leaders and members of the Bionic Team
are in the same location, they spend every minute being fully “present”
with each other. They dedicate a large chunk of time to evaluate
their communication needs and practices, and then identify ways
to communicate better. They build the relationship infrastructure
that will flourish when they once again return to their distant
Expect a miracle from technology, because you can create
the same email system or conference call doesn’t make a team. Technology
provides the infrastructure. Leaders have to apply it to their team.
The plug and play myth is dead. If technology hasn’t produced a
noteworthy improvement in team cohesion and results, then the leader
and the team have not yet created Bionic Teamwork. When they do,
the results are remarkable.
when it comes to live team collaboration from afar, web conferencing
can actually deliver a superior result to face-to-face, often speeding
decisions and the project result by 25 to 90 percent. Electronic
team-rooms speed collaboration in a 24/7 environment, improving
team participation, speeding feedback, and increasing customer satisfaction.
Videoconferencing saves millions of dollars in travel costs and
millions more in productivity gains because people aren’t in airports.
technology and new methods, teams no longer have to be in one place
to be a high-performance, high-interaction team, with a heart. In
fact, Bionic Teams produce profound results, breaking all records
for previous kinds of teams. Technology creates the infrastructure,
but the team leader still needs to incorporate the technology into
the team’s work in ways that enable the people to be dramatically
better, faster, and stronger as a human team.
The rest is up to you
about leadership today has to include how a leader uses technology
to create a human touch and expand human results. It is not enough
to have technology. Leaders of Bionic Teamwork very intelligently
take advantage of the best that technology can offer to enable warm,
cohesive teamwork, from afar. The leader must also get up to speed
with new best practices that helped make other leaders, from afar,
lead with a personal touch.
are too important to be left to chance. If you lead a team that
has even one person who works somewhere else, the whole environment
in which your team interacts must be in tune with the times. Plugging
in or logging on doesn’t make a team. Leaders, that’s your job.
How are you using technologies to make your team more productive
Jaclyn Kostner, Ph.D., is the author of the newly released Bionic
eTeamwork (Dearborn), and also Virtual
Leadership (Warner Books) and Knights
of the Tele-Round Table (Warner Books) which have
been translated into languages around the world, and made the best-seller
lists in the U.S. and Europe. Her company, Bridge
the Distance, delivers online and onsite workshops to improve
team collaboration and results. Kostner, also a professional speaker
worldwide, has served as an expert to The Wall Street Journal, CNNfn,
Time, USA Today, and USA Radio. Contact her directly at email@example.com.
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