Originally published September 25, 2019

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This is the 48th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Joitske Hulsebosch is an independent consultant working on learning, change, and technologies. She lives in the Netherlands and is passionate about social learning. Her recent new interest is in chatbots for learning. Joitske’s specialties include design of online and blended learning, learning in communities, knowmads, and chatbots.

Joitske is a frequenter commenter on blogs and in communities. In my very first knowledge management article published in 2006, Setting Up a KM Program, I included Joitske’s blog in my list of 10 recommended KM blogs. Our blogs have referenced each other several times since.

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Background

Joitske has a background as irrigation engineer, working to help organize farmers and design irrigation systems which fit their farming reality. She currently works to help professionals use social media. Though it may seem very different, it’s still helping people to use technology to improve their lives. For 10 years she worked in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Mali as a trainer in participatory processes and an organizational change facilitator.

She started to blog in 2005 when she became fascinated by communities of practice. Joitske is still fascinated by them, though now she sees more clearly that communities may not work or be the best solution in all situations, and other (more structured) interventions may be worthwhile, too.

Joitske is fascinated by social media and believes it can be very powerful in learning processes. She thinks social media may improve the quality of training and learning trajectories because of the potential to provide just-in-time and continuous support while people are on the actual job. Joitske blogs a lot about social media, not so much about the tools themselves, but on how to introduce social media in organizations and how to use it as a trainer/facilitator in learning trajectories.

1. Ennuonline, Consultant, 2009 — Present: Facilitator/advisor/coach focused on helping organizations and individual learning professionals to use social technologies to enhance the quality of their learning activities. Organizes various learning trajectories, webinars, and in-house workshops.

2. Joitske Hulsebosch Consultancy, 2007 — Present: Independent consultant on social learning and change. Helps with design and facilitation of social learning in networks and communities. Performs social network analysis.

3. IICD, Knowledge Officer, 2005–2007

• Network strengthening of an ICT4D network in Ghana.

• Facilitator of a community of practice on e-collaboration for Dutch development organizations.

4. SNV Netherlands Development Organization

  • Organizational and Institutional Development advisor in Ghana, 2000–2003
  1. External advisor; process facilitator of change processes with individual non-profit and government organizations as well as clusters of organizations; interventions include organizational analysis, strategic planning, collaboration & team development, and rapid appraisals of knowledge systems (RAAKS).
  2. Internal advisor; member of a change catalyst team responsible for knowledge management, teamwork, organizational learning and advisory practice; coaching of colleagues in OD practice and facilitation of team development and team learning.
  3. Member of Community of Practice SNV Western Africa; preparation of practical in-depth case studies, collective sense making of SNV’s advisory practice.
  • Organizational advisor CRDA in Ethiopia, 1998–2000
  1. Internal Advisor to the Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA), an umbrella organization for local and international NGOs in Ethiopia; catalyst of organisational changes needed within CRDA to be able to effectively build the capacity of its local NGO members and on-the-job training/ coaching of CRDA staff.
  2. External advisor to various local member NGOs; interventions include capacity assessment, team building, participatory project planning, gender audit and resource mobilization strategy development.
  • Advisor/Consultant participatory methods in Mali, 1994–1997
  1. Internal Advisor to CARE to improve the quality of training and extension programs, communication and coordination of the four projects (health, literacy, agriculture/credit and water & sanitation projects) and advice to the design and implementation of its capacity building program for grassroots organizations
  2. Trainer/coach to improve CARE staff’s capacity in the above-mentioned areas.
  • Wageningen Universiteit en Researchcentrum: Master’s, Irrigation and soil & water conservation, 1990
  • Corderius College, Amersfoort: Graduated, 1984

Content

  1. eLearning
  2. Communities of Practice
  3. Knowledge Management
  1. LinkedIn Articles
  2. Linkedin Posts
  3. Scoop.it
  4. Academia
  5. Uniting Through Networks: The Art of Fostering ICT for Development (ICT4D) Networks with Bénédicte Marcilly and Loeki Schaeffers
  6. Infographics to make your evaluation results go viral
  7. The use of RAAKS (Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems) for strengthening community-based organisations in Mali
  8. Meet Beau, a reflection chatbot with Kirste den Hollander and Steven van Luipen
  9. Monitoring and Evaluating Knowledge Management Strategies with Mark Turpin and Sibrenne Wagenaar
  10. From a meeting to a community of practice: lessons from the ecollaboration community facilitation

So you wanna be a virtual team? with Sibrenne Wagenaar (translated by Google and edited by me)

Working in a virtual team is different than in a normal team. Building relationships, sharing information, making decisions, collaborating; these are examples of group processes that have a different dynamic in a virtual environment. This article describes how to set up a virtual team process, using Web 2.0 tools that support online interaction.

