Learning For Real World Experience
in: Handbook of On-line Learning by Rudestam, K.E. &
Schoenholtz-Read, J. (2002). Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
today's computer-mediated economy, distance learning provides more
than just an opportunity to unite students from different locations
toward a common educational goal. It serves as a bridge from the
often theoretical basis of academic studies to the real-world practices
necessary for success outside university walls. With workers in
both traditional and technology-based companies using computers
and the Internet to accomplish their tasks, developing technological
skills through learning by doing becomes increasingly important.
In addition, people must learn how to engage one another on a personal
level and develop mutual respect in an environment where face-to-face
interactions are absent or scarce.
and more organizations, particularly those with satellite offices
across the country and around the globe, seek alternatives to flying
participants to a common meeting site. Leveraging the unique talents
of diverse employees and applying them toward a singular project
or goal requires a collaborative process that may be new to some.
An increasingly common solution to this problem is the creation
of Virtual (VTs) or Geographically Dispersed (GDTs) Teams. These
are groups of people who share responsibility and accountability
for a product or other output, are interdependent for the purposes
of its development or creation, and are not physically co-located.
Students accustomed to researching and writing on their own and
employees performing certain tasks that were previously done in
relative isolation (such as writing or programming) often find collaboration
to be a challenge above and beyond the project itself. Groupware
applications are one way to accelerate projects whose contributors
are geographically dispersed, adding to shared information and messages
through the Internet and e-mail. Online education allows students
to gain practical experience using technology to accomplish tasks
and develop interpersonal relationships, which increases their value
as future employees.
how distance learning prepares students for the business, social,
and collaborative realities in the Internet economy, this chapter
provides a summary of our experiences and discoveries teaching an
online, experience-based seminar in Organizational Design at the
Fielding Institute. For the coursework a group of geographically
dispersed students&emdash;often working in different time zones&emdash;collaborated
to create a redesign of an organization they selected from among
their real world cases. This chapter reviews the factors that are
essential to the success of online collaboration in general and
examines the insights we gained from our specific experiences working
in a distance learning environment.
Design in the Online Environment
the offerings at Fielding, our Organizational Design seminar presented
unique challenges and opportunities for online learning. Organization
design is the process of developing or modifying the major elements
of an organization so that they are in alignment with the overarching
purpose, mission, and goals of the organization as well as with
each other. A complex undertaking, organizational design requires
the ability to work in real time with often competing organizational
needs and variables. The very nature of organization design demands
a comprehensive understanding of the varying dynamics of a company
or institution. In order to do this, an individual may need to step
outside his or her functional role to view the circumstances from
teams that represent segments or cross-sections of the organizations
that are being designed or re-designed do design work in organizations.
By collaborating with a group composed of diverse individuals with
different job titles and roles, each person not only contributes
a unique perspective, but also sees other viewpoints that may be
new to him or her. A successful collaborative team will incorporate
all these perspectives to find the solution that best meets the
organization's needs. And performance is measured by the outcome,
the common product of the collaborative team.
developed an online course through which the students learned by
creating their own organizational design: examining a case study
from a variety of perspectives and then merging their findings into
a cohesive, relevant design. The students defined and developed
their project by working as an interdependent, geographically dispersed
team (GDT) where the success of each student depended on the success
of the team. To work collaboratively in an online environment, the
group needed to first develop its own method of organizing the task
at hand. This provided the students with an unusual level of "meta-learning,"
that is, doing that which they were learning (organizational design)
in order to learn about organizational design. All the while, the
group members were also learning to use computers and a groupware
application to accomplish their tasks. This experienced-based approach
gave students practical skills in using technology to transcend
barriers of time and space, collaborating with a multicultural and
multifunctional group, and building an organizational design model
informed by a variety of perspectives.
found that in order for this learning and working model to be effective,
the size of the team was a critical variable, ranging from six to
ten. The minimum number was a function of the workload vis a vis
time constraints of the course: fewer people could not have completed
the assignments in a semester. The maximum was a function of the
complexity of the interactions and group dynamics in an asynchronous,
online environment: with more people, it would have been impossible
Building Factors that Affect Online Education
online learning has become a standard mode of education at many
institutions including Fielding, a unique factor of our Organizational
Design seminar was the collaborative process, the interdependency
of all team members, and the resulting evaluative structure in which
the work of the team was more important than any particular individual's
contribution. For such a course to be successful, we needed to consider
not only online learning standards but also those relevant to the
effectiveness of a geographically dispersed team.
elements of successful virtual teams mirror those of successful
face-to-face teams: communication and collaboration are two of the
most important factors in any team's success. While agreements about
goals, policies, and procedures are necessary within any group working
collaboratively, they need to be even more explicitly discussed
and clearly defined by a team working solely in a technologically
mediated environment. In their book Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies,
Tools, and Techniques that Succeed, Duarte and Snyder (1999) outline
critical success factors for virtual teams. Standard organizational
and team processes, organizational culture, and leadership are among
those most relevant to designing an online course.
