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Summer 1 2010 - Chapter 1 Rewrite

Page history last edited by amcfetridge@gmail.com 10 years, 3 months ago

Chapter 1 Rewrite

Summer I 2010 Team Members

  • Kirt Brookson
  • Snehal Desai
  • Awet Goitom
  • Andria McFetridge
  • Stephanie Sansoucie


Overwhelmed with work, Susan rushes to complete her current task-at-hand and process so she can attend her next meeting.  She has a requirements document due by the end of the day, and she is about to be locked into a conference call with iLinc online presentation and “discussion meeting” about who-knows-what.  Her whole team received this meeting invitation, yet the project manager failed to provide a descriptive agenda – or meeting topic, for that matter.


She dials the conference call number and enters her passcode, only to receive the message, "The meeting is fully attended." She knew that the conference bridge accommodated up to 15 lines, but didn't think that many people were invited.


She runs down the hall to another team member to see if she can attend the meeting on her speaker phone. But she finds her coworker is not at her desk.


Stressed about missing this mandatory meeting, Susan runs down the conference room hallway, finally finding three of her teammates huddled around a speaker phone and a laptop. They were also unable to connect to the conference bridge, and the small conference room was the only place they could meet on a speaker phone without distracting other coworkers.


She falls into a chair and sighs, then sees the frustration etched on her teammates' faces. Bryan sighs, "Can you believe James still has not arrived yet?" Their project manager, James, has been facilitating their meetings, but has been arriving later and later. Naturally, the iLinc presentation has not been initiated.


Ten minutes later, Susan and her teammates hear a door slam and shuffling papers as James enters an attendee's office. As usual, he is armed with a long list of excuses for his delay as he boots up his laptop. He finally initiates an iLinc session, only to realize that he is not sure how to share his screen with everyone. By the time Bryan walks James through the steps necessary to share his screen, James' realizing that he sent the wrong URL for the iLinc session, and waiting for attendees to connect to the new URL, another 20 minutes was wasted.


James finally begins his presentation, where he shows screen mock-ups for an upcoming software release. The documentation file is almost 50MB and arrived on a CD the vendor shipped directly to James, so James was unable to email the document to the rest of the team members. He suggests they take "really good notes" throughout the meeting.


Susan and Bryan were shocked by the news of the software release. They received no communication about it from James, their vendor, or any managers, and it significantly impacts the client's requirements and system configuration.


Once the meeting mercifully ends, Susan is feeling shell-shocked, frustrated, and panicked. She spent enormous amounts of time on her requirements document, only to find out she has to start all over. She wasted almost 40 minutes joining the meeting and waiting for it to start, she has no documentation - other than her notes - to reference, and her revised requirements are due in two days.


Have you ever been in a similar situation, where everything seems to go wrong in a virtual meeting? How much time have you wasted in virtual meetings where participants struggled with the technology, the meeting facilitator selected an inappropriate tool or venue, or you struggled to keep-up or focus on what was being discussed?


What if you were in James' position. What would you have done differently? What obstacles have you encountered while hosting virtual or remote meetings? How do you know that the tool you use for the meeting is the right tool?


This book introduces theories and topics to help you collaborate through virtual meetings that effectively reach both face-to-face and remote attendees.


What is Collaboration?

Collaboration is the process for involving meeting participants to achieve a common goal. According to AIIM, collaboration is "a working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit." When meeting with others, collaboration is imperative to achieve successful outcomes. Bad meetings are characterized as those where there is little or no collaboration and the meeting's objectives have failed.


What is Virtual Collaboration?

Virtual collaboration involves meeting participants from different physical location and/or different meeting times. Virtually collaborative environments are supported by a variety of tools, both low-tech and high-tech. For example, you participate in virtual collaboration while attending a conference call, reading minutes from a previous missed meeting, or providing status reports while changing shifts.


When planning and implementing virtual meetings, there are many things to consider: What needs to be accomplished during the meeting? Where are the attendees? Is the meeting in real-time? Will the meeting need to be "recorded" in any way? What tools should be used? And so on. Each of these questions involve a great deal of thought. Together, planning a virtual meeting can become overwhelming.


Think about it. Let's look at the example question What tools should be used? There are many from which to select - Besides the conference call, WebEx or iLinc, and projection unit with screen, there is a myriad of web applications developed for virtual collaboration, and some of these are free. Some applications serve specific purposes, such as those for collaborative authoring. Other applications are specific to desktop sharing with chat capability. Some suites exist that combine several of these capabilities. These tools range in complexity from simple document sharing applications to three-dimensional collaborative environments with avatars. It can be difficult to find the tool that best meets your virtual collaboration needs. This book will assist you with answering these questions, deciding which tools to use, and how to get the most from collaborating virtually.


Why Collaborate Virtually?

So, why can’t all meetings be “simple,” where everyone involved sits together in a room? Many reasons exist, including the following.



