How to make your virtual team work – part 5

This is the last of the series of videos based on the keynote presentation to the PMI Serbia Chapter Project Society Conference in Belgrade, September 2015. It is the video where we look at strategies for virtual team building.

One of them is to start with a big bang,in other words just create a team with people in different places and then try and bring them together. A second one is to establish a core team; a small number of people that may be able to do some of the work and then once they’ve got a basis for working together to invite other people into it. And the third one is to evolve an existing organization and consciously make it more virtual.In my view the third of those is definitely easier than the first.

However there may be reasons for doing this one: Skills may be available in different places, it may be an issue of time zones,it might be languages to support a help desk. There may be other issues: maybe one country is particularly skilled in a particular type of service or competence, and it may not be workable just to say everybody must be in one place. But it’s definitely a challenge because the people don’t know each other and individuals are programmed culturally in different ways. Maybe a slower but surer way of doing it is to establish a core team to do some of the work and then to build up the ground rules and the team spirit with this group.When that is moving properly then you can add other people to the team bit by bit. I mentioned before that it may make sense to work with teams instead of individuals because the various nodes of the network will then be in themselves more stable. For example, anybody is going to go on holiday or be ill from time to time and so forth and if there is a team in each location it is easier to address these issues.

Another way of doing it is to take an existing organization and consciously turn it into a virtual team or certainly have much more virtual activity. One way of doing this is to bring people’s attention to the ground rules which were probably written in an environment where they were co-located so actually developing and revising the ground rules in itself is a team building activity to help people move in the right direction. This can be reinforced by using live meetings wherever possible, maybe piggybacking on other events that are happening within the organization where people would be meeting in any case, but certainly it can work much more easily if people actually have the opportunity to meet each other from time to time.

So that’s the last of the videos. Thanks very much your interest and if you want to follow through on any of these, please be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn or through any of the other ways. Thanks very much.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Best methods to set up a call for mutiple time zones

This video is about best methods to set up calls for multiple time zones. The challenge is that except for very local projects contact with other time zones is an everyday experience. Global time zones change depending on the time of year so there’s no single point of reference and in fact in some countries there is no change.

Time zones must be respected for successful live contacts. So here are some examples of the complications that can arise when people are in different zones. Within a zone it’s fine.

China uses one time zone even though the country is several time zones wide so people get up at different times of the day depending where they live.

In India the standard time zone is aligned with a half hour in most other zones. This allows all of India to be on one time zone, which is convenient for India but it’s slightly different if you’re dealing globally.

Then Europe and North America both change from summer-time to winter-time, or daylight saving time, but they don’t change on the same date. So that means that the difference between them changes twice a year.

So one simple solution is to send an invitation using an ordinary meeting function through your email, but do it while in telephone contact. Then the person who gets it will see the time and if it’s not right, they could say “please resend that for an hour earlier” for example.

By doing that you can find a time. This is not very good when there are lots of participants or they are in different time zones and indeed it takes a lot of time because both people have to be online to do it.

A better approach is to use an application which presents two or three time options to the invitee and they can select the one they want and click on it. Because these systems check the calendar of the sender, then if a time is selected, it’s a free time. So you cut out altogether the telephone so there’s far less effort. But as well as that, you don’t need to be on line at the same time. However a lot of these systems work for single meetings: one person with one.

Another alternative is to use an application which allows people to view the time of the meeting but when they look at it, their computer will convert it into local time and handle all the time zone issues.

We use this at Scatterwork to schedule our global workshops. The initiator can send a time; other people can look at that time in their own computers. So for example, here you see that the time of the meeting was set for 3 p.m. But on the computer where I viewed, it there was an hour difference between universal time and my time, so it shows me my time as well. Here it just says “by the way, there are eleven days before this meeting”.

Now, if other people get the same link, when they look at it, this line here about your time will be different depending on where they are. So that’s a very convenient thing when the central point has to choose a time and say “this is the time, please check what it is in your time zone”.

