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Chapter 4 – Reducing the risk of failure

Choosing the right tools for teamwork – virtual or otherwise

It is important for a group to have good functioning dynamics prior to an effort to make the communication electronic. We focused on just a core group of organizations and individuals who for the most part had a long term cooperative relationship. This helped smooth the transition to electronic meetings.
Economic Development

Choosing the right technology for collaboration and communication among a newly formed team is an important step in ensuring success of a project. This step becomes even more critical when the team includes individuals who are geographically dispersed and unknown to each other. The following questions and related discussions are provided as a checklist.
  • Is our project team ready for technology-based collaboration?
    Different technologies may make sense at different stages of projects. For example, in the beginning stages of a project when a team is getting to know one another, face-to-face meetings have been found to be the most productive strategy. Email, for example, while generally recognized as a valuable tool for communicating among a group of geographically dispersed team members, is not generally recommended as the sole communication vehicle for new teams. Tele- and videoconferences provide effective alternatives when face-to-face meetings are not possible in these early stages. As a team moves forward through the stages of a project and creates the culture necessary for virtual team work, more technology-based tools may make sense and provide the team with great flexibility in collaboration.

  • Does our team have a good understanding of the kind of work they will do together?
    Will the team be focused primarily on discussions and joint decision making? Will document sharing be necessary? Will collaborative writing be necessary? Will teams need to review software options? The selection of the technology tools should match the task at hand. For example, if the work of the team will focus on strategic planning, primarily comprised of discussions, then simple teleconferences might be the most appropriate tool to use. However, if team members will be producing joint documents, then more sophisticated collaboration tools may be necessary. Many of these tools are now available free over the Web, while others are commercial products. The size of the team should be considered here as well. If the team is large, how will they work together? Will subgroups be working on specific tasks? Understanding the nature of the work to be done by the team and the work style of the team is critical to selecting the most useful and usable tool. Selecting a high-end collaboration tool may just cost more money (or frustration) and may not deliver additional value to the team.

  • Do team members already have access to collaboration technologies?
    Members of your team may already have experience with or have access to collaboration technologies. Use their knowledge and experience to explore what potential tools are available or already in use. Partners from the academic community in particular may have resources already in place to support distance learning and virtual teams. Explore all options.

  • Do team members have access to the selected technology and are they comfortable using it?
    Access to collaborative tools is essential for distributed project teams; equally essential is technical and user support. For example, if the tool selected requires access to high speed Internet, make sure your partners have this capability and that they can get support within their organizations to make the necessary connections and to learn how to use it. If access and support resources are limited, it may be necessary to adjust your strategy to ensure all partners can effectively participate, even if it means using a more basic option.