Leading Online – The Future of Virtual Leadership Development

global-leader.jpgLeading virtual teams requires a unique set of competencies to master in addition to the traditional project management tools/techniques. The book “Mastering Virtual Teams” by Duarte & Snyder provides a great set that I promote in my training seminars:

  • Coaching & managing performance without traditional forms of feedback
  • Selecting and appropriately using electric communication and collaborative technologies
  • Leading in a cross-cultural environment
  • Building and maintaining trust

The critical question is how do you build these skill sets? If you or your company is looking for an innovative strategy to develop virtual skills without the risk of a trial-by-fire approach, then I’m going to suggest you unplug from the “real world” and embark on a leadership adventure through multi-player online gaming. And here is why…These sophisticated quest oriented environments (no, I’m not talking about Wii or shoot ’em up style games) unite 10’s of millions of individuals from around the world are the perfect place to sharpen your leadership abilities. Let’s see how leading a guild of 20 on a raid of temple fortress can be an invaluable learning lab for project managers to develop these new capabilities outlined above.

  • Coaching & managing performance without traditional forms of feedback
  • Guilds (game terminology for teams) establish a unique culture based on shared agreements that evolve over time. An online leader’s role is to coach new members on strategy, tactics and team agreements while providing constructive feedback on a regular basis to members that shapes behaviors. Find the formula that works for different personalities on the team and you’re adding value to the guild by keeping everyone focused on the goal.
  • Leading in a cross-cultural environment
  • The diversity demographics of online gamers will shock you. The average gamer being a thirty-somthing college educated individual who works full time from every corner of the world. Sounds like the project team makeup of just about every tech company to me.
  • Individuals create a ficticious identity (aka “avitars”), so cultural stereotypes become erevelant. What facinates me is how this actually creates more transparency and authenticity since individuals are free to share thier true self. So leaders must pick up on the subtle clues that are the expression of a culture and adapt to working with each individual.
  • Building and maintaining trust
  • The accelerate for team success in regards to innovation, speed, efficiency or service is TRUST. Building trust with virtual teams is challenging because we are often unaware of the actions that create it in co-located settings, so replicating it on line seems to be a mystery. The gaming world is even more difficult in ways because it is a volunteer environment, one in which guild members choose to stay or leave based on their relationships. Your actions based on shared agreements is the

Companies like Cisco, IBM and Oracle are investing millions to adapt this Web 2.0 phenomenon in various business settings. I personally see on-line gaming environments as the evolution of virtual leadership development in the way that my outdoor experiential activities are transforming leaders in the real world. As the director of the Challenge Learning Center, I provide teams with a series of facilitated learning experiences that incorporates real time feedback from myself and the members to accelerate the learning process. The same thing is being done on line by guild leaders, mentors, sages, and advisors.

The final step that hasn’t been figured out on a larger scale yet is the translation of lessons learned from the games back to the business environment. I image a day when top leaders from corporations have the added job responsibility for coaching their emerging leaders INSIDE a game environment, followed by application oriented discussions for their virtual project teams at work. Hiring practices include your guild’s performance record in addition to your past positions because of the direct application of critical skill sets for leading virtually. And millions of leaders across the world realize that the game environment is far more engaging, collaborative, supportive, fun and fulfilling than work, leading to a real world discussions of how we can create a Business 2.0 environment that mirrors Web 2.0. You’ll find me there leading the way.
Look me up in Second-Life and we’ll talk more.

“Guide Twine” (aka Jeff Richardson)

Want more? Check out Harvard Business Review artciple entitled “Leadership’s Online Labs” by Byron Reeves int


1 thought on “Leading Online – The Future of Virtual Leadership Development”

  1. User Avatar

    Very cool! This is an interesting application of these online games….I could definitely see the value in an organizational version of second-life being used to facilitate virtual meetings, etc.

    The only problem we might have is getting people to unplug for awhile to get some tasks done! 🙂

    Josh Nankivel

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