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Book Review: Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools
Published
2008, Q1 (June 18, 2008)
By Amy Olson, Student in the Duke University Technical Communication Certificate Program

Managing Virtual Teams
Managing Virtual Teams
The word "virtual," as it relates to the electronic age, used to mean environments or situations that were simulated by computers. Virtual reality wasn't reality at all. As computers, the Internet, and software evolved, virtual also came to mean something that actually existed, but was dependent on computers for that existence. As industry and the economy globalized and became increasingly dependent on computers, the virtual workplace was born. And so who better to work in the virtual workplace than a virtual team?

Virtual teams now exist in nearly every industry. But don't think that to be considered virtual your team has to have members from multiple countries and time zones. Your team may be virtual because two of its members work from home, while the rest of the team works in the same building. Regardless of your team's unique situation, the bottom line is that teams are still made up of people, and people have to be able to work together.

Kit Brown, Brenda Huettner, and Char James-Tanny have written an excellent book on the opportunities and challenges that face virtual teams. Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools is a valuable resource for team leaders, project managers, and anyone working on a virtual team. As the authors live in Idaho, Arizona, and Massachusetts, they had the opportunity to use many of the skills and tools they outline in the book as they were writing it.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One, titled "Building and Managing Virtual Teams," emphasizes that whether or not your team members ever lay eyes on each other, they still have to be able to get along and get work done. The nine chapters in this section cover the following topics: Understanding Team Dynamics in a Virtual Environment; Setting Up a Virtual Team; Evaluating Your Needs; Communicating with the Team; Project Planning and Tracking; Collaborating and Troubleshooting; Conducting Reviews; Managing Risk and Change; and Evaluating Project Success.

These chapters would be beneficial reading for any project manager ~~ regardless of the team environment ~~ as they outline good basic skills and practices for team and project management. The authors cover characteristics of good team leaders, give tips on working with recruiters and employment agencies, give examples of good meeting agendas and minutes, and outline ways to conduct effective reviews. Part One also has great nuggets of extra information, such as a sidebar titled "The Importance of Saving Face," which addresses the need to not only allow team members to maintain their dignity, but also to remember that in cultures outside our own, "losing face" can have far-reaching ramifications.

Part Two of the book is titled "Evaluating the Tools." The authors open the section with the needs analysis they performed prior to writing the book. They follow their sample with a comprehensive outline to help you, the manager, conduct your own needs analysis. Chapters 10 and 11 in this section cover possible team tasks and categories of tools to help you accomplish them, as well as general information surrounding the installation, customization, and security of the tools.

Beginning with Chapter 12, the authors describe each tool category in more detail and compare some of the features of specific products. The categories of tools include Collaborative Software Suites, Meeting and Other Communication Tools, Information Broadcasting Tools, Information Sharing Tools, Information Gathering Tools, Wikis, and RSS Feeds and Other "Push" Technologies. These chapters provide the novice with a great introduction to the tools available, and will likely introduce more experienced users to a few tools they were not aware of.

Managing Virtual Teams is well organized, well written, and easy to use. The book's organization makes it an excellent reference tool, but it is also easy to read from start to finish if you choose. The introductions to Parts One and Two briefly summarize each chapter in those sections. If you are troubleshooting a specific issue, you can easily tell at a glance if a particular chapter will be helpful. If you need more detail, each chapter closes with a summary and as a list of related resources. In addition, wherever possible, information is presented in tables, charts, and matrices for easy reference.

The authors used a wiki, www.wikiwackyworld.com, as a collaborative tool while writing the book. They have now opened the wiki to other users. You can access recent updates on tools, read the authors' blogs, and practice using a wiki for yourself.


Amy can be reached at amyolson2000 at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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