Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 12;   March 19, 2008: TINOs: Teams in Name Only

TINOs: Teams in Name Only

by

Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
The Marx brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo

The Marx brothers (Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo), early in their career. Comedy teams — make that successful comedy teams — display all of the features of high performance teams. Their performance requires dedicated commitment, a high sense of trust and strong interpersonal relationships. For instance, in live performance, things rarely go exactly as planned. It's up to the team members to adapt as they go, in response to the odd things that happen. Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

Most organizations execute their work in groups they call teams. When they really are teams, they're very effective. An increasingly common structure is the "virtual team," which usually consists of people from different organizations, or people who reside at different geographical sites, or both.

Both of the qualities of being virtual and being distributed tend to make team formation more difficult, because they hinder the development of warm, trusting, personal relationships.

Although virtual teammates do coordinate their efforts, the personal dimension of their collaboration is sometimes so limited that we cannot truly call them teams. Sometimes, they know each other only through email, text, or telephone, and the telephone calls are often at odd hours. They are teams in name only — TINOs.

That's fine, but problems arise when we try to manage TINOs as if they were teams. If we expect members of TINOs to identify with the group, and if we expect team management techniques to work when we aren't actually dealing with teams, we're headed for trouble.

In a future article, we'll discuss management techniques for TINOs. But let's begin by examining the attributes of TINOs.

Conflicting commitments
The defining feature of a team is that its people work together so closely that they can anticipate each other's strides and stumbles. When needed, they step in to support each other, and their support is welcome. In TINOs, when almost everyone is working on multiple teams, it's hard to focus on teammates or what they might need.
Limited sense of trust
Although a TINO's people sometimes make commitments, their "honoring rate" can be low. It's not that they don't care — they're usually just overcommitted, or they don't really feel allegiance to the TINO. This leads to a low level of trust, which they replace with "monitoring." That is, they spend significant effort reporting to each other and to "those responsible" about how things are going. Trust is much cheaper than monitoring, but it's impossibly unreliable when people are so overcommitted.
Weak interpersonal relationships
Although a TINO's people
sometimes make commitments,
their "honoring rate"
can be low
In TINOs, many relationships between pairs of team members are weak, and limited to the task at hand. In fact, some pairs have never even met. To each other, many are just voices on the phone — they've never seen photos of each other, and never visit each other's offices. When the project gets into trouble, and they convene an Emergency Project Review, some team members meet for the very first time, even though they've been "working together" for months (or longer!).

Conflicting commitments, a limited sense of trust, and weak interpersonal relationships can have varying effects — think of them as possible indicators of risk. Almost anything you do to reduce split assignments, to create trust, and to strengthen personal relationships will help. What can you do today? Go to top Top  Next issue: Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I  Next Issue

For more about Trust, see "Creating Trust," Point Lookout for January 21, 2009, "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

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We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
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