Newsletter No 2. July 2007

In this issue we will talk about working in and leading virtual teams. When people signed up to the newsletter we asked what topics they would like to have articles on and the winner by far was working with people who were not working at the same location yet with whom you had to work to achieve objectives as a ‘virtual team’.

Some of the other things mentioned (for later issues) were:

  • Big changes in short time-frames
  • Getting executives to engage their next level leaders – shared leadership and letting go
  • Alignment around extraordinary change Culture change on a large scale

We are reviewing two new books, Solutions Focus Working by Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke and The Economist Guide to Organisation Design by Naomi Stanford.

In this issue:

The next issue of the newsletter will be in September as most people are on holiday in August and we don’t want to clog up your mailbox.

The LASA Team

Latest thinking

Virtual Working

Today many of us have to work in virtual teams - that is teams who are not in the same location, who work more apart than together and who frequently are of different nationalities and in different time zones. They have to use technology – some of the time at least - in order to communicate and work towards their common goal.

Successful virtual teams depend more on the people and the thought that goes into setting them up, than they do on the technology used. As with many things in business, the more thought that goes into them up front, the better the chances for success.

  1. Make sure that there is a senior champion or sponsor(s) for the team – someone to help when things get stuck. In one of our projects (3 spread across the Americas, 3 spread across the UK, one in the Middle East and one in Australasia) we had a steering committee led by two sponsors who were quite senior in the organisation. They were chosen by the team as people who could help us to achieve our aims and in particular could support us to get discussions about behaviour change into Senior Management circles.
  2. When considering who will be members of the team, those chosen must want to be included and be motivated to work on the team (that is to have a personal commitment – not a role that means they  ‘should' be a representative).  They should be self starters and it is best if they are able and happy to lead – as experience shows that the leadership of the group works well when it is shared.  The way the sharing of leadership will be done is best planned in advance. They must be pro-active, yet happy to be interdependent, supportive and sharing.
  3. Start with a kick-off meeting. For best results, it should be face-to-face as this is the speediest way to find out about each other and build trust and rapport. In that meeting the ground rules (the way the team agrees to work together) and team charter must be set up. In this kick-off meeting, you need to ensure that trust is built between the members, that team members identify with the team (you might consider the benefits of team branding), that they have empathy for one another and have some shared values, all of which will help you to achieve the team’s purpose.
  4. Setting up a virtual team needs to be well thought through. There must be a compelling and clear purpose for the team and for the work it is to do. This purpose needs to be agreed with sponsors and stakeholders and also have buy in from the team members. This is the glue that holds the team together. It is perhaps easier to have this when working on a project team, but even a team like a European Sales Team most likely has some joint or common targets and in helping one another will do better than if they were on their own.
  5. Make sure that you understand the stakeholders’ expectations. For this you may well need to get your sponsors involved. What will make the work you do together successful in their eyes? How will you know you have succeeded and the project is finished?
  6. Agree objectives that everyone can contribute to. You may know WHAT the project is about (rolling out new technology – for example a new IT system), but HOW to do it must be open for the team to decide on.
  7. Team roles need to be agreed and defined for everyone. This is more than just who is to tackle what part of the task you have together, but also things like who is leading each meeting, who is watching the process, who is collecting and collating the reports/reading that goes out 24 hours before the meeting, who is noting actions (and perhaps for which part of the meeting) and providing a write up of the meeting, who is following up before and/or after with those who can’t make the meeting.
  8. Team behaviours – the way the team agrees to work together - need to be agreed (part of the team charter). This will include things like how people check in for meetings, what a person does when he/she can’t make a meeting (whose responsibility is it to report in on this person’s behalf and to bring them up to date afterwards?), how you rotate meetings both in venue (for face-to-face) and in time if you are working across time-zones, how you keep the team up to date with progress.

It seems that the virtual teams that work best, are those which meet face-to-face occasionally. What is the right frequency of face-to-face meetings to keep people engaged and trust levels high? What is the right ratio for virtual to face-to-face?

Meetings need to be well thought through beforehand and tightly run. Start with a social check-in, especially when in telephone conferences when people can’t see one another. Check at intervals during the meeting to reflect on what is working and what isn’t working, then adjust the way you are doing things accordingly – including how well the technology is working for everyone – especially those sitting on their own somewhere when it is either very early in the morning, or very late at night.

Teams should not be too big. You could have a core team and then call in others as needed. If several people are in one room and others are calling in singly, we notice that the larger groups who sit together tend to dominate or to have a meeting within a meeting, so this needs careful facilitation.

Be considerate of time zone differences, cultural differences and especially of those for whom English is a second (or third) language. People who are speaking in another language may feel even more uncomfortable when they can’t see those they are speaking to. Give them time to think and to speak.  Check that they are following and that things are clear for them, ask if they have questions or concerns. When you can’t see people, you don’t know if they are confused unless you ask.

Share information 24 hours before the meeting so that everyone is up to speed and time needn’t be wasted, especially if the meeting is across time-zones and by telephone only. We find that sharing information before the meeting and addressing only exceptions and areas where people needed help or where we wanted to celebrate a success, kept the meetings moving and kept the sense of purpose strong.

Understand conflict when it occurs and make sure it is immediately addressed (relationship conflict, task conflict and process conflict – identify which it is and then address it appropriately). It escalates much more quickly in a virtual setting than in a face-to-face situation because people don't check their internal stories as easily as they might if it were face-to-face.