A more reliable approach is to use a process to set up meeting times. This involves adding steps in. For example a manager may wish to check their calendar for availability.

To control processes like that needs something more complex and we use for example Kissflow but there are other products out there and they manage the sequence of actions in the cloud and across time zones. So that if for example you say “send out the time for a meeting” and then the next action is to check it, then there is a delay until everybody has said “I’ve checked it”. So that’s more complex but more reliable approach.

This is what one of those workflows might look like. It has several steps in it and it takes some time to set up, but if you have big meetings or important meetings, it might be worth doing this.

So the summary is that simple methods are not really adequate in the global environment. Informal methods take time they take a lot of effort and they are likely to result in mistakes. And the third option is to live with the complexity of multiple time zones and used better tools and methods.

So if you are interested in any of these issues, please do contact us at and we’d be happy to talk to you. Thank you.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Scatterwork Guest: How to start your Meeting with a Virtual Icebreaker

Icebreaker games are something that you would normally do in a collocation.

Today we’re going to do that online in an online meeting, something quite different. Some of the things you’ll see on the screen are cues for us to be able to have some fun together. We can see which locations we are from; we can see Macdara is in Switzerland. I also have a fortune cookie; everyone gets a fortune cookie, another item for us to discuss before we start the game.

Once all participants are online (we can have up to 10 participants) we will go ahead and start the icebreaker game. I just get a warning saying that people won’t be able to start, if I start it.

The first element which we are going to do is something called the dream vacation,talk about her dream vacation together; that’s the name of this particular ice-breaker and everyone has an opportunity to type in what their dream vacation will be.

I’ve got mine pre-done. I’ll go ahead, and type it in, as well as my friend will also type theirs in. Once I’m done typing, I hit continue – its waiting for everyone to do their responses.

On this screen we get to find out who’s done which dream  vacation. Obviously with two people it doesn’t make as much sense as if you had five or ten people on the screen. I’m going to go ahead make my guess and say that I like it and then I continue on to the next screen and I’m waiting for my friend – there we go.

As the moderator I get to choose to expand on my experience. In this particular instance I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti. I want to experience the local culture, be able to do some scuba diving, just see as much as I can about the islands. I’m not much of a  beach dweller so I wouldn’t spend too much time there.

Once I hit next it goes on to the next individual to expand on their experience. They would talk about how they wanted to go to the north pole before it melts and when that person is done they hit next and that goes in the same same way through all the participants. So Macdara,  go ahead and hit next.

Then we get a summary of what’s happening. We can see who’s done what, who’s got correct guesses.

There’s been “likes” received. Once we get to this stage we’re able to continue with our meeting more invigorated. We’ve been able to learn a little bit more about each other.

I’ve learned quite a bit about co-workers like this. I learned that I’ve got friends that are pilots that I never knew are pilots before; that were certified scuba divers I never realized that before so it’s been an excellent experience for me.

I hope you enjoyed it thank you, Gerard Beaulieu of


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You create errors; Communication solves them

Hello! Here’s another short video from Scatterwork, this time about errors in work and using good communication to solve them.

In a project environment there are deliverables to be delivered, in other words there is work to be done; it has to be done the right way; in the right place, at the right time and so on and the big challenge is usually to fit everything together.

Very often the technology is well known and the company is doing projects similar to the last time so it’s really this meeting of minds which is the hardest part.

Well, we want to understand what the other person is saying and they want to understand what we are saying. They say that there are three different ways of learning; three ways we can think of communicating.

One way of learning is by sound. For example I knew somebody who used to remember telephone numbers by the tone that the dial used to do; they used to have a tone for every number and she used to remember the tune.

She was a musician and that was her way of communicating.

Other people are very vision oriented and it’s much easier for them to understand what’s happening if they get a little picture and this is why PowerPoint slides are so successful.