Within the last two decades, most countries have adapted a free market economy instead of the traditional exchanges between countries, limited by government regulations. As a result, international trade, investments, merges, and expansions bloomed across the global landscape for multiple industries.


The automobile industry clearly demonstrated how car parts can be manufactured anywhere in the world. We are familiar with Sweden’s IKEA, which has 267 stores across 25 countries, 31 trading service offices in 26 countries, spanning four continents. Their catalogs are printed in 27 different languages. China’s Foxconn, specializing in motherboard components and connectors, has over 200,000 employees spanning five continents. Unilever, whose products include Hellmann’s, Slim-Fast, Bertolli, Axe, and Dove, has 163,000 employees across 170 countries and 6 continents.


This global expansion changed the way businesses work with each other. The use of technology was one of the biggest internal changes companies made to adapt to globalization. Needless to say, virtual teams and tools are crucial for these companies to operate successfully.


Gartner’s Biscotti et al (2009) state, “Key high-growth markets within the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) market reflect trends similar to global trends, with virtualization, Web conferencing and team collaboration, data integration tools and data quality tools, business intelligence (BI) and security [are] among the fastest-growing areas.”


Reduced Travel

There are three aspects of travel that are non-conducive to productivity and efficiency:


  • Wasted time traveling from one point to another
  • Increased expenses for all modes of travel, particularly air travel
  • Reduced availability of travel


When people need to drive to a meeting, even if it is only one hour each way, valuable time is wasted in unproductive activity. Considering the number of employees and the frequency of such a drive, the company is spending significant amounts of money paying their employees to do nothing but drive. Much more potentially productive time is wasted when air travel is required for an employee to attend a meeting. While some employees can work wirelessly on their laptops while waiting in the airport or mid-flight, they are less productive than what they could be in their usual work environment with resources handy.


We are all aware of the increasing flight prices, gasoline prices, and additional fees for luggage and carry-ons. Even the government-regulated mileage reimbursement rate rises (although, not fast enough for those receiving the reimbursements). With shrinking budgets in difficult economic times, all available funds need to be carefully planned and spent.


Many factors affect the availability of travel, especially flights. For instance, the recent merger between Continental Airlines and the UAL Corporation has decreased flight availability to all destinations around the world. As a result, the likelihood increases for union workers to protest and strike. Other airlines, such as the US Airways Group and the AMR Corporation, are also considering mergers and acquisitions. Sadly, the resulting travel interruptions seem to be an afterthought for the company executives.


We have recently experienced how climate changes and natural disasters can affect air travel. "The April 2010 Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption has created the largest-ever peacetime disruption to global air travel, even more than 9/11. Planning for transportation interruptions must be part of every business continuity management program." (Witty et al, 2010)


Taking into account how travel interruptions affect business, organizations must find less time-consuming, more efficient, and less expensive ways to remain profitable and competitive.


While virtual collaboration may not be the panacea, these tools and methods will reduce the amount of time and money spent traveling, and are always available. Firms can avoid delays and distractions, and focus on making pivotal connections with their trade partners and clients.


Improved Productivity

Due to the current downturn in economic activity globally, business unit managers are under pressure to reduce expenses and increase profitability enterprise-wide. Additionally, countries like the United States, Greece, and England are considering severe austerity measures to reduce government spending, increase corporate taxation, which will in turn decrease the global GDP even further.


In order for organizations to offset costs and increase revenues to stay competitive within their perspective markets, they must employ the appropriate collaboration tools to maintain or establish an edge over their competitors. Gartner’s article “Key Issues for Communication Enterprise Strategies, 2010” states “Network planners will [need to] emphasize unified communications and collaboration – Improving workforce productivity, enabling working teams, integrating communications capabilities into business processes, and reducing telecom costs.” (Munch and Willis, 2010)


Basically, companies need to do more with less money by being creative and utilizing virtual collaboration technologies.


Increased Mobility of Workers

What exactly is meant by "increased mobility of workers?" Investopedia defines labor mobility as "the level of ease in which laborers are able to move around within an economy and between different economies. It is an important factor in the study of economics because it studies how labor, one of the major factors of production, affects growth and production."


There are two factors for this increased mobility. The first factor involves the supply and demand of skill sets and professional expertise. If a company cannot find a potential employee with a desired skill set, the company will expand the area in which they search for this employee. Sometimes the search can expand halfway around the world. If a country has a severe shortage of a particular skill set, the country may be freer with granting work visas to fill the void. As a result, workers are becoming increasingly more willing to relocate for professional opportunities, even assimilating and acclimating to a different culture.


With constant improvements in technology and enhancements to virtual collaboration tools, it is less necessary for an employee to relocate to a different country to work for a company. This is a huge cost-savings for companies since they do not need to pay for the employee's relocation. It is also more desirable for employees to remain in their native environments and culture.


