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Strategies for Virtual Collaboration When Being There in Person is not Possible

All of us have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, we are working away from our colleagues and project teams. Yet we still need to interact to advance the goals of our organizations and projects.

Many of us are learning new ways to collaborate in a virtual environment due to social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and travel restrictions. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other virtual platforms are now part of our days. Given these new constraints, how do we continue to collaborate in ways which are meaningful and effective. If you are an educator, you have been exposed to distance learning and the different set of challenges it presents in developing curriculum and activities that can achieve the desired learning outcomes outside more traditional learning environments.

Much of our work is focused on developing high-performance teams through alignment and the breaking down of silos in organizations and project teams to foster better outcomes. This historically has been done best through personal interaction in a common geographic space to create a collaborative environment. Does that mean that we cannot achieve similar outcomes in an alternative way? Absolutely not!

Here are 4 steps we have found that work effectively in developing plans for successful virtual collaboration and interaction.

1) Define the desired outcomes of the session? Specifically, what do you want to achieve and in what timeframe.

2) What are the constraints? Computer hardware and associated equipment, software platforms, bandwidth, time zone differences, interoperability, participants’ access and proficiency with IT, different physical environments.

3) What is the program that will help reach the desired outcomes? What will work within the defined constraints including time.

4) Redefine the process to deliver the program.

Through these four steps, we have successfully translated our experience with distance learning in higher education to modifying our training approach for teams and for facilitating virtual collaboration events. We were mid-way through a 3-month training program with a large California contractor when hit with these new challenges and have adapted the balance of the program to still include hands-on learning in smaller groups virtually using breakout rooms on Zoom and pre-planned materials. The examples below are from a recent workshop on how to use Choosing by Advantage Decision-Making and Root Cause Analysis cause-and-effect diagrams.

We have also found that while Last Planner® is best suited to an in-person setting, it can be facilitated virtually with success. We recently facilitated two milestone planning sessions virtually and have supported teams still in the field using appropriate social distancing and safety precautions through remote participation. We find ourselves frequently asking “How could we?” and finding ways to continuously improve the process as we learn.

It appears that virtual collaboration will be with us for the near to intermediate term and we believe it will become more commonplace after the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay smart, safe and healthy!

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