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What You Should Do As a Virtual Team Member (Interview)

Aaron Perkins advises multinationals on creating and cultivating learning organizations across cultures. Aaron has six years experience working for organizations in the business of learning including Skillsoft, Thomson Netg, Thunderbird, Global School of Management and Apollo Group Inc.

He has facilitated seminars in Spanish and English on four continents and in 75 cities around the world. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Q. Training and development initiatives often involve multiple stakeholders, from senior executives to project/training managers to instructional designers and programmers. In a globalized world where virtual teams may never meet in person, what are some of the challenges that such teams face?

When it comes to collaborating with global teams, the biggest challenge you face will be the person staring back at you in the mirror!

For better or worse, we are each programmed with an operating system constructed in part by our cultural expectations of how we think business should be done. The techniques we mastered to achieve success in the past are not necessarily the best default settings for future success.

Through my experience managing teams with collaborators based in Asia, Europe and North and South America, we faced the inevitable soft-skill challenges in bringing far-flung people together: communication, cooperation and cultural awareness.

One factor that creates additional complexity and challenges is when an organization has a hierarchical business culture. Although flat organizations are popular in the USA, in many parts of the world, hierarchy still reigns.

Despite these dynamics, I was fortunate to see several positive transformations take place when team members made a conscious effort to learn techniques on how to become more self-aware, empathic to others and objective toward their own and others’ behavior.

High achieving teams produce great results not despite their differences but because of them.

Q. Where does technology come in to play?

Never before have we had at our disposal such effective synchronous and asynchronous tools facilitating communication, enabling transparency and knowledge transfer.

I see organizations increasingly leveraging web-based tools for document creation, quick and easy online course creation, project management, simple video capturing and screen sharing. These innovations have opened the flood-gates to enhanced collaboration and will continue to democratize teaching and learning.

Despite these leaps in low cost collaboration technologies, I notice some organizations hesitating instead of taking full advantage of these new tools. Maintaining “business as usual” comes with a steep opportunity cost.

Q. Can people better learn from each other through collaborative learning platforms and other technologies? Will these technologies improve performance?

Armed with a webcam or cell phone video camera, everyone in an organization has the power to capture and share best practices.

Imagine a legendary sales person encouraged to spend just ten minutes each week recording a video discussing his or her best practices to make available to new team members. Allowing great teachers to emerge as the organizations’ crowd-sourced leaders will change the face of business.

The repercussion of empowering employees to contribute to an organization’s collective intelligence will result in individual performance improvement and overall competitive advantage.

Q. If people are learning more from each other, do you think it will change instructor-led training and development 5-10 years from now? What type of innovation might we expect in the field?

We have all had extraordinary teachers. The best of them inspire us, challenge us and motivate us to do excellent work. The future of instructor-led training should feature more extraordinary teachers.

As I traveled with leaders of organizations to their subsidiary offices around the world, I noticed how storytelling can be wielded as a powerful tool to inspire and engage employees.

Recent research by neuroscientist, Marco Iacoboni reveals how we connect and empathize with others and may shed light on the science of why storytelling works so well. What if leaders were given more efficient technologies to capture and deliver empowering stories to their team easily?

The steady ascent of virtual instructor-led training will allow learning to further adapt to the real needs of organizations. In 5-10 years access to mobile devices equipped with front facing video chat cameras—like in the forthcoming iPhone 4.0 will be ubiquitous. This new learning mode will allow true flexibility for teachers and learners.

Q. What books, blogs, and/or magazines have inspired you?

I’ve enjoyed several books in the past few months dealing with the interplay of cultural intelligence, human performance and business:

Here are a couple of my favorite blogs focused on enterprise learning:

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