Organizational and Team Processes
initially requiring a certain time commitment that could be seen
by some as outside the project goals, setting standards at the beginning
stages of a team's formation can actually reduce start-up time.
By getting each team member's input and buy in on goals, methodology,
and processes&emdash;as well as on what to do in the event of
conflict or failure to adhere to the agreements&emdash;collaborative
teams avoid having to negotiate these issues as they arise, which
is distracting to the task at hand.
comprehension of and mutual respect for differences of culture (whether
national, organizational, or functional) helps to mitigate misunderstandings
and disagreements based on style, expectations, values, and assumptions.
In one of our classes, for example, we had students from several
countries (including a variety of English speaking countries). It
had already been established that English would be the language
of the course. Since many students would be working on pieces of
the final paper, one student suggested that all writing (even initial
drafts) be created in "American English." An Australian student
took offense to this as she found that having to edit her thoughts
in real-time would significantly reduce her creativity. Quite a
debate ensued and tempers flared. Eventually, the team decided that
any English would do for drafts and that those for whom English
was not their native tongue shouldn't worry too much about grammar
and spelling. In the end, one person would be assigned the task
of making the final paper read "in one voice." For virtual teams,
cultural respect must be explicitly stated, and transgressions must
be immediately addressed. While the anonymity of cyberspace erases
certain biases of gender, race, age, and social strata, it also
eliminates key indicators of intent, such as body language, facial
expression, tone of voice, and intonation. In a text-only environment,
a tongue-in-cheek comment can be easily misinterpreted, and the
lag time between a posting and a response can cause emotions to
simmer and resentment to build. Differences in language can also
cause misunderstandings, not just among different nationalities
but also among diverse functional roles. Terms may have narrower
meanings among certain groups than they do among others. Common
definitions must be discussed and agreed upon for a diverse collaborative
team to function effectively.
and Stamps (1997) emphasize the fact that virtual teams require
stronger leadership than conventional teams. Co-located teams can
sit in a conference room and circle around an issue until they come
to consensus. With electronic communication, a discussion may never
close when keeping it open is as simple as pressing the "reply"
or "next" button on the computer. Leaders must manage the process
of bringing the team to closure and consensus. They should ensure
full participation of team members and help to keep the multiple
dialogues straight and on task, creating structure and defining
boundaries. This is not meant to control the members or restrain
initiative or creativity, but rather to keep teams from becoming
immobilized by the ambiguity of working in cyberspace.
roles must be defined and supported by the group. Whether practiced
by one team member for the entire project or divided by task, leaders
must fully support collaboration and virtual teams as a way of doing
business. They must take advantage of the diversity of the team
to develop and utilize each team member's expertise to the fullest
potential; set and uphold realistic expectations; allocate the appropriate
time (and, in real-world situations, money) needed to accomplish
the project; and most importantly, model the collaborative behavior
that will contribute to the success of the team.
and Snyder (1999) also list essential skills for both leaders and
team members to develop. Of these competencies, two are crucial
to online education: building and maintaining trust and using interpersonal
awareness. As we explore our own course experience, we will highlight
the tools we used to develop these skills among the group members.
In addition, we will address particular situations that challenged
us as facilitators and the students as a collaborative team, further
illustrating the importance of trust and awareness in the distance
Course In Organizational Design
order to use technological and other media to its greatest advantage
for an online, team-based learning experience, the facilitator (instructor)
must clearly articulate the design criteria for the course. As co-facilitators
for the Organizational Design seminar, our goals were to provide
an opportunity for learners to: 1) learn the basic concepts of and
models for organization design, 2) work collaboratively as a team
in an on-line environment, 3) experience doing organization design
for a real organization, and 4) have a learner-centered learning
experience in the Fielding tradition that required learners to take
responsibility for their learning and the course environment.
facilitator&emdash;who, even in a self-learning model, is acting
in a leadership role&emdash;must have direct knowledge of and
experience with the dynamics of work teams, how to create a collaborative
work environment, and online facilitation. For our Organizational
Design seminar, we drew on our extensive experience with both co-located
and virtual teams to design an online environment that supported
the learning goals we had set. Taking advantage of the structure
of Fielding's computer-mediated conferencing (CMC) application (known
as FELIX), we divided the course into seven distinct and interrelated
phases: 1) reading assignments, 2) team start-up, 3) case development
and selection, 4) development of a work plan, 5) project work, 6)
documentation, and 7) evaluation. For each phase, learners posted
messages and responses relevant to the topic at hand. FELIX tracked
in an outline and topic-based format the discussion that occurred
asynchronously. This enabled learners to keep multiple dialogues
going at the same time, while maintaining a logically threaded discussion.