Employee Satisfaction with Flexibility

Companies are finding that a worker’s satisfaction with a job is strongly correlated to a worker’s productivity. Happier employees are more productive. One aspect to employee satisfaction is flexible scheduling and work environments. When employees are able to identify the time range they are most productive each day, employers can ensure that the employees are scheduled to work those hours. Ultimately, the bottom line is what matters. Companies that are willing to accommodate employee schedules are attracting more highly-skilled employees than companies that do not offer flexibility.


Flexible schedules has become a new premium, or “perk.” For instance, in Australia, workers can submit a written request for flexible work schedules if they have children in school or with disabilities. The employer must accommodate the request, as long as the request does not significantly affect the business processes and revenue.


This flexibility in schedules and work locations is often referred to as “work-life programs.” DuPont instituted a work-life program and surveyed its employees. The results of that survey were published in 1995 as “The DuPont Work-Life Study,” reporting that “employees who use or are aware of DuPont’s work-life programs are the most committed workers in the company and the least likely to feel overwhelmed and burned out. Employees who use the programs are 45 percent more likely to strongly agree that they will go the extra mile to assure DuPont’s success than those who don’t use the work-life programs.” (WFD, 1995)


With advances in information technology and virtual collaboration tools, many companies are allowing employees the flexibility to work from home or a location other than the office. This significantly increases employee satisfaction and productivity by removing common stresses and distractions, such as accommodating delivery or contractor schedules, or waiting for a car to be repaired in a service station. Their time spent on work, regardless of location, is more focused and productive.


Sense of Immediacy with Communications

Years ago, information was shared through postal mail, interoffice mail, or faxes. The more geographically separated employees and companies were, the slower the communications between them. A response received on the same day as the request seemed “speedy.” Now that email and instant messaging have grown in popularity for business communication, “speedy” is now a matter of seconds. Sometimes five minutes is “simply too long to wait” for a response.


Before virtual collaboration was possible, the only way to receive immediate responses from coworkers was to ensure everyone worked in the same building, preferably the same floor or room. Now, it is faster to send an instant message than to walk down the hall, or even dial the person’s extension.


For more in-depth communication, virtual collaboration technologies offer various venues for sharing different kinds of information synchronously, or immediately. Documents and screens can be shared and viewed by all in a virtual meeting utilizing desktop sharing and presentation tools. Team feedback can be received within seconds with polling and survey tools. Responses, feedback, and communication can be collected and recorded automatically, having no need to type and distribute minutes, record results on a spreadsheet, or by making copies of certain forms.


The Seven-Layer Model of Collaboration

Briggs and other researchers identified seven components, or layers, of group collaboration.  Activities and tools are associated with each layer.  The table below contains definitions of the Seven Areas of Concern for Designers of Collaboration Systems.  (Briggs, Kolfschoten, de Vreede, et al, 2009)



Area of Concern




A goal is a desired state or outcome. Deals with group goals, private goals, and goal congruence - the degree to which individuals perceive that working toward group goals will be instrumental to attaining private goals. Collaboration is defined as joint effort toward a group goal. Addresses motivation, group formation, commitment, productivity, satisfaction, and other goal-related phenomena.


A product is a tangible or intangible artifact or outcome produced by the group's labor. Deals with issues of quality, creativity, effectiveness, efficiency, and other product-related phenomena.



Activities are sub-tasks that, when completed, yield the products that constitute attainment of the group goal. Deals with what groups must do to achieve their goals: sequences of steps that constitute decision-making and problem-solving approaches.


(Logical Design)

Patterns of Collaboration

Patterns of collaboration are observable regularities of behavior and outcome that emerge over time in teamwork. Researchers address six general patterns of collaboration: Generate, Reduce, Clarify, Organize, Evaluate, and Build Commitment.


A collaboration technique is a reusable procedure, such as a ThinkLet, for invoking useful interactions among people working toward a group goal. Deals with invoking useful outcomes predictably and repeatedly across a wide range of circumstances.


(Physical Design)


Collaboration tools are artifacts or apparatus used in performing an operation for moving a group toward its goals. Deals with designing, developing, deploying, and using technologies in support of group efforts.


A script is everything team members say to each other and do with their tools to move toward the group goal. Scripts may be internal or external, tacit or explicitly captured as documentation. Deals with tacit and explicit procedural guidance for the group. Small variations in structured scripts can yield substantial variations in group dynamics.


