Building common ground

The focus of this blog is on learning and working on the web and how work and learning are becoming one in a digitally interconnected world. I believe there is a critical need for new organizational frameworks, such as wirearchy, and a shift from learning as training & schooling to a more agile approach. Evidence that the old management models are no longer effective abound – see The Future of Management or The Future of Work.

Lilia Efimova is looking into Agile software programming teams, where work is geographically distributed and has observed the challenges of communicating without “common ground:

From what we have seen, the communication in distributed teams often shrinks to purely functional and, compared to face-to-face settings, there is much less unstructured informal interactions – this works for getting the work done (at some level), but seriously limits the opportunities to build awareness of the bigger picture and relationships. Most of the solutions in respect to building the common ground in distributed Agile teams still rely on making sure that there are opportunities to visit each other, while there is a lot of space for a technology-mediated ways to do so next to the f2f.


Building common ground at work takes time and many informal interactions, such as those afforded in a shared physical space. For distributed teams to work well, they need to develop common ground through social grooming. My experience in working with distributed groups is that the more effective teams are those who know each other. I will be more forgiving with someone I know through several years of blogging than some new business acquaintance who has just joined the team. After several thousand tweets I have some understanding of people’s sense of humour, and perhaps they understand mine as well.These casual interactions make the leap to collaborative work much easier, as I am experiencing with my Internet Time Alliance colleagues.

For distributed teams, informal social learning has to take place with digitally mediated communications. Allowing, and indeed promoting, casual social media use may actually be good for work and business. Blocking these channels may inhibit the development of common ground.  This is something to consider as more work becomes distributed – break down those firewalls and let workers be people.

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