It also allowed the next phase to begin while learners were still
grappling with a previous phase, without interrupting the dialogue
essential element in course design is to consider the time available
(usually a semester or trimester in the academic environment) and
to limit the coursework accordingly. Those experienced with virtual
teamwork understand that GDTs typically require more time than co-located
teams to perform similar tasks. Grappling with such anomalies as
time differences, without the benefit of immediate answers to questions,
team members can easily feel overloaded and get frustrated. We focused
our course on the essential elements of organizational design to
allow only the most relevant work within the limited period of time.
of the greatest challenges for collaborative distance learning,
or for any GDT, is defining the boundaries in which the work of
the team will occur. In cyberspace, we are less bounded or constrained
by the conventions that govern work done by groups. We must thus
set concise, clearly defined goals, procedures, and boundaries to
create a framework and context within which the team can feel secure.
a kick-off to the course, we posted an initial greeting (including
contact information for both of us) along with a detailed syllabus
containing an overview of the course, a description of the methodology,
rules for postings and frequency of participation, an outline for
each assignment, the grading system, our role as facilitators, and
the reading list. Regarding rules for postings and participation,
we devised a new time standard: Fielding Standard Time, designated
as midnight on any calendar day in Santa Barbara (Pacific Time).
This was necessary to ensure that learners in different time zones
were meeting the required deadlines. Because of the interdependent
nature of the coursework, we asked learners to check in three or
more times per week and not to save all their work for the weekends.
We strongly encouraged them to bring a laptop computer when travel
took them away from home base for more than a few days. We also
directed learners to use the title field of their post to reflect
the content of the message as an aid for tracking the flow of an
interactive dialogue among multiple participants.
provide learners with the conceptual underpinnings of organization
design, we gave the group lists of required and suggested readings.
The required readings included materials that offered an overview
of organization design concepts and variables, specific models of
organization design, and the history and evolution of the field.
Learners were encouraged to augment the required reading with sources
that were relevant to the specific case that they worked on and
with materials and learnings from other courses they had taken.
We expected learners to read the materials and to explore and apply
them to the content or tasks as they progressed throughout the course.
Our reading list comprised three required books and five required
articles; in addition, we recommended eighteen other relevant resources.
Start-up and Development
initial team start-up and development was the most crucial phase
of the course. During this phase, the team set standards relevant
to goals, created processes, and developed agreements for reaching
consensus in the online environment, while also building the trust
and interpersonal awareness that are so critical to successful virtual
teams. The first assignment in the online space involved expanded
introductions where we asked learners to post what attracted them
to the course; their learning goals; their fears, concerns, or reservations;
their experience in the Fielding program thus far; their role in
their job and how they found it useful to the coursework; what they
felt they could contribute to the team; and some information about
themselves personally, e.g., where they live, what it's like there,
their family, hobbies, and interests. We also asked each participant
to respond by commenting on similarities and differences among the
team members. This enabled learners to get to know one another on
a social and professional level before diving into the coursework
itself. It brought up common interests, topics for side conversations,
and differences in writing style that helped learners become familiar
with each other's ways of communicating.
this kind of communication usually happens in the hallways or before
the bell in a classroom situation, in an online environment the
facilitator must promote this interaction through a specified assignment
and time allocation. In fact, the facilitator must be a model for
interpersonal awareness and trust building. Early on, we addressed
the participants' concerns and fears, reassuring them, for example,
that they would not be penalized for technological failures; even
the best applications and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) limit
access at times. We encouraged casual conversation, even seemingly
irrelevant musings, and we responded to each learner individually
to make sure everyone felt heard. Humor, too, provides fertile soil
for trust and human interaction. To ensure that comic moments were
read as such, we modeled the use of electronic emoticons: symbols
or words to express emotion, humor, or irony, such as ;-) and (smile!).
Getting used to text-only communication can be difficult for some,
and it was crucial that we permit enough time and nonthreatening
content to allow the more reticent technology users to feel confident.
Although this was neither their first distance learning course nor
their first experience using Fielding's CMC application, we were
asking our students to use&emdash;and stretch&emdash;the
technology in a different way than they were accustomed to. In situations
with new users, we believe that this start up time would require
even more time, attention, and training.
the "getting to know each other" topic was completed, we gave the
team the task of reaching consensus in three areas: team goals,
team agreements, and&emdash;as part of the meta-learning process&emdash;how
to reach consensus. Mastery of this process is critical to the team's
ability to work together successfully during its life together.
During this phase, team members posted their ideas about team learning
goals and working agreements (or norms) about such topics as decision-making;
online participation; collaboration and interdependence; what to
do if deadlines couldn't be met; how to allocate/manage the leadership
role during the various phases of the project; and how to handle
an unexplained, extended absence of a team member from the group.
Respect for each person's opinion motivated the discussion that
followed everyone's postings, which further developed the trust
that the agreements were designed to foster. Then one person took
on the role of the synthesizer or "weaver," taking the different
strands of discussion and weaving them into a tapestry that reflected
what seemed to be the consensus. The team then discussed and fine-tuned
the consensus before polling to indicate their agreement.
facilitators we stepped in to support good progress and express
concerns related to, for example, limiting goals to what is reasonable
and addressing what to do if someone falls short on an agreement.