The questions posed and the layers in this model can guide a facilitator when planning a virtual collaborative meeting:


  • Why are we meeting?
    • Goals: What is each participant’s goal? Is each person’s goal in alignment with the group’s desired goal?
      • Example: Is the group’s goal to share information to reach standardized definitions, or are there members who are competing with their counterparts to prove that their information is better?
    • Products: What document, list, or plan do we want to be completed by the end of this meeting? What is the group meeting’s desired outcome?
      • Example: The group consists of clinicians from multiple locations who want to identify standardized outpatient procedures across the locations. They would like to produce this procedure listing by the end of the meeting.
  • What are we going to do to achieve those goals?
    • Activities: What is the plan for the meeting? Should we divide into smaller groups or work together?
      • Example: Work together in small teams, where each team consists of clinicians from the same location. Once they identify procedures, teams will compare their results.
  • How are we going to make decisions?
    • Patterns of Collaboration: How do we want to list all options? How can we decide which options to keep and which can be combined with others?
      • Example: We need to generate a list of all procedures for each location, look for commonalities across locations, and then identify names for the procedures that could apply in every treatment location.
    • Techniques: What methods should be used for brainstorming ideas or generating lists? What methods can be used for categorizing items? What ThinkLets (described later) can be applied?
  • How do we exchange information, and what tools can we use?
    • Tools: Is there a groupware application that could help us share material? Is there a polling tool available to collect our results? What tool can we use to rank our ideas? Can this be accomplished over the phone, through chat rooms, or do we need desktop sharing capability?
      • Example: Do we use a mind-mapping tool, like MindMeister.com, or an idea generating tool like ThinkTank.com?
    • Scripts: What is the best way to ask questions to elicit the best answers? What are meeting participants expected to enter online? How should the input be phrased?
      • Example: How should the clinicians define their procedures? What kinds of abbreviations should they use? What questions should the facilitator ask to retrieve the necessary information about these procedures?


Changing aspects in a layer affects everything below, like a ripple effect.  However, the reverse is not true.  If a different Pattern of Collaboration is selected for use, it changes the Techniques, Tools, and Scripts.  However, everything above Patterns of Collaboration remains unaffected (Goals, Products, and Activities).  If the Goal of the meeting is changed, all remaining six layers are affected.


Another way to look at how the layers interact is working from the bottom up. You may have heard people say, "Begin with the end in mind." The same idea can be applied to the Seven Layer Model of Collaboration.


  • Scripts guide what to say and do with Tools.
  • Tools are used to instantiate Techniques.
  • Techniques are used to invoke Patterns of Collaboration.
  • Patterns of Collaboration help to move a group through Activities.
  • Activities are used to create Products.
  • Products help the group to achieve its Goals
    (Briggs, Kolfschoten, de Vreede, et al, 2009)




More about the Patterns of Collaboration Layer

As stated in the table listing the layers, there are six patterns of collaboration: generating ideas, reducing ideas, clarification, organization of ideas, evaluation, and building commitment toward the proposal. These six patterns of collaboration may occur separately or simultaneously during the teamwork process. A team can also go back and forth between these patterns.



Brainstorming is a problem-solving technique for generating ideas. There are many ways to generate ideas.  This book will discuss a variety of "thinkLets." However, not all ideas will be useful. Depending on their goals, teams may possess varying needs for originality, relevance, quality, effectiveness, feasibility, and thoroughness (Dean 2006).



The second pattern of collaboration is to reduce the number of ideas generated by the team. To reduce is to "move from having many concepts to focus on fewer ideas deemed worthy of further attention" (Briggs 2009).



Clarifying the meaning of ideas reduces vagueness and ambiguity. It also reduces reducing the number of words required to convey meaning, establishing mutual assumptions (Mulder 2002). In other words, to clarify is to ensure all members of group are "on the same page" and have common definitions for each issue.



The fourth pattern is to organize the ideas. To organize is to "move from less to more understanding of the relationships among concepts in the set of ideas shared by the group" (Briggs 2009). Organizing is an attempt to reduce the cognitive load of the group members. Organizing can be accomplished in many ways. One way is to cluster the like ideas together, once this is done a team can go back and rework the cluster to come up with an idea that encompasses all the ideas in that cluster.



The fifth pattern of collaboration is to evaluate the ideas which remain. To evaluate is to "move from less to more understanding of the instrumentality of the concepts in the idea set shared by the group toward attaining group and private goals" (Briggs 2009). How does each concept accomplish the goal or goals? Do any of the concepts accomplish more than one of the goals? Which concept appears to be the most relevant or successful for accomplishment of the goals? What are the consequences from each of the concepts with respect to accomplishing the goals? These are factors that should be addressed during the evaluate patterns.


Build Commitment and Consensus

Building commitment is when a group "moves from fewer to more group members who are willing to commit to a proposal for moving the group towards attaining its goal or goals" (Briggs 2009). A group builds consensus when they come to a shared decision on the outcome. The proposal has to accomplish both the group and the private goals to gain the commitment needed to be successful. Creating goal congruence among group members is an essential part of this layer.


Theories of Collaboration

A "theory" as it applies to collaboration differs from what we normally associate with scientific or mathematical theories.  Collaboration theories do not require "proof" or statistics.  They are observations based upon surveys and research regarding patterns of collaboration and human behavior.


Focus Theory of Collaboration

The most widely accepted theory to explain how the productivity of a group works is the Focus Theory of Group Productivity. This theory states that, over time, goal congruence plus cognitive effort will equal the productivity, hence reaching the goal.


