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Here be Dragons webinar: what works and what does not “at a distance”?

May 9, 2012

We held a webinar to launch Here be Dragons [1] on 23rd April, and some of the questions from participants provoked a good discussion among the panel of authors.


This blog explores one of the topics in more detail. The question was — what kind of approach to would you take when there are multiple participants in different locations from different organisations working together? In a workshop such as a scenario workshop?


The discussion took two different directions:

  • When would the panel recommend a face to face event almost “at all costs”
  • Under what circumstances can people collaborate effectively at a distance? (What are the success factors?)

We have found that if different organisations with different cultures are involved, it is important for there to have been previous face to face meetings.  In Fujitsu for instance we experimented with success rates for knowledge communities, and found that where there had been previous face tro face communication we had an 80% success rate; where we tried to do it all electronically, only 1 in 5 established itself as viable.

We have found that if people are used to interacting electronically – using skype and webex seminars – or even just used to extensive telephone conference calls – then they can collaborate effectively outside of  face to face meetings. An example is a global law form which uses teleconferences extensively. However the technology must be managed so that it does not get in the way – which usually means keep it simple. A checklist of do’s and don’ts emerged:

  • Everybody briefed in the rules of engagement
  • Meeting discipline and manners are important , with clear changes of baton and ways of signalling desire to speak
  • Good facilitation
  • Separation of images (eg diagrams, powerpoint etc) from people images and voice, for instance by circulating these in advance or communicating over independent channels.

However, it is no coincidence that major global organisations invest in face to face meetings of senior staff, and groups of staff who need to collaborate, as they perceive the need to establish communication channels between different national and discipline cultures.




[1] Gill Ringland, Patricia Lustig, Rob Phaal with Martin Duckworth and Chris Yapp, Here be Dragons, Choir Press, 2012.

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