Seeing someone’s face while talking with them is nice, and all, but the best part about a video phone call is that I can see whether the person I’m talking with is checking their email during the call instead of paying attention to our conversation.
Oh, admit it, we all do it from time to time!
My laptop doesn’t have a camera built in (one more reason I plan to chuck it from a moving bus into oncoming traffic very soon), and my home internet connection makes dial-up look attractive, so I only used Skype voice until recently. But I’ve been converted to video after seeing how my brother uses it to keep in touch with his wife’s relatives in Turkey (and upgrading my home internet to increase bandwidth).
On Sunday morning my brother’s family gets up and turn on Skype with a camera directed toward their kitchen breakfast table. While they prepare eggs and sucuk in Houston, their Turkish relatives are just feeding the kids dinner in Ankara. A microphone lets each family hear what the other is gossiping about, and occasionally someone on one side of the Atlantic Ocean or the other will pop on over to the camera to say something directed at the other family. Oh, and it’s all free, mind you. Nothing stands between you and hanging out with your team but a $20 USB camera and a few MBPS.
Wikis: Get long-standing home repairs done in record time
From the Hawaiian word for “quick”, a wiki is just a website, but it’s a special kind of website that enables a group of people to share responsibility for creating, modifying and growing the content. Google Sites, PBWiki and Wikispaces are some of the companies offering wikis for those sharing my addiction to consciousness conspiracies.
As a closet control freak, I have to admit that I initially recoiled at the prospect of allowing my teammates to decide what information to put onto a shared project webpage and how to organise it. I have a superiority complex the size of a large yacht, and, like most megalomaniacs, I am perpetually convinced that I could do it better. But working on projects too enormous for one human brain to grasp finally forced me to trust the collective IQ of the team.
I chose to start with a small experiment – a wiki for me and my two housemates. Here we collect lists of woefully overdue house maintenance tasks like anti-eco leaky toilets and filthy furnace filters posing a serious fire risk.
Those of you who have used a wiki know that it can be configured to send an email to everyone participating in the wiki each time the content is updated, so changes in content and status are quickly shared among all users. The toilet, which had been leaking for at least a year and half in spite of my “gentle reminders” about its contribution to the destruction of the planet, was fixed within 3 days!
Emboldened by our initial success, we added things we needed to shop for – a tea kettle with a broken whistle that was certain to melt into a puddle of steel when all of the tea water was long gone was replaced within the week. We went whacky over wikis and added a schedule of rides needed to the airport, and, during this busy holiday season, a list of the parties we’re throwing.
How come a wiki can inspire people to action that a year and a half of nagging could not? I think the wiki made visible and present to everyone what previously had just been some nebulous task that needed to be done someday. It also provided instant gratification for completing the task through automatically sending status updates out to the other peeps on the wiki when it was done.
We even started thanking each other for doing things. Who knows where this all could lead! Maybe next we can use it to solve the unmatched sock problem in the laundry room . . .
Web conferencing tools: Online support for visually engaging meetings
Meeting support tools like GoToMeeting (Cheap!) and Dim Dim (Free!) enable everyone on a conference call to see a single shared desktop. Everyone gets connected by voice one way or another to hear what’s going on, and logs into the meeting location via a web browser so they can see what’s happening on the shared computer screen.
A status bar tracks who is attending, and chat capability compliments the verbal discussions. (People can actually follow a voice meeting and a simultaneous chat or two.) Information can be shared synchronously, and meeting highlights, decisions, and action items can be captured real-time in full view of everyone on the team.
Audience response systems: When instant gratification isn’t fast enough
At the ‘Program for the Future’ event, instead of sitting back yawning through the drone of keynote speakers revelling in their own mastery of some obscure topic, the audience was engaged to weigh in on the biggest challenges we face as a species and the most promising routes to averting what sometimes seems like certain Armageddon.
Within a matter of minutes our ideas were displayed for hundreds of participants to see, and we used little voting machines to prioritise the list. Actually, solving the problems will take a little longer, but the priority ranking took less than 15 seconds. If it can work for an audience of hundreds I figure it could work for a project team.
SMS text messaging using mobile phones removes the need for the special voting devices and enables the same capability when people are not in the same location. I’m dying to have a geographically distributed team anonymously weigh in on topics during a teleconference from around the world!
Virtual reality: One your first life isn’t enough to keep you busy
I’m the first one to admit that I don’t even have time for a first life, but I was finally inspired to try out qwaq, a virtual reality collaboration space similar to Second Life, but with a graphics card requirement that my soon-to-bechucked-out-the-window PC can handle.
My virtual world was a beautiful conference room with a deck overlooking the ocean, and my avatar was my perfect weight and no visible panty lines. I was in project manager hog heaven! I fell in love with the possibilities I glimpsed in the 20 minutes or so I spent playing with this before I ditched it due to agonizingly slow response times.
Jiminy Crickets, I’d have to take up smoking to have something to do while waiting for the programme to respond to even the most basic request. I might have stood a chance if I were a gamer with the slickest hardware or had access to the IBM Roadrunner, currently the fastest computer in the world according to a potentially reliable source. But with only a mere business PC, I was doomed from the start. It’s just too s – – – l – – – o – – – w. But, make no mistake, in my mind this is the way of the future, so keep your finger on the pulse of these tools.
You’re still probably doomed from the start
Even with the coolest tools, collaboration is no easy matter. I recently volunteered to help at an event put on by a group of people committed to transforming the world for the better through collaboration. I was to lead a small group of other volunteers. The day started off with several some people showing up late and others immediately abandoning their post without so much as a “screw you” over their shoulders as they fled.
The light of my hope for the world dwindled further as I witnessed an argument by a couple of so-called adults over something not worth raising an eyebrow over. Any illusion of the possibility of world peace completely evaporated when I tried to intervene and become the new target of one guy’s verbal vengeance.
I finally resorted to shouting to the dozens of schoolchildren who were watching him yell at me, “Don’t watch this! It’s not a good example of how to resolve conflict!”
- A Tell report / Writer Kimberly Wiefling is the President of Wiefling Consulting, co-founder of Silicon Valley Alliances, and author of Scrappy Project Management, a global business leadership consultant, and a force of nature – the good kind! She specializes in global team effectiveness – helping teams achieve what seems impossible but is merely difficult. Her latest book is bilingual (English & Japanese), Inspired Organizational Cultures, and has a foreword written by her mentor, Dr Edgar Schein, the father of organizational cultures.