Based on this theory, a team will accomplish its goal through cognitive effort. The team must multitask, concurrently communicating, deliberating, and accessing information. Since the cognitive capacities of humans are limited, the amount of mental effort occupied by one task is not available for the others. The level of focus between multiple tasks can significantly reduce.


The other components that affect group productivity are goal congruence and distractions. Goal Congruence is the degree to which group goals are compatible with each group members' individual goals. An individual will not work against his or her perceived self-interest over the long term. A team will only be productive to the degree that the intentions of the team are congruent with the individual goals of the team members. Goal congruence fuels the focus of cognitive effort over time which in turns leads to productivity.


Group leaders, as well as the entire group, must make efforts to keep focus on the problems and goals in order to avoid distractions that lessen productivity.


Yield Shift Theory of Satisfaction

In collaboration, there is a team goal that each team member is working to achieve. In order for the team members to work towards this goal, they have to feel satisfied by completing it. To create satisfaction among team members, it is necessary to invoke a satisfaction response which is emotions that respect to the private goal of each team member. Therefore, it is important for project manager or team leader to find out what the private goals for the group members are and why they are completing with the team goal.


According to the Yield Shift Theory of Satisfaction, humans are aware of a "salient set" of goals (goals that individuals are aware of at the present time) and changes that occur to them. Each goal that is currently in a team’s repertoire has a utility and likelihood. The utility of the goals measures how useful that goal is to the team. The likelihood of attaining the goal acts as a nozzle controlling the flow of utility to yield. Utility and likelihood of the goals in the salient set together are compose Goal Yield.


If there is a shift in the utility or likelihood, a satisfaction response is evoked. This means that satisfactions of each team members can either increases or decreases, causing a Goal Yield Shift. The satisfaction response can be positive or negative, thus shifting the Goal Yield in either direction. The greater the yield shift, the greater the satisfaction response. If the yield shift happens to be negative, dissatisfaction occurs. If the goal yield shift is zero; there is no feeling of either satisfaction or dissatisfaction.


In summary:


  • Positive shift = Feel satisfied
  • Negative shift = Feel dissatisfied
  • No shift = Feel nothing


According to Briggs, Reinig, and Vreede (2008), there are ten phenomena that the Yield Shift Theory provides explanations for:


  • Goal Attainment Effect: Individuals feel satisfied on attainment of a desired state or outcome. They feel dissatisfied when the desired state or outcome is thwarted.
  • Confirmation Effect: Individuals feel satisfied when outcomes match expectations or desires, and feel dissatisfied when outcomes are less than expectations or desires.
  • Disconfirmation Effect: Individuals feel neutral when outcomes match expectations desires. They feel satisfied when outcomes exceed expectations or desires; they feel dissatisfied when outcomes are lower than expectations or desires.
  • Anticipation Effect: Individuals feel satisfied or dissatisfied when thinking of future goal attainment, even though goals have not yet been attained or thwarted.
  • Nostalgia Effect: Individuals feel satisfied or dissatisfied when thinking about past goal attainment or past failure to attain goals.
  • Differential Effect: Multiple individuals manifest differing levels of satisfaction upon the attainment of goals to which they ascribe similar utility.
  • Hygiene Effect: Individuals feel only neutral or negative about an object or event, but never positive.
  • Mentor Effect: Individuals feel more satisfied or dissatisfied after discussions with a trusted advisor, even though current conditions have not changed.
  • Mixed Feelings: Individuals experience both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the same IS/IT artifact.
  • Attenuation Effect: Individuals’ satisfaction responses diminish over time.


Let’s look at a scenario that illustrates the Yield Shift Theory of Satisfaction.


Michael, a business manager, has been preparing a speech for the CEO’s impending visit. Michael is planning on seizing the opportunity of the face-to-face meeting to share his innovative ideas for improving the company’s bottom line.


On the morning of the anticipated meeting, Michael ponders his upward growth within the company, proud that he started as a lowly clerk, and moved up to be the business manager through many sacrifices, long hours, and hard work. He thinks, “Today is the day!” He has visions of himself being rewarded, amazing his CEO with his brilliant ideas, and eventually earning a windowed corner office at headquarters.


As Michael arrives practically skipping into the office, he inspects the environment to ensure everything is pristine to prevent any embarrassments. He checks the buffet table, arranged with snacks and beverages for his important guest. Time seems to be dragging, but he is ready!


The moment arrives! Michael rushes to greet the CEO with a firm handshake, asking about his travel experience. Everyone is eager to meet the CEO, who is almost “god-like” to the office staff.


Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and are feeling more relaxed. Michael prepares himself and begins approaching the CEO, ready to begin his spiel. He sees the CEO is laughing along with others, and absently grabbing a handful of snacks. Within a few moments of eating the snacks, the CEO’s face turns bright red and blotchy, and falls to the ground. He is having difficulty breathing. Unknown to Michael and the rest of his staff, the CEO has a severe allergy to peanuts. A woman screams, “Call 911!” Everyone panics.


Finally, EMTs provide emergency treatment to the CEO, carrying him on a stretcher to escort him to the nearest hospital.


