Virtual Strangers No More: Serious Games and Creativity for Effective Remote Teams

Virtual Strangers No More: Serious Games and Creativity for Effective Remote Teams

Howard Bennett Esbin (Heliotrope, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9688-4.ch017
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Abstract

In this chapter we examine how virtual team trust and effectiveness may be improved through the transformative power of serious games and creative process. To start we explore the pervasive lack of emotional intelligence within the workplace at an individual level and which we call ‘the EQ Gap'. This is followed by an examination of challenges faced by both traditional and virtual teams. We then consider how the same EQ Gap also manifests in both traditional and virtual teams as well. Indeed, it's worse for the latter. This leads to a review of the kinds of EQ training needed for both team types. A discussion then follows as to how serious games, play, and creativity can help virtual teams in particular to become more emotionally intelligent, trusting, and ultimately more collaborative. A brief case study of a serious game called Prelude is shared to illustrate these findings in a practical context.
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Introduction

Globally linked virtual teams will transform every government and company in the world. Any of our peers who don’t do it won’t survive. – John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (DeRosa & Lepsinger, 2010)

In this chapter we examine how virtual team formation and trust may be improved through the transformative power of serious games and creative process. The phrase ‘virtual team’ first surfaced in business literature during the late 1980s and early 90s. “A virtual team is a group of individuals who work across time, space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology” (Lipnack & Stamps, 2000). Empirical research since then has largely focused on virtual team trust, communication, leadership, and performance (Bodiya, 2013). Practically every sector and field of endeavour now uses virtual teaming including, business, healthcare, education, volunteerism, and the military, for example. In 2007, “Cisco CEO John Chambers said the first phase of Internet productivity gains for business is over, but a second phase, based on virtual teams able to capitalize on virtualized corporate resources, is beginning” (Babcock, 2007).

Between 2005 and 2013, the number of employees who worked virtually grew by 80%. In the USA alone “almost half the adult labour force, 64 million individuals, will be involved in telecommuting and remote working at least part of the time” (Burt, 2013). By 2015, 1.3 billion people are expected to soon be working on virtual teams (Johns & Gratton, 2013). This is expected to grow another 21% in 2016 (Equichord, 2014).

This accelerating global development has been facilitated by a convergence of factors – business (massive mergers, take-overs, and partnerships), economic (global recession), technological (inexpensive cloud-based collaboration platforms), and environmental (global warming). Moreover, virtual teams offer very attractive benefits including: reduced travel costs, reduced carbon footprint, access to a more diverse global talent pool, and greater potential for innovation.

However, there’s a significant gap between management expectations and actual virtual team performance outcomes. In one global study, 27% of virtual teams were found to be not fully performing (Onpoint Consulting, 2010). Another study revealed that only 18% of seventy global business virtual teams were found to be highly successful (Siebdrat, Hoegl & Ernst, 2009). Essentially, 80% of virtual teams are performing significantly below capacity. Unsurprisingly, 19 out of 20 “executives say they have experienced difficulty in managing virtual teams” (Dachis Group, 2013). “The financial cost of this gap is enormous due to lost productivity, missed deadlines, declining morale, and failure to innovate” (Lepsinger, 2014).

One challenge stems from technology constraints, for example, sporadic Internet availability. Global time zone differences are another challenge, for example the 15 hours between Tokyo and Winnipeg. However, the greatest challenge stems from lack of trust between employees who are essentially ‘virtual strangers’. This is despite the fact they may work for the same organization, share common goals, and be members of the same virtual team.

In this chapter we begin by examining the significant lack of emotional intelligence within the workplace generally at an individual level. We call this the “EQ Gap”. This is followed by an examination of challenges faced by both traditional and virtual teams. We then consider how the same EQ Gap also manifests in both traditional and virtual teams as well. Indeed, it’s worse for the latter. This leads to a review of the kinds of EQ training needed for both team types. A discussion then follows as to how serious games, play, and creativity can help virtual teams in particular to become more emotionally intelligent, trusting, and ultimately more collaborative. A brief case study of a serious game called Prelude is shared to illustrate these findings in a practical context.

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