Virtual Teams:

Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations With Technology

by Jessica Lipnack
and Jeffrey Stamps

Chapter titles
Extended contents
Chapter 1

Published by John Wiley & Sons in May, 1997

Endorsements for Virtual Teams

"Lipnack and Stamps have written an important handbook for the 21st Century corporation. It is a practical guide for using the new tools of networking technology to leverage the productivity, efficiency and genius of teams. For virtual teams, time and space constraints vanish without its members sacrificing their individual contribution, enthusiasm and interest. Here you will read about the dynamic organizations of the future."

Regis McKenna, The McKenna Group, author of Relationship Marketing

"Lipnack and Stamps wrote the original book on networking years ago. While others seem to have recently discovered the possibilities inherent in the convergence of new ways of organizing teams and new communication technologies, they have been working at the bleeding edge for decades. If you want to see where organizational communications are going in the future, heed what these pioneers have written today."

Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and founder of Electric Mind

"... very well-written, clearly bringing forth the early essence of what I think is the most important foreseeable potential of the erupting digital technology -- i.e., enabling rapid evolution of organizational forms representing much-improved species of social organisms. Read it; I think human survival depends upon this."

Douglas Engelbart, Director of the Bootstrap Institute

"This book provides a long overdue perspective on how to apply the discipline of real teams in the fast moving, increasingly dispersed information age of the future."

Jon R. Katzenbach, Harvard Business School and Co-author of The Wisdom of Teams

"Virtual Teams is the cookbook for the emerging network-based organization. The role models portrayed clearly demonstrate just what can be accomplished when we break down the traditional barriers of space and time. Even already practicing virtual team members will learn new ëtricksí from this marvelous compendium, driving their organization towards even more effective ways of working."

Harry J. Saal, Smart Valley, Inc.

"Virtual Teams is chockful of striking examples of how technology and innovative people are reshaping the way companies compete globally."

Lars Nyberg, Chairman and CEO, NCR Corporation

"This book fills a big gap in what's available to help teams. Jessica and Jeffrey go beyond the theory on networking people and teams to actual how-to and tools to get the job done. When you are working on multiple distributed projects, you need a reliable process and tool kit."

William Miller, Vice President, Research and Business Development, Steelcase, Inc.

"Lipnack and Stamps have done it again. Having shown the world long before it became obvious how to use networks of smaller independent companies to outperform bureaucratic giants, they now show us how and when to use virtual teams to overcome the barriers of location, time, and organizational separation. Essential lessons for anyone seeking to be effective in the information age."

Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, authors of The Intelligent Organization and The End of Bureaucracy

"Lipnack and Stamps have been thinking about teams and networks longer and writing about them more than most. For those who want to lead the movement, catch up with it or simply know where it is going, their books are packed with useful information and interesting stories."

Dee Hock, founder and chairman emeritus, VISA

"Jessica and Jeffrey are right on the mark! I have participated on virtual teams for over a decade with the likes of Adobe Systems, Apple Computer and Oracle Corp. And now with Borland International I interact daily with various teams whose participants are in many functional areas located around the world. A lot of these teams are ëIntraí-Borland, but many are ëInterí-Borland in that they include participants from other companies, accounting and consulting firms."

Del Yocam, Chairman and CEO, Borland International, Inc.

"Virtual Teams provides valuable insights into global teamwork and management through network technologies now available to all companies, large or small."

Jim Lynch, Director, Corporate Quality, Sun Microsystems, Inc.

"Virtual Teams" emphasizes the practical how-toís of interpersonal bonding that allow industry/academic partnerships to utilize the technology of the network to excel as virtual teams."

Bill Hanson, Industry co-director, MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program


Chapter Titles


List of Illustrations

IntroductionComing Home

Chapter 1Why Virtual Teams? The Information Age Solution to Work

Chapter 2Teaming From the Beginning: How Groups Became Virtual

Chapter 3The Power of Purpose: Do, Doing, Done

Chapter 4Through the Worm Hole: Links for Virtual Teams

Chapter 5Teaming with People: The Paradoxes of Participation

Chapter 6 It's All in the Doing: Virtual Team Life As a Process

Chapter 7 Virtual Place: Home Is Where the Site Is

Chapter 8 Working Smart: A Web Book for Virtual Teams

Chapter 9 Virtual Values: Generating Social Capital



About the Authors


Extended Contents

1. Why Virtual Teams? The Information Age Solution to Work
2. Teaming From the Beginning: How Groups Became Virtual
3. The Power of Purpose: Do, Doing, Done
4. Through the Worm Hole: Links for Virtual Teams
5. Teaming with People: The Paradoxes of Participation
6. It's All in the Doing: Virtual Team Life As a Process
7. Virtual Place: Home Is Where the Site Is
8. Working Smart: A Web Book for Virtual Teams
9. Virtual Values: Generating Social Capital