Michael experiences the Anticipation Effect as he prepares his speech and envisioning his resulting accolades. When he ponders his work history, he experiences the Nostalgia Effect. While exchanging pleasantries upon the CEOs arrival, Michael experiences the Mentor Effect. When the CEO collapses from the allergic reaction, Michael experiences the Hygiene Effect.


Instrumentality Theory of Consensus

One of the important factors of working as a team is consensus because, for a successful outcome, a project team needs collaboration from all the team members. The most well known theory that explains how consensus affects collaboration is the Instrumentality Theory of Consensus.


Consensus can be defined as a state in which all success-critical stakeholders are willing to commit to a proposal. The willingness to commit is the degree to which the stakeholders feel obligated to expend time, efforts, and resources to fulfill the terms of proposal (Merriam Webster 2009). The fact that all the success-critical stakeholders are willing to commit does not necessarily mean that there is unanimity of purpose, desire, meaning, or satisfaction. There can be varying reasons, varying goals, different understandings of the proposal, and/or different degrees of satisfaction for why they are willing to commit. The commitment of consensus is very important for collaboration; if the stakeholders are not willing to expend time, effort, and resources to achieve the goals of the group, its chances of achieving these goals will be minimal.


Instrumentality, the degree to which one believes that committing to a proposal will advance their private goals, is the most important factor in reaching group consensus. Instrumentality has two factors: group instrumentality and individual instrumentality.


  • Group instrumentality measures the final result of group efforts and how positive or negative that result is on the collective.
  • Individual instrumentality takes group instrumentality into account, which affects each person's salient goals.
  • Perceived Instrumentality is the degree to which stakeholders perceive that outcomes of the proposal would increase likelihood or utility of private goals. A project manager needs to change the individual's perceived instrumentality of the team goal to the individual's favor so they are more willing to expend their mental and physical efforts to the group.


There are many different variables that can affect the group's level of consensus. The most prevalent factors that hinder a group's unanimity include the following:


  • Differences of Meaning: The different of meaning throughout a team are common interruptions to consensus. It could occur both on a micro level in the ways language is interpreted, and on a macro level in the way the process or goal is interpreted by a team member. In order to overcome this roadblock, team members must be able to identify the differences, define specific meanings, and test the meanings through deductive reasoning.
  • Mental Models: According to its concept, when a human's resolving pattern depends on a single mental framework he or she has previously encountered, it can impede the success of group consensus. However, the group members can combat the challenge mental models with several techniques. For example, the group leader can challenge the underlying assumptions of the mental model holder. This can open the group members' thought pattern to other ways of examining a problem. Additionally, the leader can challenge the mechanisms of the mental model holder by probing how the model works. If, in fact, the specific mental model is faulty, the member who is holding onto it will see why it is ineffective and willing to move to more productive ideas of the group member. Finally, the group leader can change the group proposal or group goals in order to be free of the connotations of the mental model.
  • Conflicting Information: Typically, group members join a group with an idea of what is to be accomplished and a rough framework of why and/or how. Sometimes the information the individuals receive is correct and sometimes it may be lost in translation along the way. Individuals, thus, will receive a part of wrong or conflicting information. While, objectively, this seems like an easy problem to fix, group members may feel compelled to defend the information they have, though it may be wrong. To deal with this problem, group members can filter out the incorrect data by exchanging and comparing information among members, assessing the credibility of the information, and testing for incomplete, incorrect, or possibly deceitful information. If the three methods of distilling information are used, the inaccurate information falls to the wayside while the correct and useful information keeps the group on track.
  • Differences among Group Members' Individual Goals: As a group has a collective goal, each member of the group needs to align the individual goal with the collective one. If differences among group members’ individual goals still present, the group will not be able to move forward and complete jobs. According to Briggs, there are several techniques that a project manager can use to overcome the differences of individual goal. One method is to identify the differences of individual goals among members. The project manager may also change the ascribed utility or the likelihood of the outside goal by making it seem less useful or probable. The individual may change the goal or disregard it. Lastly, the project manager can focus members’ attentions on higher yield goals they can attain to conform outlying goals to the group. If the payoff is greater, this may be enough incentive for the individual goals to kowtow to the collective one(s).
  • Differences of Taste: To deal with the differences of tastes among group members, the project manager needs to pull in individual members and promote compromise throughout the group. Typically, it is difficult to change individuals' opinion; therefore, the project manager will have to introduce a level of compromise that can satisfy all the members. Moreover, substitute goals can also be another technique to bring in as a way for the group members to change their taste paradigm.


Virtual Meeting Pre-Work

What is "pre-work"? Pre-work is a task assigned to meeting participants before they attend the meeting. This pre-work serves as a prerequisite for meeting attendance.Some examples of pre-work include requesting invited attendees to read an article and post their feedback and reactions in a shared workspace. Another example is requiring participants to complete a survey. Depending on the type of meeting that is planned, the meeting organizer may request participants to research a specific topic and provide a summary paragraph of their findings prior to meeting attendance. Pre-work sets the stage for the meeting.