And then another way of learning is by movement; for example if we say “we’d like you to make a picture of this” and you draw it. The actual doing of that somehow communicates with our body and it helps the memory.

Now, with virtual teams we don’t have that third one but we do have the first two. So what I would suggest is to use a combination of communication styles and to stimulate a combination from the people that we’re trying to understand so that we really understand what they’re saying.

We can get our ideas together and then agree what needs to be done.

Thanks very much.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Scatterwork Guest: How Visual Thinking Can Improve Team Trust

Hi I’m Howard Esbin and I’m a co-creator of a creative trust game for virtual teams called Prelude.

Prelude is a facilitated game for virtual teams that accelerates trust and improves collaboration prior to a new project, training program or educational course. Basically, it improves visual thinking.

The features of the game: In one system there are five human development tools.

-There’s a component for character assessment.
-There’s a component for EQ development or social-emotional skill development, soft skills is another term for it.
-A collaborative team building component.
-A diversity training component and
-a creative training component, all in this one system.

And underpinning the game system and design are twenty virtual team best practices that we’ve identified through original research.

The game process is a facilitated series of activity modules as you see illustrated.

There are four modules in total and the purpose of the process is to take team members from an I-centric perspective to a sense of “we as a team, as a whole” with an awareness of how each member thinks and communicates distinctively and an awareness of how the team as a whole, through this creative activity can best draw upon their shared diverse skill sets.

The benefits are very simple:

There’s strengthened soft skills for that virtual team, improved communication,a better appreciation of diverse assets, an enhanced positive team mental model of itself, more effective collaboration and as a consequence increased well-being.

Thank you very much.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Scatterwork Guest: Beware of Project Bias

Project Bias or how our psychology undermines perceptions and decisions.

Projects are meant to be diligent,almost scientific undertakings with carefully planned business cases, weighted risks and detailed procedures and governance. But the reality is that everyone is biased and these biases affect the way we see the world, the assumptions we make and the basis for all our decisions.

The problem with any bias is when it’s unconscious. If you know for example that you tend to be over-optimistic in your view of the future,then you can make sure other people know this about you and you can take particular care to make sure you have mitigated any risks may cause.

My name is Jonathan Norman. I’m the publisher at Gower Publishing and I’m going to share a couple of striking examples of project bias and offer you some advice on how to deal with it.

We all like to believe what we want to believe and as a result we all fall foul of confirmation bias from time to time.

Arguably project managers are more prone than others because there’s so much pressure to provide hard evidence when he you’re making a business case or advocating a change.

Essentially confirmation biases are inclination to put unjustified weight behind selected pieces of evidence because they support or confirm some aspect of our Project. I suspect that illusion of control is the most challenging bias for project managers not least because people expect us to be in control.

But don’t ever be tempted to assume that because you’re planning your schedule map out the way a project will run that you control the project.

Remember, if you ever find your risk riding superhuman power to your ability to deliver outcomes the benefits associated with your project and only be realized by the users and if you think you can control customers, employees or other users,then clearly you are deluding yourself.

In many situations including projects, people resist change and this is a really compelling reason to do it, most often because we believe the changes will make things worse.

Look at the recent FIFA elections and the re-election Sepp Blatter. How many of those voting were more concerned about what the absence of Sepp might do to the continued commercial success of FIFA and investment in football in their country than they were by the prospect of a fifth term with Sepp.

I’m not telling you about project bias to trip you up or make you feel bad about yourself or other people but here are five simple tactics you can use to mitigate the problem.

The first thing is to recognize that project bias happens. Everyone is subject to bias.

Secondly, try to keep things simple. Bias is far more apparent in situations where decisions and solutions are transparent.

Thirdly, ask yourself what happens if i’m wrong or if we are wrong. Just because something is unlikely doesn’t mean it will never happen. Make sure you have a backup plan.

