Work groups which (1) have some core members who interact primarily through electronic means, and (2) are engaged in interdependent tasks.
Quickly, though, I just cleared the slide, and replaced it with a new one. It simply read:
Business as usual
You know, when I set up and ran my first bid centre back in 1999 (for Compaq), proposal teams were invariably co-located. Woe betide that salesperson who didn’t think it was important to sit alongside the team in our war rooms for the duration of the battle!
These days are long gone, for the majority of proposal efforts. Sure, the best teamworking, creativity and quality generally result when people are co-located – and, to quote HBR again, “trust needs touch”. But we know that bidding these days combines the skills of colleagues dotted far and wide across the country – or the globe.
The danger, in leadership terms, is that we focus on the task, but not on the individuals or the team. There are a whole set of tactics to deal with this. A few I love:
- A ‘meet the team’ document, circulated at the start: photographs, “on this bid, I’ll be…”, “at the same time, I’m…” and “outside work I like to…”
- Connecting the team at the start of meetings: “what’s happening in your world outside this bid?” / “what’s the weather like in…” / “share something good…”
- Actively sense-checking the mood of the team, at the start of or between meetings – e.g.: “on a scale of 0 to 10, how are you feeling about…”
- The ‘virtual water cooler’ - set times for the team to talk, without a specific agenda: what HBR calls “planned spontaneity”.
And then there are the dreaded hours spent on conference calls or on Skype. Everyone’s muted. Literally: their lines are silenced until they want to speak. And figuratively, too: there’s a risk that the discussions are low energy, and don’t engage and involve all those who could and should contribute.
And when people are (physically) muted, what are they doing? Reading emails. Typing notes. Working on their RFP answers (if only!). Walking the dog. Playing with the kids. Making coffee. Driving. At an airport or on the train, sharing confidential information with anyone nearby.
What are they not doing? Concentrating on the call: giving their all, in an appropriate environment.
So: unmute. Sure, you’ll hear a bit of background noise, just as you do in any conversation: as I write this, in London’s Institute of Directors, I can hear a buzz from discussions at neighbouring tables. And if you’re leading the call, you can always force lines onto mute if there’s a real issue.
But you’ll be amazed at what happens, if your team members know that this is the new house rule. People actually setting time aside for the calls. Concentrating. Contributing. Being creative.
Try it! I’ve been using the technique for months now, and it works a dream. I’d love to hear your experiences.