According to McCall and Young (2010), successful use of pre-work enhances virtual meetings in the following ways:


  • Increase personal investment in the live session
  • Build interest and preparedness for an interactive session
  • Keep participants engaged and reduce multi-tasking
  • Result in a personal connection with the facilitator
  • Connect participants with others who will also attend the session
  • Enable participants to self-select out of a session if it is not for them


There are six steps to prepare meaningful and successful pre-work:


  1. Ensure pre-work adds value
  2. Create a sense of urgency
  3. Provide incentives
  4. Make it fun
  5. Implement accountability
  6. Build a communication plan


Let's discuss each step in more detail. To clarify the role of pre-work, suppose you are planning a meeting with a department to develop scenarios for end-user training on a new enterprise scheduling system. This example will be used throughout the six steps.


Ensure Pre-Work Adds Value

Do not assign pre-work for the sake of assigning a task. Make sure that the assignment is relevant so attendees are not wasting their time. Explain the purpose of the pre-work and how it relates to the planned meeting. Also, when the pre-work involves a reading assignment, couple this with a task based on the reading, like writing a summary or reactions to the reading.


Using our example scenario, you would like the department members to arrive at a consensus regarding training scenarios to be used during hands-on computer training. You send an email to all meeting participants, requesting them each to send you an email containing two detailed scheduling scenarios. You plan on compiling all scenarios into a document for group discussion, where each participant explains their scenario and the reason it should be presented in training.


Create a Sense of Urgency

Be clear when the pre-work is due and how attendees should submit their work. Their submission method should be easily tracked to determine which attendees have or have not completed their assignment so you can provide reminders and receipt confirmations.


In our scenario, you state that you need to receive their scenarios by noon the day before the meeting to allow ample time for compiling the agenda and scenario list. At a minimum, each scenario needs to indicate who is calling to schedule the patient, what procedure needs to be scheduled, whether the procedure needs to be regularly repeated, if the patient has any special needs, and if the patient has scheduling preferences. You can set the delivery or reading confirmation flags on the message to ensure delivery, and their submitted scenario email messages will have receipt date and time stamps.


Provide Incentives

Have you ever been asked to complete a task and think, “What’s in it for me? How will I benefit from this? Why should I bother?” Your meeting attendees may ask the same question upon seeing your pre-work assignment. Tell them “what’s in it for them.” If you know the people attending your meeting, it could be fairly easy to determine their motivating factors.


For instance, reward your first responder’s scenario submission by letting them choose whether their scenarios should be presented first or last. Perhaps the attendees enjoy working in small groups or pairs, so let them submit scenarios as a team.


Make it Fun and Engaging

Anything you can do to make the pre-work fun, humorous, interesting, or thought-provoking will encourage your meeting attendees to complete their assigned pre-work. Knowing your attendees can be very advantageous for determining how to make the pre-work interesting. If you do not know your attendees, or if they do not know each other, suggest that they introduce and share a fun fact about themselves through a workspace post.


For our training scenario meeting, you may suggest that your meeting attendees use creative names for their scenario patients and doctors. You could also provide a non-example, or a bad example, of a training scenario, and then ask them to identify the errors and how the scenario could be improved.


Implement Accountability

Be clear about the consequences of not completing the assigned pre-work. Your consequences should be appropriate for the meeting. For instance, you cannot ban an attendee from a mandatory meeting.


In our scenario, when the group is polled at the meeting to determine which training scenarios should be included in the training manual, you may choose to remove "voting power" from those who did not complete their pre-work. When you assign your pre-work, clearly state the consequences for not completing the assignment.


Develop and Execute a Communication Plan

Answering the following questions will assist you in creating and adhering to a communication plan:


  • How well do you know your attendees? How well do the attendees know each other?
  • Are your attendees managers and executives? Are they potential clients?
  • What kind of impression do you want to make? Do you need to use a formal tone with the large group?
  • Are you aware of the attendees' communication preferences? Are they quick with email responses, or do they seem to prefer phone calls?
  • How important is attendance to the meeting? How crucial is the pre-work assignment to your meeting's objectives?
  • Are these attendees currently utilizing a collaboration tool or groupware? If so, how do they communicate with the tool?
  • Is the pre-work time consuming? Is any research involved?
  • How frequently do you need to remind attendees of the assigned pre-work?


For our training scenario meeting, you have already opted to send emails with detailed pre-work instructions, and will use the delivery confirmation function.


When attendees submit their pre-work, you decide to respond via email to thank them for their submission.


When attendees do not submit their pre-work a day before the deadline (two days before the meeting), you will call their phone extension to remind them about the pre-work and to answer questions they have to clarify the assignment.