Some learners naturally gravitated toward the leadership roles during
this process, e.g., sending up the "trial balloons" to define consensus
and encouraging stragglers to weigh in with their opinions. We found
that these were often the same people who took social leadership
roles as well, supporting others, interjecting humor, and inquiring
about team members who lapsed into "radio silence," not posting
any messages for one reason or another.
Writing and Selection
the case selection phase the team developed the content on which
it would focus its collective wisdom and energies. We asked each
member to write an organization design case study, including the
current organization design, its appropriateness for the course,
and the owner's (team member's) familiarity with or access to information
needed to complete and test the design activity. Using a model outlined
in one of the assigned readings, we also specified definitions for
certain key terms&emdash;such as purpose, mission, objectives,
and tasks&emdash;that would be used in the assignment so that
everyone would have the same understanding of these terms. Explicitly
defining a common language is more important in text-only virtual
environments than in face-to-face situations where language can
be immediately clarified through queries or accentuated with nonverbal
all the cases were posted, the team developed selection criteria
by which they would choose a single case to work on together as
a "consulting" team for the duration of the class. This was the
team's first opportunity to make a major decision, thus testing
the agreements that they had put into place in the previous phase
of the class. It required that someone step forward as a leader
to mediate the discussion and build the model for consensus. We
suggested factors that the team take into consideration, including
how the case fit the team's goals; the scope of the project (making
sure it was manageable during the limited time period the team would
be working); how much access the owner had to critical information;
the availability of the owner (travel schedule, outside commitments
such as family or job); the extent to which the information present
in the case was clear, complete, and usable; and how well the case
permitted the examination of all aspects of the model chosen from
the required reading.
assist in the analysis process&emdash;which left unaided could
easily become unwieldy&emdash;we assigned each team member a
review of two other cases, ensuring that each case would be reviewed
by two people and that no one would review his or her own case.
However, the actual criteria for selection and the process by which
they would make the decision were left up to the team. Since this
was the first real test of the agreements the team had formulated,
it was often the first time these agreements were challenged. In
one case, some team members posted reviews in a timely manner, while
others lagged behind. This left some cases with two reviews and
others with one or, in the worst case, no review, which posed a
serious problem for informed selection. The person who had stepped
forward as leader was charged with suggesting procedures and decisions
to allow the project to move forward despite the fact that the input
was incomplete. In one case, the leader asked other members of the
team to do additional reviews. In another, he proposed modifications
to the formal review process, based on the content of the unreviewed
cases that had been read by all participants. The participating
team members agreed, and the challenge was met without unduly slowing
down the process.
a Work Plan
team planning activities, which occurred simultaneously with case
development, asked learners to determine a plan for how they would
best utilize the resources available to them to decide how they
would choose and analyze the case, prepare and document recommendations
for the redesign of the subject organization, and justify the solutions
based on the resources they discovered and utilized. In the plan,
the team developed a schedule for their work, determined roles and
responsibilities, and addressed the leadership needs of the project.
facilitators we found that a certain amount of structure was needed
during this phase to keep the team on track and to assist them in
dividing up the tasks. We suggested the following macro-level tasks
that needed to be accomplished: analysis of the existing organization;
understanding the contextual dynamics of the organization; understanding/researching
issues, concerns, and opportunities mentioned by the "client;" redesigning
each of the elements using the model from the required reading;
testing the redesign and adjusting for overall fit and balance;
and writing the final report. We asked the team to decide how best
to divide up this work; to use the technology, FELIX, to produce
the work; and to determine a timetable for delivering the work.
one person took the leadership role, developing an outline for the
elements of the work plan and posing the essential questions that
generated the discussion needed to flesh out the plan. The ensuing
dialogue refined the outline, and individual team members volunteered
to be the point person on a particular task. The leader frequently
updated the team on the status of the plan, which informed everyone
regarding who had volunteered for what and which tasks still required
leadership. We checked in to support the progress and offer our
assistance when concerns arose regarding participation of all the
analysis of the current organization design in the selected case
and the proposed redesign using the assigned conceptual model formed
the heart of the course and the bulk of the work performed by the
team. To provide a framework for the final report, we posted a description
of the tasks/sections to be addressed with pertinent questions the
team should consider when working on that task. We also stated our
expectations for the final report, in terms of format, style, professionalism,
consistency, accuracy, and attention to detail. In addition, we
posted key questions the team should answer while developing the
different elements of the organizational model we had asked them
to follow, which included strategy, structure, people, processes,
and reward systems (See Appendix). By specifically guiding the team's
thinking for each of the tasks and elements, we reduced the chances
that they would be led off track by the potentially overwhelming
challenges of the project. The guidelines and boundaries set for
a virtual team's work determines their ability to succeed in the
project. A project that is too expansive will certainly lead them
astray, as will sidetracking into irrelevant material.
it is critical that a certain kind of sidetracking be encouraged,
to promote social interaction and provide relaxation from the stress
of performing in an online environment. During one of our courses,
after posting the material relevant to the topic, we would lapse
into discussions of basketball and friendly rivalries over whose
team had the better coach or more talented players. Not only did
these conversations lighten the tone of the serious work we were
engaged in, but also they served to strengthen the bonds among the
team members that are so crucial to building and maintaining trust.