From our experience, the person in the leadership role has to make sure that everyone is heard and that everyone is up to speed. With virtual teams, there are frequently one or two who can’t make a meeting – in the ground rules you will have agreed whether or not they can send a substitute – if substitutes aren't acceptable, the leader needs to catch them up both before the meeting to see if there are any points to raise and afterwards to provide feedback and to give a flavour of what went on. This involves them more than just receiving an action list, especially if there are actions behind their name. There is a lot more overt checking that needs to happen because you can’t see someone in the office and get a feel for where they are at – you need to call and do it on the phone… it helps if you overtly check twice as much that you have agreement and/or are understood if you are only working on the phone (even if using good video conferencing, it is useful to double check).

As the leadership role in a virtual team is far more work than in a team that meets face-to-face, we find that rotating the leader role is useful for the team. Everyone gets a chance to lead and should do so most especially when their special area is being addressed. The handover between leaders can be informal, but needs to happen to ensure continuity as you go forward.

Latest Books

Guide to Organisation Design: creating high-performing and adaptable enterprises

By Naomi Stanford

This book talks about organisation design, but it is actually about far more than that. As one would expect, organisation design impacts other areas than just the structure of an organisation and Naomi covers all the bases. This isn’t just a must-have book for OD specialists, but I would suggest that any manager who is thinking about a re-organisation would do well to read this carefully.

I would say that this is the best book on organisational change I have ever read. And I do read a lot of them. It is a book I wish I could have written – it covers the subject handsomely and the writing is clear and straightforward. It is well arranged and it backs up suggestions about theories and models with examples of real life case studies from organisations that we all know. It does not imply that any one method, design or model is the right one – for there is no silver bullet – rather it helps you to decide which one is the best to choose for the situation you find yourself in.

It is unafraid to tackle difficult areas, like the need to keep the larger perspective in mind and the difficulty of measurement, or leading the design and implementation or working out what is the best model or method in a difficult, quickly changing environment. Best of all it helps readers to focus on thinking about what they are doing and what is working and to continually check that it is working – as soon as it stops working, to revisit and do something different…. It all sounds rather solutions focused to me!

For see more of this review click here

Solutions Focus Working: 80 real life lessons for successful organisational change

Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke

This is an interesting addition to the books on appreciative methodologies. It takes the view that you already really know what solutions focus IS and now you’d like to see how people have used it. There are 80 lessons distilled from 14 case studies of organisations across Europe and Canada which are co-authored by the practitioners who worked on them.

The book is practical and pragmatic and, true to its pedigree, focuses on what worked in each situation. I found myself thinking, “I could use that!” or immediately seeing how I could apply a particular idea in current work. It is a pleasure to read – great stories about what work and change can be like if we let them.

For those who aren’t familiar with Solutions Focus, there are three basic rules:

  1. Don’t fix what isn’t broken
  2. Find what works and do more of it
  3. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it and do something different.

For see more of this review click here

IT Corner

Thoughts on setting up a website

When you are thinking of setting up a website, we’d like to suggest some things to think about.

Why do you want a website?

  • If it is because your clients need to see a website for your own credibility, you will only need a few pages and you won’t need to use web marketing (which means improving your listing with search engines).
  • If you want more than this, read further….

You will need to think carefully about who your user/client is and what she/he would like to see… what would give them a benefit and make them stop and read your site?

People who provide a service are tempted to list all that they can do, but clients aren’t normally interested enough in that to stop and read it. Most people will first look at a site with their own issues in mind and anything on that site which will help them to solve those issues is guaranteed a reading. So we suggest that you talk about the benefit your service brings and perhaps case studies of how you have helped others. This also helps with search engine listing as they prefer those websites that talk about real subject matter, not just listing things.

For other ideas around IT, databases and web applications, contact Nic Pulford at LASA Data Solutions.

Interesting Links

A funny picture in Bratislava Photo – ‘Team work – white washing Bodnath Stupa', Kathmandu July 2005 �PMLustig

Latest News from LASA

  • June saw Tricia running sessions on Appreciative methodologies (for facilitation and change) for Henley Management College’s Facilitation Forum of which she is a member.
  • We worked with the Scottish National Health on developing their 5 year strategy.
  • Nic has been asked to develop an e-commerce website for a professional journal which will include the capability to subscribe to the journal online and download back articles.


Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success
- Henry Ford

We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare.
- Thane Yost

The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.
- John Scully

Teamwork: simply stated, it is less me and more we.
- Unknown

Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.
- Unknown

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skill of others.
- Norman S. Hidle

We are most effective as a team when we compliment each other without embarrassment and disagree without fear.
- Unknown

Wearing the same shirts doesn’t make a team.
- Buchholz and Roth

A team is more than a collection of people. It is a process of give and take.
- Barbara Glacel & Emile Robert Jr.

Overcoming barriers to performance is how groups become teams.
- Unknown

Team player: one who unites others toward a shared destiny through sharing information and ideas, empowering others and developing trust.
- Dennis Kinlaw

It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.
- Robert Yates

Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
- Vince Lombardi

Joke corner

The Lemon Squeeze

The local bar was so sure that its bartender was the strongest man around so they offered a standing �100 bet.  The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and anyone who could get another drop from the lemon would win the �100.  Many people had tried over time - weightlifters, miners, etc. but nobody could do it.

One day a scrawny little man came in wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a tiny, squeaky voice, "I'd like to try the bet."

After the laughter had died down, the bartender said "Okay", grabbed a lemon, and squeezed away. He then handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little man. But the crowd's laughter turned to total silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six more drops of juice fell into the glass.

As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid him the �100 and asked the little man, "What do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight lifter, or what?"

"No", the man replied, "I work for Inland Revenue."

LASA Website

If this interests you, there are other interesting resources on the LASA Insight website so why not take a look by going to

Comments and Feedback

If you have any comments or feedback on - or suggestions for - this newsletter then please email them to us  here

@Patricia Lustig 2008