on the road, checking your voice mail. Message 17 is from your
boss, the head of marketing. “We’ve just won the Dorset
order! I need you to contact engineering, finance, and
sales and pull together a team fast—a group who can work with
the Dorset people and their main systems supplier. I’ve left
you a longer email on this. But, listen, could you call me at
home tonight after you get into Des Moines?”
come a long, long way from 9 to 5.
to the 24/7/365 world of work—a world where winners are fast
and connected and everyone works everywhere and all the
time and, as often as not, in teams. With blinding speed, teaming
is now done “virtually” by and through a variety of technology
that I call “groupware.” Groupware includes both very old technology
(phone, fax, videoconferencing) and very new (email, threaded
discussions, shared documents, project management, databases
about people, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and more). In addition,
it is accessed and delivered in all the ways now possible: mobile
phones, TVs, computers, pagers, Palm Pilots, etc.
it. If you work for any company of any size in any industry
anywhere on the planet, you are connected. You are available
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and every day of the year. It
is highly likely that you’ll find yourself using groupware to
collaborate with other people across functional and silo boundaries
within your company as well as, increasingly, across company
lines with suppliers, customers, joint venture partners, and
others. Even if you and your team work on the same floor in
the same office building, you use groupware.
teaming is far more about the technology than about your physical
location or job title or company name. Moreover, virtual teaming
is 24by7 teaming—it confronts you with the profound challenge
of where and when to draw the line. Perhaps more than any
other work/life challenge, virtual teaming splits you in two:
the you who wants to be there for your team must figure out
how to co-exist with the you who wants to be there for your
family and friends.
our new book, The
Discipline of Teams: A Mindbook/Workbook For Delivering Small
Group Performance Jon Katzenbach and I stress that
teams using groupware must discuss openly and candidly just
how and when—and when not—to use technology to succeed. The
Discipline of Teams is both sequel and companion to our
earlier book, The
Wisdom of Teams. In that book, our challenge was to persuade
people that teams were more than fads and more than a warm and
fuzzy feeling of togetherness. We emphasized a six-part performance
discipline of effective teaming: This involves a small number
of people with complementary skills who hold themselves mutually
accountable for a common purpose, common goals, and commonly
agreed upon ways of working together.
groups need two disciplines for success: the classic and well
practiced “single leader” discipline where one person is boss,
makes all the decisions and stays in control; and, the six-part
team discipline. In The Discipline of Teams we provide
dozens of exercises as well as detailed explanations about how
to use the goals facing your small group in order to choose
when to use one of these, and when the other.
thing is certain: when your group chooses to use the team discipline,
you must make the in’s and out’s of groupware an explicit
topic of discussion and choice. A key aspect of the team discipline
is a commonly agreed upon working approach. By that, we mean
how the tasks of the team get divided up and reintegrated (Who
will do what?), the approach to team administration and logistics
(vacations, T&E, etc.), and the behavioral norms of the
team (e.g., Will facts be friendly? Will people be expected
to show up on time for meetings? Does everyone do real work?)
in addition, it means open discussion and decision about when
and why team members are available for work—and when not. It
means discussing and choosing how the team wants to handle the
behavioral norm of having a life.
the team discipline clicks, people on the team feel a tremendous
sense of mutual accountability to one another and to the shared
goals they set. The rewards are uniquely satisfying. If you
have ever been part of a real team who accomplished something
few or none of you thought possible, you know the deep sense
of satisfaction in making a difference—together.
success went well beyond achieving the goal. You and others
made a difference as a “we,” not just a series of “I’s.” You
experienced and connected to a feeling that dates back thousands
of years—a human sensibility that taps into the essence of being
human. We are social animals. We take and get deep gratification
in bonding together to accomplish something that matters to
us. Yes, we also thoroughly enjoy individual accomplishment
and the ego satisfactions that go with it. But, as you know
from personal experience, there is nothing quite like a team
effort that succeeds.