We present in this article a brief overview of possible Web 2.0 tools and address questions such as:

  • How do you select tools?
  • What do the dynamics of working online look like?
  • How do you make a team eager to work with new resources?

The article concludes with a number of benefits that can improve the effectiveness of teams.

Comments from the authors

Joitske: “Two years ago I worked in a project with one consultant from the US and two clients from the Netherlands. The consultant was experienced in working remotely and used Skype as a basic tool for communication. We had regular consultations, more often than I was used to in other teams. The advantage was that we were involved in all aspects of the project. During Skype consultations, we took turns taking notes, which the others could see on their screen. That quickly became clear when someone could not follow something. In the Netherlands we used to chat with each other. If we then were working at the same time, we introduced each other with this tool using quick, short questions. Looking back on the project we all felt it had not been a problem for collaboration that we had not seen each other much. On the contrary, the collaboration was something exciting and creative.”

Sibrenne: “Within a team of HRD professionals I was involved in a large-scale international study. Four HRD professionals would appoint managers for one year to interview their contact circle. The organization had an IT system which mainly had options for making information available. We were looking for a platform for working better together, with an easy way to identify crisp, striking elements from the conversations that are held. We wanted to be able to see progress and to think together during the research process. We chose to use a wiki, which was implemented with an HRD professional from the team.”

Collaborate online in a virtual team

Working together across borders is increasing and as a result, a lot of work changes into virtual teamwork. So-called “knowledge workers” often operate fairly independently and work together in varying teams on complex projects. In this article we define a virtual team as a formal one with structured collaboration where members of the team are known, with clear, interdependent tasks, a timeline, and a common goal. The members can be employed in the same or in different organizations but work on the same project from different locations. They have few opportunities to physically meet each other regularly, leaving them to use online tools.

Often there is someone in the virtual team with affinity for technology and tools. In this article we describe tips for a team member in the role of “tool facilitator” to support a team in the use of online tools.

Tools for teams: IT systems and Web 2.0 tools

The essence of a good start for a virtual team is identifying which collaboration activities you want to support and then looking for suitable tools. Starting in 2004 the term “Web 2.0 tools” was used for a collection of tools that enable online interactions. The advantages of Web 2.0 tools are flexibility, usability, and low cost. Many organizations have their own IT systems (for example, Microsoft SharePoint) for use by virtual teams. Such systems often impose limits on how virtual teams act. Failure factors in the field of ICT, among other things, are no flexible or advanced tools and functions (Meerbeek, 2005). As a tool facilitator it is important to consider in what ways an available IT system can contribute to the team process, and how you can do this properly with a complement of suitable Web 2.0 tools.

Help, my team is technophobic!

There are virtual teams where the difference in experience with online tools between team members is great. In the Netherlands, 95% of people on the internet in 2007 used a search engine to find information. A much small number (30%) posted messages in chat rooms and news groups or telephoned via the internet. (CBS, 2008). The active use of Web 2.0 tools for collaboration is relatively new. It requires experimenting and experiencing which tool is suitable for which type of process. Taking the first step with using Web 2.0 tools becomes easier if someone in the team takes the initiative. This can be the team leader, but also a team member who has an affinity for it. And then? Below are some guidelines for the tool facilitator when introducing online tools in the team.

Start with familiar tools

Share the experiences the team members have with online tools. Take the time to view the proposed tools together or use a “try-out week”. This time investment stimulates understanding of each other’s online preferences and experiences and will pay back later.

Choose tools with the entire team

After jointly exploring possible tools, make choices with the entire team. Also make agreements about the use of the tools (e.g., Wow often do you log in? Who do you CC on emails?).

Create an experimental culture

By setting a good example, you can create a culture within the team in which experimenting with tools is accepted. This lowers the threshold for team members to try something out and makes “mistakes” or “awkwardness” accepted. It prevents withdrawal from the process due to fear of unknown techniques.

Have a help desk

Provide adequate guidance in the use of new tools by offering regular support. The help desk can be yourself or another team member with specific experience with a tool.

Introduce tools step by step

Ensure that the least-experienced team members do not experience stress and uncertainty through having too many new tools. If team members themselves want to look for ways to collaborate online, you can start offering a new tool. For example, suppose the team wonders how they can quickly ask each other short, urgent questions. You can suggest using an instant message/chat tool.

Monitor the individual change process

Working with new online tools entails a different routine. For example, team members are not used to having the chat open when they are working, to be able to ask a colleague a question directly. Pay attention to this, and every now and then discuss the new way of working with each other. Search for project teams, and actively contact the team members to hear about their experiences.

