I have worked on many teams in which we dutifully did our jobs, and the group fulfilled its objectives. And then I have worked on other teams in which everyone energetically collaborated with one another, and the results were spectacular. Not only did we surpass our goals, we also thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from that process as individuals.
In other words, there’s a world of difference between merely working together and truly collaborating with one another. Collaborative activity is the “secret sauce” that enables teams to come up with innovative new products or creative, buzz-worthy marketing campaigns. But people can also collaborate creatively around a seemingly mundane project — like the installation of a new accounting package — and use that initiative to transform the way in which an organization does business.
Achieving true collaboration — in which the whole is definitely more than the mere sum of the individual parts — is difficult in any environment. People have to set aside their egos, trust one another, and share their expertise willingly. In a virtual workplace, collaboration can be all the more difficult to attain, especially when team members work for different companies, are essentially strangers to one another, and have different cultural and professional backgrounds. We have interviewed a number of researchers on this topic and have also studied dozens of virtual teams, some that possessed that magic of collaboration and numerous others that didn’t. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned.
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