Virtual Success

January 28th, 2009

This blog entry is going to be different:  It is co-authored by my colleague and co-writer, Karen Otazo with whom I have just had the great pleasure of launching No Time 4 Theories/Executive Series . We wanted to share with you some lessons learned and insights gained from our collaboration, as we realized that what we have just experienced is the way many of you  all are now, or will be very soon, working.

Karen and I have been collaborating and communicating around professional issues, insights and initiatives for around 5 years.  During one of our many phone discussions, we realized that we shared a lot of views that were not currently written about.  And so, it began as a casual comment, “you know, this could be a great book!”

We began in July to collect our ideas, convert ramblings to outlines and maneuver our way through communication, technology, schedule and “day job” commitments. We found that we actually were living the changes we were writing about.

Our intensity about this collaboration heated up as the economy melted and then froze.  Our clients urgently needed our perspective and expertise to help them navigate the seismic disruption and change they are struggling to understand and manage. And so, we began in earnest in October to put our ideas into a format that would be attractive for our readers.

From that awareness grew an agreement that we wanted to write and publish together in the most modern way:  virtually, technologically and stylistically.  Virtual teams, virtual networking, virtual newspapers, virtual everything led us to create a more-than-virtual writing team.

Here are a few things we learned we wanted to share with you:

Move beyond the traditional and tested ways to match the rhythm and format of your work with the market needs:

We learned from a set of sample reader discussions that we needed to work quickly, efficiently, cost effectively and eliminate all the layers and processes that would hold up the end product. In addition, we focused on a series of guides which would appeal to our busy and diverse executive readers. Finally, we decided to self publish (which would bring the materials to market quickly) and offer our writing on-demand and in e-book format as well.

Gather a team of enthusiastic experts who will work with as much energy and commitment as you do:

We were fortunate in being able to gather together a virtual team that were excited about this new way of working, new media and the topics we were addressing.  When we ended up working through the holidays, which we had tried to avoid, everyone just pitched in and did what needed to be done without complaint.

Identify and work off strengths:

We constantly checked in with each other to make sure that each team member had information or resources and the skills/experience to carry out unexpected assignments.  Some of us were better at content, some at technology, some at process and project management.  We laid out what the next step was and team members volunteered and teamed. Flow ruled!

Marshall creativity and enthusiasm by clarifying roles based on strengths based on project needs, not ego:

One of the biggest challenges of a virtual team is sorting out priorities, resolving senses of urgency, accommodating to different styles (content, timing, process) and being careful to always know who is on first to avoid things being duplicated or falling through the cracks. Emails work for facts, voice and face to face is better for feelings.  Whenever we sensed a sensitivity, we made a call and worked things out.

Communicate BEFORE there is conflict and clarify roles early and often:

There were times we all jumped in and we had to step back to find out who was on first, who had the expertise, who had the time, who had the desire to take the lead.  We took turns being in charge depending on the circumstances and content. At times, we got confused with emails flying and schedules slipping. So, we just helped each other move the project along by identifying the stuck moments with great sensitivity and compassion. It was great to apply our counseling skills with each other!

Give feedback quickly, clearly and often:

Sheryl and I both have spent our entire professional careers encouraging people, giving feedback with care and clarity. So, we were sensitive to and committed about constantly checking in, comparing notes, clearing any misunderstandings, pitching in when the others were busy, being honest about deadlines and accountabilities.  We became adept at trading off and pitching in when our “day jobs” or personal lives required.  We kept our eye on the motto:  don’t explain, don’t complain…just do it or delegate it.  And we had a lot of “Yeah Team” moments!

Use technology wisely and where appropriate for your needs/styles:

Since we’re both great talkers, initially, we tried using Dragon Naturally Speaking (voice recognition software) to record as we discussed our ideas.  Frustrated with the pace of the technology, we moved into having one of us take the lead on a topic, develop a first pass and then used email and phone dialogue, Skype, three way meetings and even face to face time to organize, edit, polish, cut and finalize.

We never could have completed our first two guides without the dynamic and engaged team.  Thanks to:

Nick Kolakowski, our Editor

Mike Bain, our Graphic Designer

Lucio Furlani, our Web Master and more!

Lori Quaranta, our Cheerleader and On Line PR Consultant

Ian Spanier,  our Photographer

Yeah Team!

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