Improving Communications on Distributed Teams

by Steve Todd

Improving Communications on Distributed TeamsI’m a member of the EMC Research Cambridge virtual team. This position affords me the opportunity to travel into Cambridge, Massachusetts once per month and work with local universities and/or businesses. I’m free to pursue research topics that interest me and benefit my company. I keep a watchful eye on seminars that occur at local universities such as Harvard and MIT.

In mid-April I discovered a rather interesting thesis defense presented by PhD candidate Taemie Kim at the MIT Media Lab: Enhancing Distributed Collaboration Using Sociometric Feedback. Why was this of interest to me?

Corporate management of globally distributed innovation networks is a passion of mine (and was the topic of my second book).

My curiosity was piqued when I read this section of Taemie’s event announcement:

Results show that sociometric feedback influences the communication patterns of distributed groups to be more like that of co-located groups, which results in an increase in performance.

Taemie was planning to present new research on the topic of improving the performance of geographically distributed teams. Her announcement seemed to indicate that new techniques could be used to change distributed communication patterns and bring them more in line with those of their co-located counterparts.

I’ve been interested in product innovation for a long time.  In fact, when I got involved with the EMC Research Cambridge virtual team I started research efforts with some of the technologists at MIT Sloan and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

However, Taemie’s presentation represented a different type of innovation: management innovation. This type of innovation applies new processes and techniques in people management. In fact, her presentation was attended by several professors that specialize in this type of innovation: Sandy Pentland and Peter Gloor.

I decided to attend Taemie’s presentation and meet with Peter after the event (I’ll have more to say about my conversation with Peter in future posts). I spent my day investigating how I might help EMC increase its capacity to innovate across the global employee base (instead of innovating on a specific product line).

Let me start by saying that I was fascinated with Taemie’s defense from start to finish. It was well done and rich with data. In fact, her theories are so interesting that it makes sense to focus on different aspects of her work in multiple blog posts.

So I will end this post by starting with the flowchart she used to describe her thesis. Her claim is that by measuring the communication patterns of teammates, and by providing instantaneous feedback to the team about these patterns, distributed team members can change their communication patterns to improve performance.

Taemie Kim Flowchart

More to come in future posts.

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Steve ToddSteve Todd is a high-tech inventor and author of the book “Innovate With Global Influence“. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 150 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground.

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  1. Hi,

    This “measuring the communication patterns of teammates, and by providing instantaneous feedback to the team about these patterns” is the core of the Toyota kata. In their pdsa one “goes looks and sees” the process, assesses, tries changes, reflects, repeats. The interpersonal interaction here is immediate, not remote. It’s why the new tools like P2 theme (www.p2theme.com) and GTD (get things done) on wordpress/automattic are more twitter-like – more interactive like agile and toyota lean.

    Boyd’s OODA, used in various scrum training, does the same thing, only starting from a fighter pilot engaged with an adversary approach.
    Observe, Orient, Decide, Act immediately on other patterns engages with reality not interpretations, with excellent potential feedback for those concerned. Shotdown?

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