issue that became apparent during this stage of the course was the
fear of being misunderstood. While the loss of certain traditional
communication barriers&emdash;such as anxiety when speaking
in front of groups and lack of confidence in verbal skills&emdash;empowered
some students to express themselves more freely than they would
in a traditional learning environment, others found the lack of
verbal and nonverbal response cues to be intimidating. Misunderstanding,
either as a result or cause of conflict, is common in both intellectual
content and interpersonal face-to-face exchanges. Moreover, misunderstanding
and its subsequent resolution can contribute to group formation,
synergy, and creativity. But when it occurs in a virtual team, learners
are frequently at a loss for how to deal with it, and the problem
becomes an obstacle. In an online learning environment, the fear
of one's written message being taken the wrong way often surfaces
as a long, unwieldy preamble to the main point of the posting in
an attempt to predict and counter every possible interpretation
of the text being written. Sometimes participants disengage from
an activity or avoid dealing with situations that could contribute
to conflict. The practical effect of this fear is reduced willingness
to take risks, which can lead to gridlock in the group.
the fear of being misunderstood involves trust: accepting that team
members will not judge one another negatively through their own
misinterpretations. The acceptance of all viewpoints and voices,
however deftly or awkwardly expressed, reduces misunderstandings
that can stymie the group. Facilitators can mitigate these situations
by modeling and encouraging clarification. When team members reflect
back what they interpret from another's posting before making assumptions
about the intended meaning, they give the originator a chance to
further clarify his or her intent.
capstone of the group's work together was a final report that summarized
the particulars of the case that they had selected, their analysis
of it, the proposed design solution and rationale for it, and other
recommendations for the client organization. Unlike most other courses&emdash;both
on-line and classroom&emdash;learners did not write and submit
individual work. Instead, consistent with the other elements of
this course, the team was required to produce the final document
jointly and interactively. This turned out to be the most difficult
aspect of the course for several reasons. Common among all groups
was the end-of-the-trimester time crunch. Underestimating the complexity
of some of the earlier assignments and of the dynamics of the team
and the medium, they began to fall behind and were unable to replan
or make up for the slippages. Since the class had a definite end
point, they had less time than originally allowed to produce the
paper. Those teams who had a member with strong writing skills who
drafted the document as well as a clear process for how others would
participate in shaping and editing it produced the best papers.
This typically occurred when a strong leader emerged who was willing
to drive and manage the process to conclusion in a fairly directive
manner&emdash;and others were willing to allow this while contributing
fully and within the time constraints. In one case, the group allowed
a team member to volunteer to draft and coordinate the editing of
the report who was not well suited to this task&emdash;even
though, as it turned out, others on the team were aware of this.
In another, the writer was well qualified but by the end of the
class did not have the personal bandwidth to complete the task.
In neither case was the team able to manage themselves to a more
satisfactory outcome. The result was that the papers did not adequately
reflect the content or the quality of the work that preceded them,
and many team members were disappointed by this anticlimactic end
to their experience together.
keeping with the learning goals of the course and the interdependence
of the team, we created a process for evaluation that assessed both
team performance and individual contributions. We outlined our system
for grading in the syllabus so that there would be no surprises
when evaluations were solicited and received. We based our grades
on a system of 100 points: 25 for the quality of the team's plan,
product, and process (everyone on the team received the same number
of points for this component); 25 for a team member's self-evaluation
based on how well he or she met personal and team learning goals;
25 for the evaluations each team member received from the other
team members related to his or her participation in and contributions
to the team; and 25 for the facilitators' evaluation of each team
member's individual participation, contributions, intellectual and
practical curiosity, and command of the subject.
was unique about this system was that it reflected the interdependence
of the team, not only for the accomplishment of the project but
also for the evaluation of performance. We felt that it more closely
mirrored a real-world work scenario where the outcome of the joint
project determines the success of the individuals involved. A collaborative
project is only as good as its weakest element, and part of the
team's work was to determine how best to use the resources and talents
they had at their disposal.
issues arose as a result of our interdependent evaluation model.
Some team members had difficulty evaluating their peers or had fears
about what others would say about their own contributions. Others
expressed concern that their grades would be tied to the work of
others, the quality of which they couldn't control. In order for
the evaluative process to function correctly, we needed each team
member to complete the evaluation assignment, which was the last
task for the course and the one most likely to be neglected. Not
all students gave the assignment the same level of attention: some
contributed very high quality evaluations, while others provided
only cursory responses.
