Kate Thomas, a project manager with Johnson & Rogers Software Engineering, was looking forward to her first project team “meeting.” She applied quotes to the term “meeting” because she would not actually be sitting down at a table with any of the other members of the project team. She had been assigned responsibility for a large software development project that would be using team members from both inside and outside the organization, none of whom were currently employed at the same Redlands, California office where she worked. In fact, as she ticked off the names on the legal pad in front of her, she did not know whether to be impressed or apprehensive with the project she was about to kick off. Vignish Ramanujam (senior programmer)—New Delhi, India
Anders Blomquist (systems designer)—Uppsala, Sweden
Sally Dowd (systems engineer)—Atlanta, Georgia
Penny Jones (junior programmer)—Bristol, England
Patrick Flynn (junior programmer)—San Antonio, Texas
Erik Westerveldt (subcontractor)—Pretoria, South Africa
Toshiro Akame (customer representative)—Kyoto, Japan
The challenge with this team, Kate quickly realized, was going to involve figuring out how to create an integrated project team with these people, most of whom she had never dealt with before. Although Sally and Patrick worked for Johnson & Rogers at other plant locations, the rest of the team were strangers. Erik, from South Africa, was critical for the project because his company had developed some of the specialized processes the project required and was to be treated as an industrial partner. The other members of the team had been assembled either by Erik or through contacts with senior members of her own firm. She did not know, but would soon discover, how they felt about the project
and their level of commitment to it. The first virtual project meeting was scheduled to start promptly at 9 am Pacific Standard Time. That led to the first problem. As Kate stared at the camera mounted
above the video monitor, she kept glancing down at the screen for signs that other members of the team had logged on. Finally, at 9:15, she was joined by Sally, with Toshiro logging in shortly afterward. As they chatted and continued to wait for other members to log on, time continued to pass. When, at 9:30 no one else had signed on, Kate asked the secretary to start making phone calls to verify that other members of the team were trying to access the system. Eventually, by 10:25, the team consisted of five members: Anders, Sally, Penny, Patrick, and Toshiro. It was decided that for the sake of getting
something accomplished, those who were logged on would get started. The agenda that Kate had prepared and e-mailed out the day before was produced and the meeting began. Within 10 minutes, the video link to Penny was suddenly lost. The other team members waited for five minutes, waiting in various states of impatience for Penny to rejoin the meeting. There was still no sign of Vignish or Erik.
The meeting quickly bogged down on technical details as those in attendance realized that several technical issues could not be resolved without input from the missing team members. Though he tried his best to hide it, it became apparent that Toshiro in particular was frustrated with the lack of progress in this meeting. Kate suggested that they adjourn until 11, while she made another attempt to contact the missing members, but Toshiro objected, saying, “That is 3 am in my country. It is now past midnight here. I have been here today for 15 hours and I would like to get home.” It was finally agreed to reconvene tomorrow at the same time. Toshiro agreed, but with bad grace: “Can we not find a time that is more accommodating to my schedule?” Kate promised to look into the matter. The next day’s meeting was a mixed success. Although everyone managed to log on to the system within a reasonable period, Penny’s connection kept going down, to the exasperation of Vignish, the senior programmer. Although the meeting was conducted with great politeness by all parties, it was equally clear that no one was willing to offer their candid opinions of the project, the goals, and how the team was expected to execute their assignments. After asking members of the team for honest feedback and getting little response, Kate dropped the point. In addition, she had a nagging feeling that there was some unspoken animosity between Patrick and Sally due to the manner in which they interacted with each other. After some general goal setting and a discussion of team responsibilities, Kate asked if there was a time when they could next meet. In the general silence that followed, Anders spoke up, asking, “Well, how often do you hope to meet like this? To be honest, it is inconvenient for me to attend these sessions regularly, as our telecom equipment is in Stockholm and I have to drive an hour each way.”
Toshiro spoke up as well. “I am sorry to repeat this point,” he said, “but these meeting times are extremely inconvenient for me. Could we not find a time that is more generally acceptable?” Kate replied, “Well, how about 5 pm my time. That’s . . . ,” Kate paused and quickly consulted her personal planner, “9 in the morning for you.” This suggestion was met by a wave of objections, with the first from Penny who stated, “Uh, Kate, that would be 1 am here in England.” No sooner had she spoken than Anders, Erik, and Vignish chimed in, “Kate, that’s 2 am in Stockholm and Pretoria,” and “Kate, are you aware that that is 6 am here in New Delhi?” Back and forth the team members argued, trying
to find a reasonable time they could all meet. Finally, after going around the group several times to work out a mutually agreeable time for these teleconferences, Erik spoke up: “Maybe we don’t all need to meet at the same time, anyway. Kate, why don’t you just schedule meetings with each of us as you need to talk?” Kate objected by saying, “Erik, the whole point of these teleconferences is to get the team together, not to hold one-on-one meetings with each of you.” Erik responded, “Well, all I know is that this is only the first videoconference and already it is becoming a burden.” Penny spoke up, “You’re lucky. At least your system works. Mine keeps going up and down at this end.” “Okay, how about just using e-mails?” suggested Erik. “That way it does not matter what the time is at our location.” The other team members agreed that this idea made sense and seemed on the verge of endorsing the use of e-mails for communications. At this point, Kate stepped back into the discussion and stated firmly, “Look, that won’t do. We need the opportunity to talk together. E-mails won’t do that.” More arguing ensued. Eventually, the team members signed off, agreeing that they needed to “talk further” about these issues. Kate’s reaction was one of disappointment and frustration. She sensed reluctance among the other members of the team to talk about these issues and to use the videoconferencing system in the manner she had envisioned. As Kate sat down to lunch that noon, she pondered how she should proceed from here.
1. How would you advise Kate to proceed? Analyze the conversation she had this morning. What went
right? What went wrong?
2. What should Kate’s next steps be?
3. How can she use the technology of the Internet and teleconferencing to enhance team development and performance?