Organizations Out of Whack:Aligning the precursors to virtual teams

[Note: This paper has been provided by Applied Knowledge Group. Copyright (c) AKG 2000. All rights reserved. See contact information at the end of the paper.]


The Organizational Precursors Assessment is a practical guide for teams and team managers to assess the extent to which their organization is ready to move from traditional face-to-face work settings to the world of geographically dispersed teams and virtual teams. The assessment not only helps focus attention on the critical barriers that can imperil the success of virtual teams, it highlights aspects of the organizational system that are "out of whack" (alignment) with each other. By aligning the precursors of virtual teams, organizations help insure that their investment in time, technology, effort and people pays off in terms of improved productivity, faster turn around and enhanced team performance.

The Organizational Precursors Assessment

In filling out this assessment, think about the part of your organization with which you are most familiar. Consider your experience to date with the organization and how this impacts you on a daily basis. Within the context of your daily work, we will ask you to assess whether certain key precursors for effective virtual team collaboration are present - or missing. If they are missing, we will discuss the implications of this for you and how you work with others once everyone has completed their assessment.

Assessing Collaborative Technology

Just because two people each have a telephone doesn't guarantee that they will call each other, share information or feel the need to do so. Technology is a necessary - but insufficient - prelude to collaborating as members of a virtual team.

On the scale below, please rate, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), the extent to which your existing technology platform makes it fast and easy for people to connect, communicate, dialog, share knowledge and collaborate on work issues.

Low scores may indicate your technology is inconvenient, unreliable, incompatible or difficult to use for these purposes. It may reflect, "one size fits all" technology solutions and allow little flexibility for tailoring the tools to the specific work purpose of your group or team.

High scores should reflect technology that is convenient, reliable, easy to learn and can easily be adapted to a variety of knowledge sharing and collaborative work requirements.

Scoring Collaborative Technology

Please rate how well your technology supports your work with others by circling one of the numbers below. As a point of comparison, great technology should make it easy for you to:

I would rate our technology as: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Multiply the number you circled times one. Write your technology sub total here:_______

Assessing Incentives

Both individuals and teams are interested in hearing the answer to the question, "What's in it for me?" before they are willing to commit themselves. Incentives can include threats to survival, the prospect of a promotion, the opportunity to influence others, fear of failure, and the chance to make a difference. In short, they can be either positive or negative. However, to be effective, they must be important to us and impel us to action.

On the scale below - 1(low) to 10 (high) - please rate to what extent there are significant incentives, rewards or consequences for those who make a consistent effort to collaborate across organizational boundaries, to share their knowledge, or capture their experiences in order to share what they have learned with others.

Low scores may indicate disconnects between organizational policy and practice in how people are rewarded for use of their time and energy. It may reflect conflicting or competing organizational priorities.

High scores reflect attention to how work practices and knowledge management practices support and reinforce each other. Clear incentives at each level of the organization demonstrate how each person contributes to the knowledge capital of the whole.

Scoring Incentives

Please rate to what extent there are strong incentives to collaborate and share knowledge with others in your organization by circling one of the numbers below. As a point of comparison, appropriate incentives should:

I would rate our incentive structure as: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Multiply the number you circled times two. Write your incentives sub total here _________.

Assessing Cultural Values

Organizational culture expresses itself in a shared understanding of what is valued and what is taboo -- what is OK and what is Not OK -- and in the tacit, generally unspoken assumptions people make about what it takes to succeed. Cultures are pervasive, resistant to change and very powerful because we rarely stop to question them.

On the scale below - 1(low) to 10 (high) - please rate to what extent your organizational culture values attitudes of "all for one and one for all", reflects trust in the reliability and motives of the individual, and a demonstrates belief that learning from experience saves both time and money.

Low scores may indicate a preoccupation for "looking out for #1", a focus on turf and credit issues, an assumption that individuals are basically not to be trusted, or belief that allowing people to cross internal divisions is a dangerous practice. These may derive from a hierarchical culture; a stove-piped functional structure, or explicit taboos against information sharing across organizational boundaries.

High scores tend to reflect collaborative, project-driven cultures where boundary crossing is the norm, where there is an expectation that everyone will share knowledge to the extent they can do so, and a belief that "we're all in this together".

Scoring Cultural Values

To what extent does your organizational culture support, endorse or value knowledge sharing and collaborative work with others? A well aligned, supportive culture makes it easy to:

Circle the appropriate number. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Multiply the number you circled times three. Write your incentives sub total here:________

Assessing Leadership Commitment

Sometimes the people who lead change are those most reluctant to apply it to their own way of working with others. Working in geographically dispersed teams challenges many of the old assumptions about management by walking around, the importance of face-to-face communication and the need of people for daily supervision. Virtual teams not only require new skills of their members, they require new skills of their leaders.

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) to what extent does your leadership see the ability to form and sustain successful virtual teams as a critical survival issue? How ready are they to demonstrate that they are prepared to model the changes in behavior they want others to exhibit? To what extent do they see the ability to collaborate and share knowledge as strategic issues that may require changes across the breadth of the organization (not just in technology).

Low scores may reflect leadership conviction that "All this is just a technology (IT) issue", or lack of clarity on the ramifications of virtual teams for day-to-day operations, or simple resistance to personal change.

High scores indicate leadership that is prepared to look at how managerial performance, collaborative work practices, reward systems, and promotion policies are all linked in supporting KM initiatives.

Scoring Leadership Commitment

To what extent does it seem to you that your leadership is behind the change needed to support successful virtual teams? Committed leadership is generally willing to:

Circle the appropriate number at right. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Multiply the number you circled times four. Write your leadership commitment sub total here:______

What Do Your Scores Tell You?

To address those places where your organization is "out of whack," we suggest that you begin by identifying the three most important issues that you believe stand in the way of effective virtual team work. Look first at your "red zones." Red zones are represented by collective scores of less than 5 for technology, less than 10 for incentives, less than 25 for culture and less than 30 for leadership commitment.

In identifying these key issues, ask yourself the question, "if we were only able to shift or realign two or three aspects of Technology, Incentives, Culture or Leadership Commitment, which changes would do the most to improve the situation and bring the organization more into alignment?"

Applied Knowledge Group, Inc. builds the knowledge capacity of dispersed work teams by enhancing their ability to communicate, coordinate and collaborate via the Internet. For further information on how they help align organizations to support virtual teams, visit their Web site For further information, contact Carol Willett, Executive Vice President for Innovation and Learning, at (703) 904-0304.

ident for Innovation and Learning, at (703) 904-0304.

ident for Innovation and Learning, at (703) 904-0304.