Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Business Week: Collaboration and Team Work

Today I’ll continue with the Business Week August 20 and 27th issue that focuses on the future of work. A recurring theme throughout the issue is collaboration and teamwork. Multi-national companies like IBM are hiring sociologists to connect people that have never met into virtual teams. Virtual world applications, like Second Life, with 3D avatars are being used to promote social networking and corporations are creating their own virtual “campuses”, offering thousands of online courses.

Cultural and generational "idiosyncrasies" are paramount as these virtual teams are constructed. Think about creating a virtual team that, for example, is a mix of Chinese, Eastern Europe, U.S. and Indian employees….. people that have never met in the real world, may not speak each others language…… and then mix in the difference in age – the digital immigrants versus the digital natives. Now bundle in the time differences between the U.S. and distant locations….. It almost seems impossible .......

Let’s dig a little deeper into the generational differences. Here’s some startling quotes from the article:

"Dow Chemical expects 30% of its 20,000 workers to retire in the next 5 years".

"Meanwhile, enrollment in U.S. chemical engineering schools is declining and companies like Dow are fighting against the oil and gas companies for a shrinking chemical engineering talent pool".

So what is a company like Dow doing? The company is trying to persuade older employees not to retire by offering flexible hours, three day work weeks and letting those that do retire know they can always come back. So now we’ve got a company like Dow creating teams of workers that may span over 40 years in age difference, probably have never met, speak different languages and work in different time zones. How different is this from a modern college “classroom”? Except for the time zone differences the scenario sounds a lot like a typical community college campus! How many languages is your college website available in? What are the age ranges of students in your classrooms? The next time you walk around campus listen - how many different languages do you hear students speaking?

How are employers dealing with these differences? Companies, like Nokia are looking for employees with a “collaborative mindset”. Nokia is very careful to build task forces that include a range of nationalities, ages and education levels. Members are encouraged to network online and share personal information like photographs and biographies.

And then there is IBM.... IBM’s Web-based services group has a 360,000 member staff that works closely as one big virtual team. The company has started an “innovation portal”, allowing any employee with an idea for a product to build online teams, organize resources and access company talent and other assets.

Corporations are working to create a “seamless global workforce”. We must continue to push and innovate in the academic community, following the lead of companies like Dow, Nokia and IBM, as we structure our modern “classrooms”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Generational Differences should not be categorized by ones age but rather by his/her traits or tendencies. Grouping such alignments in this way will allow employers to be more effective when utilizing their current pool of employees. I'll put in a plug for my site and anyone interested can take their profile for free to see what I am talking about.


We also have created a corporate version of the profile for larger organizations.