Fourthly, check the sources of your information. Risk registers and benefit maps can look imposing and authoritative but to what extent are they based simply on someone’s perception as opposed to actual research.

Finally be suspicious of your bias, particularly if it is pronounced and particularly if you’re dealing with a genuinely new situation but it’s hard to categorize on the basis of prior knowledge. But don’t discount you bias out of hand. Biases are developed from our experience of prior events so they can be very useful radar systems if something is going wrong.

Thank you for listening.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Sharpen your Cultural Sensitivity

Hello and welcome to another short video from Scatterwork, this time about sharpening your cultural sensitivity within virtual teams.No work takes place without people and everything that happens in the working world is initiated by people and even when there is deep automation, what work is done and when is decided by individuals.

A key competence that allows that in humanity is the ability to communicate and how we communicate is profoundly affected by our cultural programming.So communication can be smooth when both sides use the same program but unconscious use of different programs can lead to profound problems and misunderstandings.

Now, culture has many dimensions: how we eat dress, speak, live, legislate and social rules for hierarchy, religion, motivation,morals, beliefs, attitudes etc are all cultural dimensions and the fact that there are so many has big, big implications for the complexity and risk of virtual teams.

The risks are multiplied by the number of dimensions so the more complexity there is, the more likely we are to trip up on something and the resulting communication risk is huge even in moderate size teams so we ask the question: how are we going to survive? And here we have a few tips. One of them is to dedicate a virtual meeting time to
listening to members, for example explaining why a particular day is a holiday where they live.This will
give us hints about background,history, locality, religion and so on and so on from the other place and of course if we do the same they will have the benefit of understanding us better.

Agree to delay the reaction to “funny” or unusual behavior.It may be something was totally
unacceptable but we need to stop and think.It may have been that what they did was meant to bring a completely different reaction because of our different programming.

Recognize that you yourself are programmed and are not culturally neutral.You can ask others what they find culturally exotic in your behavior.
And ask others who know the other cultures to brief you.This is a very easy way to find out.People who have worked in the other cultures that are in your team and see what they have to say.So Scatterwork supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.

So if any of this is of interest to you,you have all the contact details on that page.

Thanks very much.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Scatterwork guest: How do we Talk about Strategy?

Should we change the way we talk about strategy?

Most people don’t understand strategy. It may sound obvious but the reason why many strategies are never realized is that most people in large organizations don’t understand what the strategy means, even if they know of its existence.

Senior managers assume that their employees understand them when they talk about strategy. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and indeed strategies are often articulated in a way that makes them impossible to deliver.

My name’s Jonathan Norman. I published nearly 120 books on projects and programs for Gower Publishing and I wanted to talk to you about the subject of strategy.

Have a look at some of your current strategies. If they aren’t as effective as they could be, it may well be because they’re written in a language which is far too vague and fails to understand the role of the users in the equation.

Or perhaps on the other hand they are hugely detailed and run into pages of documents so that even the most enthusiastic employees
struggle to see the wood for the trees.

I have used the ideas in Phil Driver’s Validating Strategies to highlight some of the most common problems associated with the way we talk about strategy.

Exploratory Verbs:

Words such as explore, investigate and address are exploratory words. They are useful in early-stage high-level aspirational strategies when the main work essentially involves framing and sense-making the opportunity that the strategy will endeavor to see.

But as strategies move from the aspirational to the more operational, they are of much less value and can signal a delaying tactic to avoid taking concrete action. And using further reviews or investigations to give an impression of useful activity.

Improvement Verbs

Because they point to the need for change but their main shortcoming is that they provide no indication of how that change will be implemented. Think of words like enhance, improve, increase and consolidate. These are all words in this category and all require more specific action-oriented verbs as well as measurable targets before
they can be used at an operational level.

Certainty Verbs

Certainty verbs appear to convey confidence that the strategy will have the desired effect but they are generally illusory. One of the most popular of these verbs is “ensure”. However comforting the word, there is no such project action as “ensure”. Organizations may take actions which have a high likelihood of producing the desired result but they cannot ensure that the community will use the outcome nor can they ensure the benefit.

