astolat (astolat) wrote,

post candidate chat follow up: effective virtual teams

So in the candidate chat, there was a question what our foremost aim would be on the Board, and I said:

From a pragmatic perspective, my number one aim is to have a productive and effective Board, where we facilitate the work of the org without getting in the way -- there are a lot of different projects and priorities and for the health of the org we need Board to be a place where those priorities can get worked out in a collaborative way, where we can be a team that comes together and works through the conflicts created by the limits on our resources, both human and otherwise.

And a couple of the other candidates asked how we do that, specifically.

My answer got kind of long! It is going to be up on the OTW site shortly along with my answers to a few other questions, but I thought I would put it here also because this feels like more generally what I've learned over the many varied fannish projects I've worked on, and I thought it might be interesting and/or useful for some of the rest of you.

And hey, maybe some of the rest of you have more advice to add to the list that I can squirrel away myself for future use. :D

So here's my long list of my bullet points for an effective virtual team. There are some basic practical ones and some that are more about ideal team composition:

  • Don't argue in email. If an email exchange starts to turn into an argument, stop and take it to a live chat, or even skyping. Whenever a discussion begins to get tense, you want more immediacy, more back-and-forth, and more information in your communication medium.

  • Don't leave a discussion angry. Even if the way you wrap up is to say, OK, it's late, let's put this aside to mull on until next meeting and let's talk about something else or our latest fanfic/cats/babies for five minutes before we leave, try and don't end on a sour note.

  • Having people who are good at recognizing when a discussion is getting tense, and stopping and stepping back from it in the heat of the moment, and getting the team as a whole to reconsider it in a bigger context. This may seem obvious, but anyone who has been in a heated discussion online can probably recognize that it is not as easy as it sounds. (Lucy P was great at doing this on ADT.)

  • Having people with varying points of passion, so that there are always a couple of people on any particular issue who don't really care that much.

  • If there aren't people who are naturally inclined to step back, then whoever chairs the discussion should explicitly take on the responsibility of forcing themselves to do the stepping back.

  • Having imaginative people. It is really rare in my experience for an argument to truly be a zero-sum situation. Almost always there is a different solution that will give people on both sides of the argument much of what they want. The hard part is imagining up that different solution. It does to some extent depend on knowing the options so experience/education (technical, legal, etc) is also helpful.

  • Don't get bogged down in principle. The end goal is that some concrete thing is going to happen or not-happen -- a tool gets built, a server gets bought, a fundraising drive runs, a post gets made. Principles guide those decisions, but when an argument starts to be *about* principles, stop and bring it back to the concrete.

  • Associated with that, recognize fundamental differences and don't have the same fight over and over. Instead, try and have people with different principles work out their respective concrete goals or spheres of influence, what their priorities are, and do some horse trading.

  • Don't let discussion go too long. If you get stuck in a hole, can't come up with a better solution, can't seem to step back, and everyone keeps getting angry, then just end the misery. Set an end point for the discussion, frame the core options, and just vote. Even if you don't "win", you all get out alive. (As a bonus, I have often found that venting the pressure by doing this often unlocks the creativity to suddenly come up with a new better solution.)

  • Remember things are rarely set in stone. If something really doesn't work well and continues to make people unhappy, it can be changed. If people are really unhappy, pick two options, set a timeframe to try the first one and come back and review, at which point possibly switch to try the other.

OK, so that is my own checklist. Please do add to this if you have any other suggestions, because I am still figuring all this out as I go and would love to hear from the rest of you what you've found that works well!

You can also read this entry on Dreamwidth (comment count unavailable comments)
Tags: otw

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