Thursday, June 4, 2009 by Dave Blum

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about virtual teamwork.  When I talk about virtual teamwork, I’m referring to both meetings that are held using conference (and videoconference) calls, and also virtual events convened via conference calls or else via something more visual, like the virtual world, Second Life.

The question is, can you really build teamwork between people when they are not together, in the same physical space?  I haven’t done any substantive research on this yet, so  my thoughts are purely anecdotal.  For example, this morning (while in Orlando to perform a corporate team challenge  treasure hunt) I finally met up with Jeff Lind of Murder Mystery Vacations, a company that produces themed murder mystery events for resorts and cruise ships.  Jeff and I have been having regular one-to-one phone and conference calls for months now, and that’s been fine. He’s been straight up with me from day one–I feel that we’ve built a lot of trust.  But still, strangely enough, I didn’t feel I really knew him.

So there we were in Florida, chatting over coffee.  Lunchtime came around so we took a walk through Downtown Orlando, in search of some food.  Over lunch at a nearby sandwich place, we talked some more–about work, about our our lives, our families.  Because Jeff seemed to be meeting my eyes and taking an interest in my stories, I opened up a bit to him about the vision for my team building business: my hopes, my aspirations.  To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve shared so much with Jeff if we’d been talking on the phone.  There was definitely something different about meeting up in person.  When I told Jeff about my father’s passing, I could see the empathy in his eyes, which made me want to trust him even further.

Although I can see why organizations employ virtual meetings (they save money and can help distance-teams share information), I continue to wonder if they really work for building trust and relationships.  Empathy and vulnerability are so important for people — and more often than not, these wo behaviors are conveyed subtly, through body language.

I welcome your thoughts on the topic!

To read more about Jeff Lind’s fabulous Star Trek Cruise (which will include one of our Dr. Clue scavenger hunts), click here!