all these reasons (in addition, of course, to the fact that
teaming at work is part of your job description!), you want
to be there for your team. And with groupware—Wow!—can you be
there. 24/7/365! You can be there when you’re at your eight-year
old son’s baseball game, he’s just about to come to bat and
he’s looking straight into your eyes for love and compassion
and confidence—and your cell phone rings. You can be there when,
instead of doing the dishes with your spouse after each of you
have had a long tiresome day, you say, “Honey, I’ve got to go
check my email for the project”—a project that, frankly, your
honey doesn’t give a damn about and suspects is an excuse for
ducking the dirty work. You can be there when it’s 7 p.m. and
your friends have been over for an hour to enjoy an evening’s
barbecue, but you haven’t yet joined them because the proposal
the team is crafting for the next day’s customer session is
not quite right yet.
can be there. And if you and your teammates are there for one
another, you’ll touch something deeply human and satisfying.
You’ll also risk—or at least miss out on—other profoundly human
times in your life. This, then, is the dark side of groupware.
It can take what is already a great opportunity—real teaming—and
make it even better. But at a steep, steep price.
the other hand, let’s be clear about a not-often-commented on
aspect of groupware: it keeps you physically (if not always
psychologically) at home. In each of the troubling situations
mentioned above you are near your family or friends when, even
just a half a decade ago, you might have been in some crummy
hotel, on an airplane, or at dinner with a customer or supplier
or client. 24/7/365 work is also work anywhere. And, work anywhere
can and increasingly does mean work at home. Tens of millions
of people are now “free agents,” and they and millions of others
take advantage of the work anywhere possibilities inherent within
as usual, the glass is half full, half empty. How do you and
your team keep the empty parts less empty and the full part
are some critical pointers:
Explicitly discuss and choose which features of groupware
the team will use and which not. Choose only a few to begin
with—not the whole suite of features and technologies.
Don’t assume that everyone on the team is familiar with
all the features of groupware—or that every team member can
learn on his or her own. Instead, make sure that the features
selected are practiced together early and often to be sure everyone
is sufficiently adept and comfortable.
Make explicit choices about basic netiquette. Who will
be copied on what and how? Do people have to respond? To all
issues, or just some? Are there time limits for responses? Will
you place limits on language (e.g., is flaming acceptable?)
If you will be making decisions through groupware as opposed
to face-to-face meetings, who gets a say or a vote? Must all
Make explicit choices about work/life balance. Do NOT
assume away this issue. Yes, it is key that people on the team
build a true sense of mutual accountability for the shared goals.
But, part of that mutual accountability is strengthened by candid
and open discussions regarding when—and when not—people are
available for the work of the team. The objective ought to be
getting the issue out on the table and making it a legitimate
team concern. Don’t make the mistake of trying to over legislate
or specify endless details about the when’s and when not’s.
Instead, get a basic policy together.
Set a goal. That’s right. Make the work/life balance an
explicit goal to be achieved by the team. In doing this, however,
focus hard on explicitly linking this goal to the other goals
of the team. If you cannot tell yourselves a “story” that makes
sense about how all of your team goals fit and work together,
then you haven’t yet made sense of your challenge. If your work/life
goal is not an inherent and critical aspect of your team “story,”
it will quickly drop away as only a nice-to-have.
your team has established a policy and a goal, be sure to ask,
“How are we doing?” Make the work/life balance one of the regular
issues you return to in team sessions. The objective here is
to be sure the whole team is comfortable discussing the inherent
tension in 24by7 teaming… and to build a mutual self confidence
that all of you can, alone and together, get the balance right
while still delivering the kind of team performance that, when
achieved, offers the best that we can get from our contributions
at work. If you set and achieve a handful of aggressive team
goals that include—logically and not just in a list-y fashion—a
goal about work/life balance, then you and your team will have
truly enriched your lives.
K. Smith is a consultant and author who focuses on organization
performance, innovation, and change. He has worked with
businesses and organizations across the spectrum and his work
has been featured in leading publications around the world.
You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.