kind of group evaluation process proved to be quite time-consuming
for us as facilitators. We had to merge all the comments while maintaining
the anonymity of the contributors. For each student, we prepared
a large packet with both quantitative (points) and qualitative (narrative)
evaluations. Despite the great amount of work the evaluations represented
for both the students and the facilitators, students indicated that
these complex evaluations were much more valuable than merely receiving
a letter grade and an assessment based only on the instructors'
Resolving and Accepting Contrasting Elements
of the most surprising things we discovered in our Organizational
Design seminar was how certain contrasting elements inherent to
education in general presented unique problems to be solved or to
be accepted as irreconcilable in the online environment. The traditional
differentiation between faculty and student tended to blur in the
online environment where there was no podium to stand behind or
board to write on. All the postings, whether from facilitator or
learner, were equivalent: each was given a number by FELIX and merged
in with all the other postings. Apart from our initial syllabus
and assignment postings, our commentary as facilitators resided
alongside the discussion of the learners, which eliminated the hierarchy
usually associated with the teacher/student relationship.
synchronous vs. asynchronous nature of work could not be resolved
within the context of our course, since nearly all the discussion
was asynchronous and each individual participated at a time that
best suited his or her schedule and local time zone. The same was
true for face-to-face vs. virtual interaction. We had to accept
that there would be no face-to-face meetings, and that interpersonal
relationships were mediated by technology. The loss of face-to-face
contact, both formal and casual, carries a great impact. Studies
show that in face-to-face discussions, a message is conveyed 55%
by body language, 38% by tone of voice, and only 7% by actual words.
In telephone conversations, a message is conveyed 87% by tone of
voice and 13% by actual words (Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967). In
our course, students grappled with the limitation of communicating
solely through written words. However, when severe problems arose,
we used the telephone to have real-time discussions so that we could
find appropriate solutions. But the standard practice was to use
the technological medium to bring up issues, gather input, consider
options, and make a decision on how to proceed.
an example, one of the most consistent problems that teams face
when using this medium as their primary means of interaction is
"radio silence." Radio silence refers to a team member who goes
for an extended period of time without participating, i.e. posting
a message to the team space. ("Extended" is relative to the team's
norms/agreements and the requirements for collaboration specific
to the task or project.) It creates at least two obstacles for the
team. First, effective teams typically have agreements or expectations
about how frequently each member will participate; a project schedule
with deadlines, interdependencies, etc.; and/or specific individual
assignments or action items, and the non-participation of even one
member can quickly bring the team to a standstill. This then forces
the team to take time to decide what to do about both the person
and the project in order to keep working and progressing. Second,
once relationships are formed (implying some level of trust and
concern for each other), team members begin to worry about the absent
member, particularly since in a GDT, no one else on the team will
run into that person in another setting, either to inquire about
his/her absence or to verify a "sighting." In our course, we intentionally
constrained the use of other media in order to test the limits of
computer mediated conferencing as a tool for GDTs. However, in situations
like the one described, we used other means to contact an MIA and
to resolve the situation. The resolution was, typically, highly
individual and ranged from one learner getting new equipment to
the withdrawal from the course of another who could not keep up
with the workload.
resolved the issue of theory vs. practice by focusing our online
learning model on practice. The theoretical base for our course
came largely from the readings, and there was no formal review or
discussion of these theories. Instead learners were expected to
apply what they'd read to the practice of organizational design,
which formed the core of the course. This practice occurred on two
levels: the actual coursework in redesigning the case study they
chose, and the meta-level of organizing themselves to perform the
of the challenges in the practical learning model is how best to
use the skills and experience of the group. For example, someone
may volunteer for a task for which he or she is not well suited.
This may occur at a time when others, including the faculty, are
still unfamiliar with the participants' various strengths and limitations.
When possible, it is up to the leader to diplomatically suggest
that the talents of this person might be better used elsewhere,
and to gain support for this deferral from the rest of the group.
The person in question is much less likely to be offended by the
suggestion if the rest of the team offers rousing support for applying
his or her skills to another task.
the attempts of the faculty to compensate, the relative lack of
structure, the absence of face-to-face contact, and the reduction
of familiar social cues can create considerable ambiguity in the
group. As a result, a balance between autonomy and accountability
must be struck by and among team members. This requires participants
to find ways to make individual and original contributions to the
work and learning of the team while also respecting the norms and
agreements set by the team. Without the willingness of at least
a few members to experiment with a range of behavior, the team may
remain under-differentiated. At the same time, if even a couple
of members are unwilling to adhere to the agreed-on standards and
conventions, an almost unmanageable situation for the others can
develop. A constant distraction from the main purpose of the team,
behavior outside the "norms" requires extra attention to team dynamics
and challenges others to confront the disruptive team members. Failure
to face and resolve these issues can lead to anarchy in the group.