List of Illustrations

Introduction: Coming Home

  • Experience at the Source
  • Theory and Application
  • When Things Go Awry
  • Options for Reading This Book

[extended] [top]

Chapter 1
Why Virtual Teams? The Information Age Solution to Work

Like A Rolling Stone

The Virtue of Virtual

  • And the Definition Is...
  • Close Is Really Close
  • My Organization Is Your Organization

A SunTeam Success Story

  • Launched by Customer Request
  • E-Mails and Meetings

Virtual Team Principles

  • Three Slants on People
  • The Point of Purpose
  • The Web of Links

Cyber Teams

  • The World Wide Web Inside and Outside
  • Information Is Money

Feeding the Virtual Team Cycle

  • The Virtuous Loop
  • Looking Forward and Back

[extended] [top]

Chapter 2
Teaming From the Beginning: How Groups Became Virtual


"Our Company Never Closes"

  • Increasing the Span of Communication
  • Maximizing Participation
  • Leveling Out
  • A Climate of Trust
  • The Future of K'Netix

Four Ages of Small Groups

  • Four Varieties of Organization
  • Groups of Nomads
  • The Agriculture of Small Groups
  • Organization as Machine
  • Small Groups in the Information Era

The Generic Small Group and Team

  • Foundations of Small Groups
  • Teams Tackle Tasks

Virtual Teams Cross Boundaries

  • Collocated Cross-Organizational Teams
  • Distributed Teams
  • Distributed Cross-Organizational Teams
  • Variations on a Theme

A System of Virtual Team Principles


Chapter 3
The Power of Purpose: Do, Doing, Done


Eastman's Chemistry of Organization

  • Spaceship Eastman
  • Teams Every Which Way
  • Getting Quality Together
  • Beginning With Purpose
  • From Intent to Results
  • Pass the Pizza

Playing Out Purpose

  • Abstract To Concrete
    • Improving Your Vision
    • Mission (Im)Possible
    • "Your Goal the Sky"
    • Task Masters
    • Nothing Succeeds Like Results
  • Purpose Seeks Results
  • Purpose as a Path
  • Corporate Breakdown
  • Detailed Digital Vision

The Authority of Purpose

  • Four Ages of Authority
  • Knowledge Power

Rewarding People for Success Together

[extended] [top]

Chapter 4
Through the Worm Hole: Links for Virtual Teams


The Once and Future NCR

  • Making Its Mark With WorldMark
  • Instant Communication Through the Worm Hole
  • Network of Partner Teams
  • Many Modes of Communication
    • Voice
    • Video
    • Computer
    • Face-to-Face
  • Communications Is a Process

Four Ages of Media

  • The Evolution of Communication
  • The One, the Many, and the Few
  • Communication Media Through the Ages
    • Oral Media
    • Written Media
    • Printed Media
  • Electronic Media of the Information Age
    • Analog Electronic Media
    • Digital Electronic Media
  • Digital Is Different
  • Media Characteristics by Age
  • Multiply Communication Options

Communication Pulled Apart

  • Flowing from Concrete to Abstract
  • Mapping Relationships

[extended] [top]

Chapter 5
Teaming with People: The Paradoxes of Participation


Tetra Pak Converting Technologies

  • Transformation at Light Speed
  • Role Redesign
  • Going "First Class"

The Stress of Being Me and We

  • Complements Not Opposites
  • The Janus View

Independent Members: "Who Is Involved?"

  • Roles Relate People
  • Independence Starts with Me

Shared Leadership

  • Grasping a Group
  • Social and Task Leadership

Integrated Levels

  • Counting the Guests at the Virtual Table
  • Teams Cluster into Teamnets
  • No Team Is an Island

[extended] [top]

Chapter 6
It's All in the Doing: Virtual Team Life As a Process


Growing ServiceCo's Strategy

  • Rethinking Health
  • Getting Started
  • The Pattern of Teamwork
  • Phasing in Work

The Team Pulse and the Life Cycle

  • The Rhythm of Aggregation and Dispersion
  • Cooperation and Concentration
  • Forming, Storming, and All That -"orming"
  • "Stressed S"
  • The Pulse and the "S"
  • Creating Time Together

Forming Goals

  • Forging Cooperative Goals
  • Designing Tasks
  • Interdependence: From Cooperation to Competition
  • "Me" or "We" Tasks
  • The Strategy of Cooperation

[extended] [top]