Group dynamics in the virtual team

Although the tools are important, the real challenge in virtual teams is the basic change in the way of cooperating. The processes within the team change through virtual work: how new ideas arise, how conflicts are resolved, and how decisions are made. In online groups, people don’t get non-verbal signals, which we are used to interpreting during a face-to-face meeting (King, 1999). Is the team leader interested? Does he nod at that new idea or does he look skeptical? Online communication via text creates anonymity and makes the influence of group standards weaker. The lack of non-verbal communication makes word choices and clarity in text communication more important. A tool facilitator for a virtual team therefore must have an eye for the group process in the virtual team, and the influence of certain online tools on it.

In virtual teams, conflicts can escalate more easily. Take the example of a mail message that ends up in spam and is therefore not answered; this can cause resentment in the team member waiting for an answer. Circumstances are sometimes interpreted as deliberate. What helps here is positive intentions and an inquiring attitude towards each other. The tool facilitator can support this by showing a different interpretation for messages and ensuring that interpretations of intentions are checked. It is more important than in regular teams to do short evaluations. And sometimes an in-person encounter is more valuable than only working together online.

In a virtual team, members miss the informal exchanges and contacts. If a team works at the same location, members stop by for a moment, or have lunch together. These kinds of short encounters can be important as a trigger to briefly discuss an idea or resolve a conflict before it escalates. As a tool facilitator, how can you create this kind of dynamic in a virtual team? There are different ways that you can use to simulate these short consultations. You can ensure a continuous presence, for example because team members have an open chat function (such as Skype) or you can create a social media group together (e.g., on Twitter). Working in a virtual team requires assertiveness. What matters is when you need each other, don’t hesitate to ask questions, suggest an idea, or engage others in your thinking process. This is something that team members must do to learn.

Group fragmentation and lack of involvement can arise in a virtual team. If the virtual team does not meet each other, members may invest less in the group process. Try to make virtual working attractive by emphasizing which new skills are being learned and promote the positives. Ensure that management emphasizes the importance of virtual teamwork. Build some mandatory encounters. With larger teams it may be good to have certain tasks performed in smaller teams because the chance is greater that people build a personal bond. If it is possible, help create milestones in the form of tangible products such as a report or a prototype. This visualizes progress of the virtual team, and motivates the members.

A virtual team: stronger than other teams?

Virtual collaboration can be a new way of working that provides multiple benefits. To conclude, here is a list of possible benefits of working via online tools to improve effectiveness of a team:

  • Utilizing a broader mix of expertise: as a virtual team you can invite an expert from the other side of the world to think along. People can easily join online teleconferencing worldwide.
  • Stimulate creativity: it is possible with online tools to have a completely different conversation and way of thinking. A new way to put participants in a different mood and mindset.
  • Equal communication and cooperation: the use of different media gives people space. For example, there are people who communicate better via text then in a meeting. By working with tools with equal access (such as a wiki) people can contribute simultaneously without someone being in control, which can result in more equal cooperation.
  • Collaboration outside the well-known paths: by thinking virtually, you will soon see opportunities for departments to work across the organization. You are less bound by time and place.
  • Harvesting knowledge products: many online tools support processes for recording knowledge. Think of a blog for collecting experiences, a wiki for collectively developing ideas, and a forum in which you as a team member are explicitly invited to formulate your own ideas and opinions.
  • Working more efficiently as a team: it is possible to make optimum use of the time zones in which the various team members work. When team members in India or Europe are done for the day, team members in America can continue.

Virtual working is like entering a new country because the cooperation is fundamentally different than in an ordinary team. This is certainly the case if different Web 2.0 tools are used. A country with a new language, new tools, and an unprecedented amount of possibilities. We want everyone who is in a team working remotely to dive into it. Start by trying out some of the tools. Find fellow enthusiasts in your team, or in your wider environment. You need not be an experienced IT person, and you don’t have to try out all the tools at the same time.

  1. How can blogs support communities of practice?
  2. Connecting and collecting (and being lazy)
  1. Pimp your blog with Christian Kreutz
  2. 7 Introductory resources into Web 2.0 tools
  3. When storytelling is not the right intervention
  1. How to Nurture a Culture of Exchange by Dave Hackett
  2. What a webinar can prove by John D. Smith
  3. Mapping a community — easy and not-so-easy by John D. Smith
  4. Chat Bots and Community Management by Naava Frank
  5. Future Session #2: the potential of online learning by the Spindle
  1. Goodreads
  2. Com-Prac
  3. KM4Dev
  1. Prezi
  2. SlideShare

Videos

  1. Search
  2. Videos featured in the blog
  3. YouTube

Books

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Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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