web-based services

Ellen Johnson had just completed her first month as manager for succesful company that provides a variety of web-based services and solutions. Last week, she was informed that she would be the new leader of a team that included 10 individuals. To her surprise, not only were these team members diverse in terms of their functional training and expertise, but they also represented a variety of culture backgrounds and only three were located in her office building. She quickly learned that 7 of 10 individuals actually worked from their home countries that included Japan, China, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Colombia, and Egypt.

Up until this point, this “virtual team” collaborated on projects by using a variety of communication tools, including instant e-mail messaging, telephone calls, videoconferencing, document sharing, and occasional meetings at head quaters. After reviewing some of the past meeting notes and communication transcripts among the group members, Johnson realized that many of the team members had very different communication styles and levels of proficiency in English. The team’s new assignment was an important one.

The 10 members needed to develop and roll out a new product within the six weeks. This was in direct response to a new product just by a major competitor. To complicate matters, a six-week product development cycle was unheard of; until this point, the company’s turnaround time for a new product offering was approximately three months. The company had no choice. If they did not counter the competitive threat immediately, then the company risked losing some key customers and market share. Johnson researched the past performance of her newly inherited virtual team.

Although the overall quality of past decisions was quite high, the team seemed to take several months to make those decisions. This was a potential problem for Johnson. Time was no longer a luxury. She has to figure out a way to encourage the team to move faster without comprising quality. Through a combination of analyzing past team meeting notes and transcripts and speaking one-on-one with team members, she started to accumulate some facts that might be useful in solving the decision-making speed issue.

First, Johnson discovered that the Japanese and Chinese team members did not participate much in the videoconferences or telephone conference call, but rather preferred written communication in the form of faxes and e-mail. In contrast, the Australian and Mexican team members seemed to thrive on telephone calls and face-to-face meetings. Second, there appeared to be some infighting among the three members of the group that were domiciled at headquaters. Most of the past arguments seemed to be about the group’s goals and mission.

Each had a very different idea in mind in terms of what the group needed to accomplish. The comments in written communications didn’t get personal, but there were definitely heated debates about what objectives the group should be focusing on. The third potential obstacle to faster the decision making had to do with sporadic use of face-to-face meetings. To her surprise, Johnson discovered that such meetings rarely occured and that there was no attempt to bring the group together when it was first formed last year.

Johnson expected that the team would have met and perhaps engaged in some team building exercise to build trust and rapport among team members. This was not the case. In addition, the team did not receive any form of decision making or group conflict resolution training. Johnson sat back in her office and thought about the problem at hand. She needed to develop and launch a new product within six weeks. In order to produce a high-quality product, each of the 10 virtual team members had to contribute their knowledge and effort in a cooperative and timely manner.