Since these attendees’ supervisor needs documentation on who does not complete their assigned pre-work, you have agreed to send an email directly to the attendee who failed to submit pre-work, and copy their supervisor on the same email, explaining that you had not received their assignment and repeat the consequences. Prior to sending the email, you decide to call each attendee first to find out if they submitted their pre-work and you did not receive it, or if they did not complete the assignment.


Where Do We Go From Here?

This book contains three sections. With each section's chapter you will gain greater information and insight for how to plan for a virtual collaboration. This first section introduces you to collaboration engineering, taxonomies, and utilizing cloud computing and SaaS for collaboration.


The second section list and describe tools and techniques for virtual team collaboration, making decisions, and how and when to use ideation tools. This section concludes with virtual project management tools and techniques.


The last section of the book focuses on virtual collaboration with enterprises and enterprise systems. This includes the topics of social networking for enterprise purposes, working in virtual worlds, and using and adapting groupware in the enterprise environment.


Let’s get started and learn more about how to make your meetings collaborative.




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  • Witty R.J., Stokes, S., Girard J., et al. “Out of the Ashes: Business Continuity Management Lessons From Iceland's Volcanic Eruption.” Gartner Research, Article ID G00200441. (4/23/2010)
  • Munch B., Willis D.A. “Key Issues for Communication Enterprise Strategies, 2010.” Gartner Research, Article ID G00175764. (3/30/2010)
  • WFD, Inc. “The DuPont Work-Life Study.” Press release. (1995)
  • McCall D., Young J. "6 Ways to Make Pre-Work Compelling." Designing Productive Virtual Meetings Series. Facilitate.com. (2010) http://www.facilitate.com/support/facilitator-toolkit/docs/6-Ways-to-make-prework-compelling.pdf.
  • Briggs R., Kolfschoten, de Vreede G. et al. "A Seven-Layer Model of Collaboration: Separation of Concerns for Designers of Collaboration Systems." Association for Information Systems. International Conference on Information Systems 2009 Proceedings. (2009)
  • Kolfschoten, G.L, Briggs, R.O., de Vreede, G., et al. “A Conceptual foundation of the thinklet concept for collaboration engineering.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 64(7), 611-621. (2006)
  • Briggs R, Reinig B.A., de Vreede G. "The Yield Shift Theory of Satisfaction and Its Application to the IS/IT Domain," Journal of the Association for Information Systems: Vol. 9: Iss. 5, Article 14. (2008)




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Comments (5)

Laura Pertea said

at 6:22 pm on Jul 12, 2010

I like that you started with an example of a real world scenario describing a meeting setup & organization. However, I would like to see the differences between meetings and collaboration in meetings and virtual collaboration. These all have different definitions so it will be nice to see additional details regarding this broad topic. Virtual collaboration environments support communication and community using computer-enabled, distributed virtual spaces orplaces in which people can meet and interact with others, with agents and with virtual objects. Each virtual collaboration situation has different pre-requisites and some/many require collaboration across many different organizations with different backgrounds, training, procedures, and goals. The virtual teaming infrastructure supports many functions and collaborative modes of work. Would love to see additional work that summarized this information and benefits of VC enabled teams.

Joanne Merkle said

at 5:57 pm on Jul 11, 2010

The section titled "Why Collaborate Virtually", does list reasons but the detail support could be stronger. For example, I was looking for reduced travel to talk about saving time and money, etc.. Same for "Increasing Mobility of Workers", there are lots of statistics given to show that workers are mobile, but no information on how this relates to virtual collaboration.

Jerry said

at 6:18 pm on Jul 10, 2010

In the section of the outline "Increasing mobility of workers," you mention "migrant" workers as being a significant part of a nation's workforce. I may agree with the statement in general, but I don't know how true that is for knowledge work that we are talking about. Without seeing your original source, "migrant" workers usually means they have no home and move around — such as those who work as farm hands. It sounds like a may disagree with the wording of the author you are quoting, but even so it can be revised out so we don't repeat his confusing phrasing.

As far as the chapter goes, the "Why Collaboration Matters" section is very weak. It doesn't seem to address anything specifically, and the civic responsibility part is a stretch. Besides the following section, "The Importance of Collaboration" probably covers it well enough.

In the "Theories of Collaboration" section, I don't know if we need to define a theory given the audience for this book. Quoting the dictionary doesn't make a good point to keep that section. :) In fact, that whole section constantly references dictionary definitions. Should probably find a better source or assume that people know what communication is.

Sondra Thomas said

at 6:38 pm on Jul 9, 2010

Good questions, and examples, but I'm not reading any depth or clear explanations about the subject and how one section flows into the other.

terbush@... said

at 5:40 pm on Jul 2, 2010

This book is about Virtual Teaming, not how to have a good meeting. While your intro example is funny it has nothing to do with Virtual Meetings and collaboration. Please be sure to focus your work on the Virtual aspects. There are a gazillion books out there on how to prepare and manage a meeting.
Not against a good example upfront, just make sure it is relevant. Once we got to the Introduction we seem to be back on topic. Thanks,

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