The virtual team has completed its work! Our French translators delivered our document to us and, after some minor tweaks, we submitted our assignment yesterday. I must admit that it is a relief to have this assignment completed, not because it was a difficult or even unpleasant task, far from it, but because it felt like such a prolonged, and at times slow process that I worried that it would never reach fruition.
There are so many variables to try to control in a virtual team project; from time-zone issues and cultural differences to differing work ethics and collaborative technology details. I and my U.L colleague were very lucky to have so many dedicated, enthusiastic and talented members of our virtual team. Our shared commitment to a quality outcome for this assignment made the process all the easier and more enjoyable though we did have some trials along the way. We had to work around differing calendars at the beginning of the process. Some of our colleagues were on holidays just as the project was gaining some momentum. We encountered delays due to sickness, injury and even one marriage! We had minor misunderstandings around task allocation and roles, all of which were dealt with good-humouredly. Towards the end of the project, we had to grapple with phraseology issues that our French translators picked up on and some small image changes that better suited the translated document design.
I have learned a lot from this virtual team collaboration. I would be much more confident undertaking a project such as this in the future, should I be required to do so for my work. I have a better appreciation of the challenges that all members of the team face and this awareness would enable me to develop a comprehensive framework for the development of deliverables in any team collaboration. Accidents, illness, holidays, technology problems etc. are possibilities that require contingency planning. This planning which must be built into the process from the outset, it should be assumed by the group as a whole, that some things will not go to plan and that flexibility and adaptability will be required to see any project to fruition.
This project has taught me that, despite any differences, cultural or otherwise, most people are motivated by an eagerness to be valued as competent and professional members of a team. Assuming this belief to be true, team members can develop a sound basis for quality collaboration. People’s skills and weaknesses will reveal themselves over the course of a project such as this, however, an acceptance that everyone is attempting to portray their own abilities in the best possible light will help to smooth over the weak spots and maintain the vigour of the project.
Encouragement, praise and understanding are essential elements of successful team collaboration. It is vital, however, that the team doesn’t shy away from acknowledging and addressing problems and mistakes. If teams handle problem issues carefully, tactfully and with a genuine eagerness to find a collective resolution, the team structure is actually strengthened, not diminished, by the experience.
There are many things that I would do differently if I was beginning this process again. To begin with, as I have touched on, I would suggest that the team prepare an outline or framework for completion of the various elements of the project, at the outset. This outline or programme of work would clearly attribute specific tasks to specific team members, provide timeframe details for deliverables and highlight times and dates where members are not available to the team and where, consequently, others in the team may have to pick up some of their work.
I would encourage the team to use a platform that allows for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Although it has been pointed out to me (thank you John Laskaris!) that add-in’s and extensions can be used to make the humble email more robust, I feel that, for the purposes of this exercise, it was not feasible to ask all team members to add a series of extensions and plugins to facilitate collaboration. The team was comprised of members with differing levels of I.T ability and experience and operating various software programmes to facilitate translation etc., it didn’t seem wise to put people under any additional, technological pressure. In my opinion, a platform such as Slack would have provided an accessible, usable means of communication that would not have required any technological expertise but would have provided us with a clear overview of the progression of the project. Slack, or another similar platform, would also have provided us with an easy means of producing the transcripts of team communications, which were a requirement for submission of the project. My U.L colleague and I, in our eagerness to assist one another, forgot to mention to each other that we were both developing a document with all the transcripts cut and pasted from our emails – in other words, we both wasted a morning doing the same job! That was another lesson learned!
Overall, I feel that the virtual team exercise was a very worthwhile one and I am very glad to have been a part of it. I feel that arising from the exercise, I have many new skills that are transferable to the workplace. I am glad to have worked with such pleasant and competent team members and I wish them all the very best in their future careers.