Collaboration Project Verbs: Collaborate, cooperate, engage have become popular as words in recent years, particularly in the public sector where there’s been a belief that
collaboration, cooperation and engaging are universally good things. This means that they often appear in strategy documents with little indication why they will add value to a strategy or how they will be applied in its implementation or development.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the repeated theme in all of this language involves
exaggerated claims for certainty, outcomes and benefits of projects that will deliver the strategy. It’s only human nature to express confidence and show a tolerance for risk and uncertainty. None of this language is wrong or bad in itself. The danger lies in the meaning that’s intended.

Now this communicates a strategy to stakeholders and strategies that
misuse this language create an environment for projects that are challenge before they’ve even started.

Thank you for listening.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


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Use Games to Build your Virtual Team


Hello and welcome to this short video from Scatterwork about using games to build your virtual team. Virtual teams needs defined operating agreements, they need to implement rituals and they need to share planning.

Now, operating agreements, ground rules or whatever you like to call them are essential so the people operate in more or less the same way.

For example somebody may have made strenuous effort to get to a meeting on time or maybe they had to put a baby to bed or change your flight. So not sticking to the agreed time can have big consequences so it’s better to have rules.

Rituals help the momentum when systems fail.So for example when a call is held at the same time every day but the link drops out but because it’s a ritual,the parties spend several minutes trying to reestablish contact.

If it wasn’t a ritual they were just go offline and the work would not get done. And then chairing the planning:
engagement is lacking if planning is simply imposed but that’s much more true in the virtual environments.

For example how work is done can be very local so telling people what to do is not always the best way to do it.

But when it’s completed, it’s shared with the whole team and that’s an issue for the team as a whole.

So the question is: where is the glue that holds the team of people together and the suggestion is that games can be used to help build a virtual team. Think if the games that people play at parties to speed up the process of getting to know everybody. And these days there are a lot of shared applications so that several people can log in at once and use them and they’re great tools for games.

So here’s one: your virtual team needs to introduce its members to others (think Facebook terms) so put the members in groups of three and by having them in separate groups, then you’ll get more ideas than if you put them all in one team.

Then tell them within each team to connect with each other by text or voice and then find out how to connect with
Google slides or some other application, where several people can join in at the
same time and then develop a page to introduce the people in the team. And then afterwards bring all the teams back together and hold a competition to select the best page.

But this is very useful because even the fact of producing a page together with photos and text generates interaction and the interaction, notice, cannot even start without real time communication. And the team learns how to access a cooperative working space which can be used for other things.

So if you find this interesting remember that Scatterwork supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams and the contact details are on this page.

Thanks very much.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


Tel: +41 79 692 4735 Talk to me

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Why meet for group assignments?

Hello, this is another short video from Scatterwork, this time about distributing work in a virtual team environment during group assignments. For example at a kick-off project meeting where everything has been decided and we really want to get the work moving as quickly as we can.

The trick, or the strategy, here is to recognize the type meeting this is. This is effectively not a group assignment but a one-way meeting. Of course there will be questions and so but this is completely different from a problem solving type of meeting; different interactions will be required.

Now, to make it work there has to be proper structure and support. People have to be invited correctly they have to turn up on time. There need to be proper minutes and then there needs to be a strong chairperson and so forth. If this is not the owner of the project, then that person or the project manager has a much better chance to actually do the work, provided there’s a service like that in the background.

So that’s somewhere we at Scatterwork can help you, is to make these meetings a success. If you have a big project, a lot of people, you need to get it moving fast and it will benefit from not having to travel, well then this is a scenario that might suit this.

I look forward to hearing from you, thank you.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, Switzerland who supports Virtual Working for Virtual Teams globallyReach out by setting up a short call or e-mailing

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