Chapter 7
Virtual Place: Home Is Where the Site Is


SunTeams: Solving Customer Problems

  • Jump-Starting Virtual SunTeams
  • Shrinking the Dissatisfiers
  • "We've Done Away with Paper"

Moving from Place to Place

  • The Play Is the Thing
    • Identity
    • Socialization
    • Rank
  • The "Construction" of Virtual Places
  • Virtual Ladders and Competency Networks
  • Where Place Is Going

Product Places

  • The Result Is Where We're At
  • All Virtual Presence

Virtual Technology Principles

  • Network Nodes
  • Connecting through Links
  • Purposeful Applications

Thinking Technology

  • Cognitive Webs

[extended] [top]

Chapter 8
Working Smart: A Web Book for Virtual Teams


Phase 1: Setting Up the Basics

  • Create an Identity
  • Name the Goals
  • Identify the Players
  • Make Connections
  • Do Assessments

Phase 2: Planning for Action

  • Purpose in Motion
  • Identify Process Elements
  • Clarify Responsibility
  • Task and Process Leadership
  • Make Models Accessible
  • Virtual Team Handbook
    • Process Information
    • Product Information

Phase 3: Managing the Process

  • Type the Tasks
  • Your Type of Tasks
  • Level With People
  • Virtual Team Web Book

[extended] [top]

Chapter 9
Virtual Values: Generating Social Capital


Trust In Teams

  • Beyond Integrity
    • Trusting People
    • Trusting Purposes
    • Trusting Links

Social Capital

  • What Is Social Capital?
  • How to Create Social Capital
  • Scaling Up
  • Starting Small

Capital Over the Ages

  • The Evolution of Capital
  • Accumulating Capital Virtually

At the Frontier

  • Protecting Prairies with a Screwdriver
  • Changing the World

[extended] [top]





About the Authors

[extended] [top]

Introduction: Coming Home

Virtual Teams is the final book in a trilogy on network organizations that we have been writing since 1991. With this book, we bring networks down to earth, to people who work with others in small groups stretched across space, time, and organizations. Having asked the question of hundreds of very diverse audiences, we know that most of you regularly work with people located more than 50 feet from your workplace. Therefore you have at least a distance problem to solve in order to work collaboratively (see chapter 1).

Virtual Teams is about a radically new type of small group emerging in the Age of the Network. These boundary-spanning centers of people-to-people activity are the social cells that make up larger network organizations. They are small task-oriented groups from the executive suite to the front line. Webs of interactions and relationships bind them together.

In the years since we began writing this trilogy, technologies that directly impact networks have significantly expanded the spectrum of options for people to connect with one another. One noticeable example is this now ubiquitous form of address that we see many times each day:

Visit our Web site at

Cyberspace words, known only by a select group in the early 1990s, have become occurrencesósuch as the Internet, the World Wide Web, hypertext, and intranets. All these and many more technologies contribute to a dramatically extended ability for teams to work together at a distance.

This book is about organizations that spread out and reach across boundaries. They do so with the help of and in response to technology. Technology extends our capabilities, but organizing to do things together is still a human capability. The people side of the organization/technology relationship is the focus of Virtual Teams.


Experience at the Source

Our research combines the knowledge of the people we interviewed with our own experience over many years working within and between organizations as consultants and participants.

With Virtual Teams, we come home to the heart of our personal experience. We have always worked in small groups across distances and organizational boundaries.

Research for this book began long ago at the dawn of our relationship in 1968, when we met as students at Oxford University. A few years later, married, living in our first (and still only) house with our first "personal computer" (a Wang 600 Programmable Calculator), we began life as independent entrepreneurs with a consulting business.

Virtual teams have been a way of life for us for twenty-five years. We have partnered with thousands of people on a wide range of projects for clients in every sectorófrom Digital Equipment Corporation, to the national Presbyterian Church, to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Since 1979 when we began to contact people and gather information for our first book on networked organizations (Networking, published in 1982), we have received volumes of material from all around the world. We have heard from people in more than half the worldís countries and visited with networkers from every continent, including Antarctica!

As writers, researchers, speakers, seminar leaders, and consultants, we have known and been part of many very different types of organizations. From engagements that lasted only a few hours, to projects of a few days, to multiyear programs, we have acted as "drop-in" outside experts, involved facilitators, core members, and leaders of customer teams. We have worn corporate badges, received passwords to internal computer systems, and occupied offices within our clientsí buildings. We have even worn the badges of our customersí customers. Although we draw primarily on examples from the business community in this trilogy, our quarter-century of research and experience is also extensive in government, nonprofit, and grassroots organizations. These are the focus of our first two books, Networking, and its 1986 successor, The Networking Book.


