Chapter 5Can You Hear Me Now? Making Virtual Teams Work

Do we have everyone? Wait—Michael, are you there? Do we have Michael? Well, what do others think—should we wait for him to connect? Or can—should—we get started now? Can people hear me? Hello? Can you hear me now?”

In typical fashion, with a string of questions to which no answers were forthcoming, a recent virtual meeting started at Global Brands International (GBI), the retail company we introduced in Chapter 3. We were sitting with three other participants in an office 37 stories above Manhattan. Across the continent, in San Francisco, two people were linked by videoconference with the five of us in NYC. Three callers in unnamed locations were dialed in to a teleconference line.

An executive named Brian was one of the callers. “I made my best effort to make it into the city,” Brian groans against a background of ear-splitting distortion. A moment later, he loses cell phone service and disappears from the line.

The rest of the meeting was just as disjointed. The whole experience was an exercise in frustration.

It is hard enough to communicate under the best of conditions. Virtual teams have an even tougher time of it. Opportunities for misalignment abound. In their 2001 study of 70 virtual teams, Vijay Govindarajan and Anil Gupta found that1 82 percent of virtual teams fell short of their goals and 33 percent rated themselves as largely unsuccessful. A 2005 Deloitte study2 of IT projects outsourced to virtual work groups ...

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