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Global Teamwork Associates

January 1998

We just read your I3 UPDATE No. 14 with a great deal of interest. Your thoughts and observations resonate to a large extent with our own findings. We have been working for the last two and a half years with major multinationals, facilitating the effective working of teams. Our particular focus has been to work with Virtual / Global teams, using desktop video-conferencing, application sharing and groupware technology. We have seen the effects of the "armies of accountants, analysts and auditors" you talk about in "Measurement Myopia". They give middle and senior managers a warm glow of security that everything is under control, but the whole focus is disastrously introspective and introverted. It has a "head in the sand" feel about it and in the absence of benchmarking, which is still not widely practised, it is all too easy for these organisations to go in the wrong direction, usually away from what the customers want! Inevitably it leads to the "salami slicing" style of management which in its extreme form becomes "slash and burn"! The tragic thing is that there are still major global companies behaving like this today - claiming that their most important asset is their people, but managing as though the opposite were true.

Your comments about leaders attracting investment "without cost-benefit analyses or detailed justification" were familiar too. We observed first hand in a major oil multinational the empowering effects of funding pilot projects purely in order to LEARN and UNDERSTAND more about working virtually. Pilots are doomed to failure if there is constant pressure on the pilot team members to deliver tangible benefit. The benefit from pilots is new knowledge, new learning, more clarity and understanding. These are not measurable in tangible terms but are nonetheless extremely valuable outcomes. The attitude of managers and the way these pilots are "sold" to the pilot team members is critical. It is exactly as you say, all about understanding the new agenda and being willing to experiment. Much of our work in coaching pilot teams is helping people to give themselves permission to change, experiment, take risks and contemplate failure. That's what learning is all about - and the odd thing is people do that all the time outside work. As soon as they go to work they stop doing it. This pilot project approach is a powerful way for senior mangers and the Board to lead by example and to help the workforce "understand the new agenda"

We found your article "1000 Percent ROI on Your Knowledge Investment" resonated in the same way. In particular your comments about a company's willingness to "jump on the bandwagon without understanding where it was going" were all too familiar. We use diagrammatic tools in a workshop environment to help team members work out for themselves the likely business impacts of their pilot project. This avoids them being "handed down on a plate" by the management hierarchy, but most importantly turns each of the team members into stakeholders since they now have played a part in defining their own objectives.

Later on in the article you talked about where the real benefits come from. We would agree wholeheartedly. You mention "better information, better knowledge connections, better insights and better "peripheral vision". We would go further and say that the real strategic benefits for organisations come from changes in attitude, outlook and behaviour. In our own work with global/virtual teams, we now recognise that savings on travel costs are trivial compared to the real prizes that working this way offers. We have seen real benefits delivered through less ambiguity and misunderstanding, faster rapport, people getting into action faster, building more distinctive working relationships and cutting down cycle times. Building trust is another critical but intangible benefit. Managers have to start looking at the impact of change in different ways; not just ROI and "the bottom line". And one final comment; technology is simply the enabler. We find ourselves time and again coaching people to adopt appropriate team behaviours and work less as individuals. The technology becomes the secondary issue.

We hope you find these thoughts helpful and look forward to reading No. 15.

Best Wishes

John Grundy
Jennifer Ginger
Global Teamwork Associates

Return to I3 UPDATE No. 16

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