While these dynamics also occur in face-to-face groups, they are
more easily managed by such factors as the authority of the faculty/leader;
non-verbal cues and other reinforcers of group norms; and informal,
person-to-person interaction and feedback. For example, failure
by one (or more) member to meet agreed-to deadlines for submitting
work on which others are interdependent creates a situation that
snowballs through the semester. It may cause the team to do rework
when that member's posting eventually appears and can also result
in the team running out of time on the final project or documentation.
issue that generated a certain amount of fear at the beginning of
the course was structure vs. flexibility. As we've discussed, structure
is essential to successful online teamwork as well as to distance
learning in general. Tasks such as organizing or coordinating sub-tasks
and integrating outputs of individual work almost always requires
more leadership in a GDT than with co-located teams. While team
members may recognize the need for such structure and manage themselves
well under more conventional circumstances, their lack of familiarity
with raising issues in a technologically supported forum may dictate
the need for a leader to manage these tasks. If the leader creates
the required structure&emdash;which includes identifying the
need, recruiting/naming a person who will be responsible for managing
the task or process, providing the necessary support and coaching,
and holding both the task manager and the other team members accountable
for engaging and reaching closure&emdash;team members are less
likely to experience frustration and gridlock.
the other hand, this increased structure needs to be balanced with
a degree of flexibility, which is not to say that learners can disregard
deadlines or offer one of the wealth of excuses with which most
teachers are quite familiar (e.g., the dog ate my homework, my computer
crashed, etc.). Backup systems, composing messages offline, and
alternative means of communication (such as e-mailing a posting
to the contact person at Fielding should access to FELIX be denied)
provided the kind of flexibility necessary to keep the course moving
in the event of technological failure.
unique design requirements of this course relative to others in
the program curriculum as well as other more traditional courses
posed other dilemmas. Some learners found the work load, requirements
for regular and frequent online participation, and demands of collaboration
in an ambiguous medium to be more difficult than anticipated: it
was not possible to succeed as an individual in this course, and
there was no online version of cramming or pulling an all-nighter
at the end of the semester. A manageable number fell behind, and
over the space of several offerings of the course, a couple dropped
out for various reasons. If too many had done either, the dynamics
of the course would have been at risk, and with it the overall integrity
of the learning experience. This was not, however, a situation that
we had to confront.
and Disadvantages of the Online Environment
these contrasting elements are sets of advantages and their corollary
disadvantages that we discovered in our experience with interdependent
distance learning. One advantage is that the working with geographically
dispersed teams allows an international experience without traveling.
But the disadvantage of the same is that there are sometimes surprising
cultural and language barriers, even when one is diligent about
trying to avoid them. We witnessed a certain amount of conflict
during the editing of a written project where the contributors spoke
different national styles of English, e.g., Australian vs. American.
Even though we had specifically stated that both forms were acceptable,
when it came to merging the two together, bad feelings arose among
team members. This is an example where immediate conflict resolution
was necessary to prevent wounds from festering and one or more participants
from feeling disenfranchised.
particularly agreeable advantage of the online environment is that
age, gender, and race get neutralized, particularly for women and
people of color who are often discounted in teams where they are
a minority. This can, however, lead to loss of identity for some
who base their view of themselves on those very things.
advantage and academic leveler is that people who are not quick
on their feet can participate equally because they have time to
think before they post. The disadvantage is that there is lag time
before getting feedback, which can lead to feelings of not being
heard. And, as we've mentioned already, when conflict arises, it
may not be immediately addressed, and the delay can increase frustration
and hurt feelings.
Internet allows worldwide communication and access from almost anywhere,
which is a great advantage in today's global market and mobile workforce.
However, Internet Service Providers outside the U.S. can be unreliable,
which puts some learners, particularly those in developing nations,
at a severe disadvantage. Nevertheless, we successfully conducted
the course with students living as close as Los Angeles and as far
away as South Africa.
discovered that a course design based on collaboration and assigned
projects that require interdependence and teamwork can be successful
in the online environment. A collaborative team can achieve high-quality
results without face-to-face interaction. However, a team working
in a virtual environment requires more structure than traditional
teams, including agreeing on norms and procedures, setting realistic
expectations and boundaries, and providing the leadership to keep
the team on track and moving toward each goal.
an online environment there is a strong social component through
which participants form close bonds and true affection in their
relationships. But it doesn't happen in the casual way that student-to-student
relationships develop in the traditional teaching environment. Social
interaction must be modeled and encouraged by the instructor/facilitator,
and significant time and space should be dedicated to this task
from the outset. And, where students whispering in the back of the
real-life classroom would be a distraction to the instruction taking
place, side conversations and chit chat on seemingly irrelevant
topics are constructive toward building trust and interpersonal
awareness in an online environment.
our experience with this course further emphasized that the online,
collaborative work product has real world applications as the modern
workforce becomes more geographically dispersed. By working together
in a technologically mediated environment, learners developed a
set of skills that are imperative in today's global marketplace.
And by engaging in a double level of learning&emdash;learning
to organize themselves in order to learn to organize another company
or institution&emdash;members of collaborative teams gain twice
the practice of learning by doing, the kind of active engagement
that proves more successful in adult education experiences.
for Final Project
#5--ORGANIZATION DESIGN PROJECT
purpose of this assignment is for you to work as a consulting team
on the redesign of the organization described in the case you have
outcome of this assignment is the completion of your case analysis
and redesign recommendations and presentation of it to the other
deadline for this assignment is December 1 FST.
