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Book Review
William R. Eubank

Book Cover Virtual Teams
Reaching Across Space, Time, And Organizations With Technology
Jessica Lipnack & Jeffrey Stamps
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

So much information, so little time . . . "WebWeek" magazines stacking up, "Thy Will Be Done - The Conquest of The Amazon" 960 pages, "Using Perl 5 for Web Programming" 608 pages - and this must read book - "Virtual Teams" 262 pages.

Remembering the often used Christmas phrase about good things coming in small packages, I focused on the Virtual Teams book. I quickly discovered it wasn't just good - it was great. And just because it was small (short) it wasn't a snap to get through.

The book first appealed to me because I had the feeling that I knew something about virtual teams. Over the last several years, my work has been home based - using a computer to develop projects on the world wide web. During the course of this work, I have participated in many virtual teams.

The authors define virtual teams as:

". . . a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose . . . Unlike conventional teams, a virtual team works across space, time, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies."

Lipnack and Stamps draw examples of virtual team activity from large corporations - Sun Microsystems, Eastman Kodak, National Cash Register Company - and they are excellent examples - involving large teams using the latest technology and working on multi-million dollar projects. But throughout the reading of the book, I kept 'getting back to me' by looking at examples of teams that I have belonged to in the last few years - small teams using modest modern technology and working on volunteer or small dollar projects.

A recent project included work on a web site that had sections in multiple languages including Russian (team members in St. Petersburg), Polish (team members in Warsaw), Spanish (team members in Buenos Aires), French (team a member in rural Quebec) and Chinese (team member in Taiwan) - with people I had met while working on the world wide web - and will probably never meet in a face to face situation. Now that is an example of working across time - space - culture - and organization (we all had other - 'real' jobs!).

At this time, I also work with several other virtual teams - including contributors to infoZine (through phone and e-mail); a Red Cross group that is scattered across Missouri (and 'meets' at a threaded discussion web site); with the staff of Consensus National Futures and Financial Weekly (through a once a week visit to the office, phone, fax and e-mail); the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society (that now has a web team with members in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and California); and several others. Again, examples of the books' virtual team principles of people, purpose and links.

The book also engaged me on a sociological level. My undergraduate degree from Ottawa University is in Sociology. Virtual Teams appealed to me in the same way the "The Organization Man" by Whyte did in the early 1960s. The authors are clinical in their examination of the elements of a team. They build a foundation by looking back in history and carefully examining - putting forth - such concepts as the "Four Ages of Small Groups" and "The Four Ages of Media." The book uses extensive charts, illustrations, tables, flow charts, figures and palettes to convey concepts and make points.

Finally, the book gives intriguing glimpses into the future(s) - making sense of the basic changes that are taking place. One small section at the end of the book really touched me - "At the Frontier." John Lawrence, who lived and worked at "the end of the earth" in Antarctica (I live "at the edge of the world" in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska for 20 years) summed up my feelings about virtual teams very well when he said:

"One simply trades one form of frontier for another. I know the feeling of stepping out onto land that no human in recorded history has stepped on. It was a feeling very similar to what cyber people are feeling now as they go out into this peculiar virtual world . . . There's an adrenaline rush as one goes over new surfaces, seeing completely new vistas that have never before been seen by human eye . . . That particular adrenaline rush has been described for generations. But this new one has barely been described for a generation and that's a rush in itself."

I recommend the book - not just for the corporate types that are redesigning their companies, but for the educators (formal and informal) that should be preparing our young people, and for the individuals that are moving out into the new frontiers that surround us.

The Book Web Site http://www.netage.com

William R. Eubank: Educational experience includes teaching in Alaska, China, Hong Kong, Texas, Mexico and Argentina as well as service on local and state school boards. At this time he is living in the Kansas City area to assist in elder care with a parent and to further his education with computers. He is a contributor to infoZine Digital Magazine, Webmaster for Consensus National Futures And Financial Weekly (http://www.consensus-inc.com/) - the Red Cross of Missouri (http://www.moredcross.org/ ) - Hy-Vee of Kansas City (http://www.kcmo.com/hyvee/) and Web Librarian for the Gibson Digital Library. He has developed fifty web sites and posted more than 6,000 pages to the World Wide Web since December 1995.

Copyright 1997 William R. Eubank

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