Theory and Application

Since our first book on networks, we have strived to integrate our work into a coherent conceptual framework supported by general systems theory. Systems theory is about principles and patterns of organization that apply across scientific disciplinesónotoriously difficult boundaries to cross. Human systems were the subject of Jeffís 1980 book (and doctoral dissertation), Holonomy. Systems principles have helped us recognize common patterns among the awesome variety of human organizations, particularly the core features of the newly emerging forms. They provide a powerful infrastructure for the network organizational model that we have been developing and testing for almost two decades.

Theory is very practical. It enables quick adaptation of shared learning to always unique circumstances. Theory provides a consistent, shareable, knowledge-based approach to develop and manage virtual teams. Theory also provides a framework to test ideas and improve practical knowledge about how to work collaboratively at a distance.

Originally, we recognized ten principles of network structure and process, which threaded through our first two books. We consolidated the principles to five in The TeamNet Factor and The Age of the Network. Since frontier knowledge never stands still, we reconsidered the principles for this book. In our ongoing effort to improve our conceptual tools, we have:


When Things Go Awry

Virtual teams are not a panacea for teams that do not work. Quite the contrary. It is harder for virtual teams to be successful than for traditional face-to-face teams. Misunderstandings are more likely to arise and more things are likely to go wrong.

We are not cheerleading for this gee-whiz-itís-a-new-and-better-way-to-do-things approach. Rather, our goal is to understand and improve virtual teams. Virtual teams are already prevalent and increasingly more will appear in the years ahead. Indeed, lack of recognition that teams have gone virtual contributes to the high failure rate of todayís teams. When teams spread out, they have a dramatic effect on the entire management structure. There are more virtual teams working at all levels than you realize, and the way they work is likely different from what you think.

Everything that goes wrong with in-the-same-place teams also plagues virtual teamsóoften it is worse. Egos, power plays, backstabbing, hurt feelings, low confidence, poor self-esteem, leaderlessness, and lack of trust all weaken virtual teams. When communication breaks down, it requires that people take measures to repair it. It is just that much more difficult to communicate across distance and organizations.

Many of the problems that teams encounter are ancient in nature. Millennia of face-to-face exchanges inform most of our collective experience, tools, techniques, and lore. Methods that work to correct problems that arise in face-to-face teams are only a starting point for virtual teams.

We address the problems of virtual teams as directly as possible and present what people do to solve them. At the same time, we encourage you to draw on what you already know about teams. For example, what do you do if a virtual team member is not participating? The same thing you do if a face-to-face team member is not participating. Talk to that person by any means possible, find out what is preventing participation, and solve the problem.

Common sense and the large body of excellent material developed by team experts over the past several decades provide some solutions to these problems. We reference these sources extensively in the Endnotes. Gradually, a body of detailed knowledge and technique will develop for the field-in-the-making, "Virtual OD" (Organizational Development).

We do not go into detail about why companies form virtual teams. So far as we can tell, companies create these distributed organizations for myriad reasons. People form virtual teams when things go wrong, when the people required to do a project happen to be spread out, and just because virtual teams are the best way to get things done in a particular instance.

Our purpose here is to present excellent examples of virtual teams and our thinking about how virtual teams can work and meet challenges. Thus, this is a book that shares best practices, not one that critically examines corporate behavior. In time, as the body of information grows, critical analysis will be essential to secure the foundations of network knowledge.

Finally, we are still in the early phases of the transformation from hierarchy-bureaucracy to networks. Virtual teams will expand as a key way to work for as far as we can see into the future. Consider this book an opening view of a future society of work.


Options for Reading This Book

Different people have different preferred ways of learning new information. Some learn best from stories based on experience, some prefer theoretical approaches, others need practical ideas, and most of us need some vision to motivate us to move to the new ways of working. Readers of our previous books will recognize how we paint a whole canvas from these four kinds of views on this difficult-to-grasp subject.

While we have written a traditional book crafted with loving care to flow from beginning-to-end, we know that people have their own styles for reading books. Some of you begin at the end, some in the middle, while still others skim to find something of interest.

You can gain a quick overview of the book by reading the headings, looking at the illustrations, and noting the emphasized phrases:

Key ideas in the book are in pull-out quotes that look like this.

As in our previous books, we provide extensive Endnotes so that readers can go directly to our sources and learn more for themselves. The abundance of material available through the World Wide Web made it easy for us to track down many facts and locate specific sources. We include the addresses for the Web sites that we reference in the book. See our Web site for more detailed information and practical pointers on virtual teams.


From Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations with Technology. Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps. John Wiley and Sons, 1997.