I - A description of the organization being redesigned. Much
of this can come from the original posting of the case. Bear in
mind that the other team has not read all of the cases and will
need some context and introduction to the organization. In addition
to a summary of the organization, please ensure that you consider
the following questions:
are the **desired outcomes** desired outcomes of the design effort
for the business, the organization, the people? (these can also
be called "design criteria.")
the core work of the organization? What's the input-->transformation-->output
that the organization must execute to deliver its products/services?
are the primary **interdependencies within** interdependencies within
the organization's boundaries?
II - An description of other contextual dynamics of the organization,
i.e., culture, political forces, variables that affect the target
organization that are outside the direct control of the management
team, etc. that need to be considered in a design solution. In addition
to others you will think of, please consider the following questions:
are the primary **interfaces** interfaces with other organizations
and entities **outside** outside this organization's boundaries?
are the design constraints being imposed from outside?
are the political realities/constraints?
in addition to the client and the management team, must buy into
or approve the proposed design? How easy or difficult is it likely
to be to get such approvals? Why or why not?
III - An in-depth analysis of the existing organization design
using Galbraith as your principal frame, supplemented with the theories
and principles from other authors or sources, including each of
the components of the model; the overall fit among the components;
and the extent to which the current arrangement enables the organization's
purpose, mission, guiding principles, objectives, and strategy.
You will need to delve into the initial analysis provided by the
"owner" in his/her case.
IV - A recommended redesign of each of the components of the
organization that correspond to the Galbraith model ensuring an
overall fit of all of the components with each other and with the
strategy and guiding principles of the organization.
follows is a set of questions to consider when evaluating the "fit"
of an organization design. Please note that this is NOT an exhaustive
list. It is meant to be a guideline for your team. You should add
to and modify this list depending on the uniqueness of your particular
do the various components of the organization as you have designed
it relate to each other?
did you choose to differentiate the functions in this way and what
mechanisms/processes have you designed for integrating them where
interdependence is required?
are the mechanisms/processes for managing interfaces outside the
the structure adequate to meet the demands of the required work/tasks?
is power distributed in this structure?
are the implications for interdependencies within this structure?
the structure enable the desired communication patterns?
there implications for work/job redesign?
what extent do the tasks (i.e. the way the work is organized and
designed into "jobs") provide opportunities for individuals to meet
their needs and obtain the desired rewards?
what extent do you have individuals on board with the skills and
abilities to meet the task demands? If not where or how will you
get them (see PEOPLE Section)?
you have enough management talent to fill all of the management
needs? Do you have enough "technical" talent to fill all of the
"technical" needs? If no, what are the plans to hire or grow this
the tasks and work/job design specified meet both individual and
implications does the design have on selection criteria for hiring?
implications does the design have for recruiting and retaining people?
what extend does the design facilitate the training and development
of people? To what extent is it required in order for the new design
what extent does the design allow for promotion and transfers?
implications does the design have for leadership and management
and OTHER PROCESSES
information systems need to be in place?
communication patterns and forums need to be established?
planning systems need to be in place?
will decision making, opportunities for initiative, and power be
distributed in the organization?
and by whom will decisions get made and communicated?
implications does this design have for job classification and compensation
will people be rewarded in this system?
will people be recognized in this system?
will the reward system encourage or facilitate the desired outcomes
and behaviors throughout the organization?
obstacles are you likely to encounter in redesigning or modifying
the formal and informal reward systems?
V - Implementation and communication plan. Assume that your
proposed redesign has been approved. What is your plan for implementing
this new design and communicating it throughout the organization.
have created a topic entitled "Final Presentation." Please post
your final report there, and we will ensure that it gets posted
to the other team. We have not created any other topics for this
assignment. We encourage you to do so in line with your work plan
and the needs that will emerge as you continue to work on this project.
your work plan provides for tasks to be delegated to individuals
and/or sub-groups, please make sure that their work is available
on-line (as a clearly identified Topic) to other members of the
team for observation and input.
consider your final report to be a scholarly as well as a professional
piece of work. You may choose to write as if your document were
a report to the "client." In this case, however, it should also
show attention to such things as style, format, organization, citations
within the text, a complete list of references, etc. Barclay has
posted a set of style and formatting guidelines (contained as part
of his syllabi) that make the necessary accommodations to the medium
we are using, and we encourage its use. Whichever style you choose,
use it faithfully. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, logical organization,
etc. "count" and are important in the discipline of being a scholar-practitioner.
remember, you are to work as a team and keep your team agreements.
Try to keep your perspective and have some fun while working on
this assignment. We will be logging on regularly and will help if
we see you getting stuck. Please feel free to contact us if you
need any further clarification/help.
D. L. & Snyder, N. T. (1999). Mastering virtual teams: strategies,
tools, and techniques that succeed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
J. & Stamps, J. (1997). Virtual teams: reaching across space,
time, and organizations with technology. New York: John Wiley
& Sons, Inc.
A., & Ferris, S. R.. (1967). Inference of attitudes from
nonverbal communication in two channels. Journal of Consulting
R. M. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in
cyberspace: effective strategies for the online classroom. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
to the Resource Index