Jessica started her career as a reporter at The Pottstown (PA) Mercury at age 16 where she began by writing weddings and obits and quickly progressed to covering local township supervisor meetings that were conducted in Pennsylvania Dutch. Lacking a translator, she soon was writing features and columns, including “Dear Beatrice,” for which, as a teenager, she was unqualified to offer advice. Meanwhile, she served as editorial page editor of The George School News, her high school paper, assistant managing editor of the Antioch Record during college, and not too long after did freelance writing for Boston After Dark, now The Phoenix.

  • Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger? (appears in Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must-Reads on Teams)
  • The Virtual, Networked Organization (in The Handbook of High Performance Virtual Teams)
  • Bucky Fuller: The Prophet Comes Home (in the Boston Globe)
  • Co-editor and principal writer for the U.S. Army’s Teams of Leaders Handbook
  • Has written forewords to many books




The Strange Beauty of Virtual Teams with Jeffrey Stamps

In the past decade, face-to-face work has met with near-sudden death. Well, almost. Sure, billions of people around the planet still congregate on a daily basis to carry out their organizations’ “mission statements” — whether harvesting rice or harvesting returns on investments.

  1. These teams flourished under the “onus” of diversity. The more diverse the membership, the more innovative its results. Diversity was broadly defined by these teams to include not only the obvious meanings — gender, race, nationality, and culture — but also discipline, cognitive style, and personality differences. But the benefit was realized only through very wide-ranging conversations and a tolerance for some amount of “storming” among members. When team members disagreed, leaders paired them on challenging tasks.
  2. They used technology to simulate face-to-face. In practice, this meant that more than four out of five teams used the very simple “killer-app” combo available to nearly everyone these days: conference calls with screen sharing (via the Web) coupled with shared online workspaces, whether high-end, feature-filled virtual team rooms or well-organized shared drives. Interestingly, many of our teams banned email altogether except for one-to-one communication. Why? Group emails, with lengthy “cc: lists” and replies to replies to replies, are hardly efficient ways to transmit information and make real human connections.
  3. The third finding, likely not a big surprise to those running virtual teams now — leaders had to work very hard to hold their teams together — carried an important sub-bullet: leaders orchestrated their conference calls as “can’t miss” events where status reporting was frowned upon, if not completely discouraged. A con call without status reports? Since most people’s first act when setting up a virtual team is to schedule weekly calls for just that purpose, this finding takes a minute to settle gracefully in the fields of common sense. Why use precious real-time communication to review information that you can more easily transmit and absorb asynchronously? Our teams posted their status reports ahead of meetings; members were expected to have read them before the calls. What, then, was the purpose of conference calls? To deal with conflict and make decisions. Nothing lends itself to real-time communication better than the tough stuff.

Articles by Others

Dispersed Teams are the Peopleware for the 21st Century by Product Development Best Practices Report

Nothing was more clear at this month’s gathering of the International Association for Product Development than that, however desirable they might be, collocated development teams are increasingly not feasible in a globalized setting. The big challenge, then, is how to make teamwork work across distances. After more than 20 years of helping mobilize flexible, cross-boundary organizations, and with thousands of interviews to draw from, Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps have written a new book, Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations With Technology, to demystify this subject. It won’t be out till next month. We caught up with them for a preview:

  • Virtual teamwork — linked groups of geographically dispersed people working collaboratively — is the “peopleware” of the 21st century.
  • Virtual teamwork is 90% about people and only 10% about technology.
  • Virtual teamwork does not eliminate the need for occasional face-to-face encounters; conversely, if a collocated team takes the step of creating a virtual workplace for itself, it can increase productivity.
  • The trick is to collocate the people you can naturally bring together and carefully map processes and design communication links with the extended virtual team.
  • Virtual teams face the same pitfalls as collocated teams, with one additional team killer — technology adoration.








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Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager