This week our team received our grade for the instructional document that we created together. All in all, I think we did surprisingly well. There were a number of errors in the document, which some of us probably should have noticed. But we also did many things quite well.
Overall, I enjoyed working in a virtual team. I enjoyed the discussion amongst people and being able to bounce ideas off other team members. It was great knowing that there were people who you could turn to if you were having problems or difficulties – I think that everyone in our group was considerate in that respect.
However, it is hard work, especially when people come to the team without pre-defined roles. Other than the translators, it seemed that everyone else could do any part of the work. None of us had any particular strengths; we all could write, edit, design graphics, etc. In addition, we almost had too many members in the team, so it was difficult to find something for everyone to do. How is a group without a designated team leader supposed to identify who should do what, without unintentionally offending or disparaging anyone?
Unfortunately, we took so long in getting to know each other and assigning roles that we had very little time to work on the actual document. So the few days before we were to hand it over to the translators ended up being quite stressful. The major restriction was that we needed everyone’s approval before we could move on with the next step of the project, but frequently some team members were very slow to get back with any comments. This lack of constructive feedback was very frustrating.
The most valuable thing I learned from the project is that planning is essential and that a virtual team does need a good team leader. A team leader can help to create clear guidelines and goals so that everybody is clear on what they are expected to do and when. But there needs to be agreement on all of this, and that can be difficult to obtain when some team members are reticent or slow to respond. Being a team leader is difficult and time-consuming, and has a huge amount of responsibility. Therefore, it is not a role that everyone would wish to take on.
During this project, I learned some new skills about using different technologies to collaborate. We began with Sulis, the virtual learning environment. I saw how useful it could be as a collaboration tool when you have full control over all of the features. It can be used to upload resources, share documents, set deadlines on the calendar, make announcements, and of course have group discussions and chats. Because of this, and my familiarity with Sulis from the previous semester, I was quite happy to continue to use it. However, Sulis can be frustrating too – when you post something on the forum, it doesn’t automatically tell everyone that something is there. Therefore, we ended up using Facebook and Google Drive to collaborate, as these tools seemed easier for most people in the team to access. As part of this, I had to learn how to set up a folder on Google Drive that I could share with team members, and how to link to that from our Facebook conversations. And the great advantage with Facebook is that it immediately sends out a notification whenever a new post is created in the shared group.
Communication with virtual team members in the US was difficult, but not because of the time zones. Rather, all three of the US students appeared uncommunicative and it was really difficult to get them to engage with the rest of the team. Initially I thought that it was just the difficulty of using Sulis, but even when we moved to Facebook, they contributed very little to the discussions. The French students didn’t have much to communicate during the initial phases of the project, but once it came to the translation phase I found them to be much more forthcoming.
I think that one of the biggest problems was that everyone in the team had a whole load of other commitments, including part-time and full-time jobs. And nobody in the team knew when anybody else would be available, which made organising a live chat session that everyone could participate in next to impossible. It may be that not everyone in the team was willing or able to work at unsociable hours; if this is the case, then more time should be allocated for the project overall.
In future projects, I would do a number of things differently. I would try to figure out what roles need to be assigned, and organise everybody into these roles as soon as possible, including one of team leader. I would also make greater attempts to continue to communicate with individuals throughout the project, even if it is just for social communication. I would also try to decide on what tools the team should use at the very beginning of the project. I also think that it would be worthwhile to draw up a project plan or proposal once all the roles are decided. In this way, it would clear to everyone exactly what they should be doing and when they should have things done for. This is something that never occurred to me to do during our project. I think we ran out of time for creating something like that, and so we just had to jump straight in with creating the document.
Collaboration is an essential feature of the modern workplace and this project has been a valuable learning experience in replicating that environment. I’m sure that if we had to do it all over again, we would be far more efficient, and would be able to spend more time on creating a high-quality document.