Virtual Teams

Interview with Jill Nemiro, Author of "Creativity in Virtual Teams: Key Components for Success", and "The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams", and co-editor of "The Collaborative Work Systems Fieldbook"
By Vern Burkhardt
Virtual teams need to compensate for the lack of nonverbal communication. Not only can electronic communication be dehumanizing and socially isolating, it can foster a sense of anonymity. Messages in email tend to be stronger, more uninhibited, and assertive.

Clarity of purpose and sharing common goals is the best predictor of virtual team success, and of their degree of creativity. For creativity to bloom in virtual teams there must be a strong sense of interpersonal connection and dedication to a joint task.

Vern Burkhardt (VB): You worked for twenty years in the entertainment industry, as a film and videotape editor, specializing in management training and corporate videos and also in children's television programs and documentaries. Was that before you earned your Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University?

photo of Jill NemiroJill Nemiro: It was before and during while I got my Ph.D. Looking back at that time, I'm not sure how I had the energy to do all I did. I worked in film for 20 years. While working on films, I became interested in organizational psychology, because many of the corporate training films I worked on dealt with topics in this area, such as conflict resolution, effective teams, customer service, and negotiation. I thought the topics were interesting, and began taking a few courses at night at Cal State Los Angeles. It was hard to balance both a career in film and pursue my interest in organizational psychology, but I did it for nearly a decade. I remember being in a screening on the Universal Studios lot looking at my watch thinking, am I going to be able to get to class on time.

When I decided to get my Ph.D., I worked in the film business as well the entire time. I was fortunate to be working at that time for two supportive producers – George Taweel and Rob Loos. They allowed me to work with them on a variety of children's shows and still get to class. They used to kid me, calling me "Doctor of Editorial." It was hard to balance both, but worth it. It was not until I was in the finishing stages of writing my dissertation, which was the foundation for Creativity in Virtual Teams, that I finally had to take leave from the film business to finish the project.

VB: You have acted in various film and theatrical productions. Would you talk about that experience, and whether it was as a professional?

Jill Nemiro: Ahh... it has been quite some time since I have done any acting, and, honestly, no one has asked me about this in some time. So I am flattered that you even noticed I used to do acting. It was, however, the very early beginnings of my interest in creative endeavors.

My interest in theatre began way back when I was ten years old. I used to write and direct plays with neighborhood kids, performing them in the family garage. Then I acted in plays all through middle and high schools. I majored in Theatre Arts at the University of Florida, where I also acted in many plays. When I transferred to UCLA in my junior year, I also majored in Theatre Arts. But I found that I was much more at home in the Motion Picture and Television department, than the Theatre Department. So I switched to making films in college. When I graduated, I continued acting in little theatres in Hollywood for several years. I also had some acting parts in some independent films. But the reality of having to make a living set in, and also I began to get work as a film editor. So I gave up acting to pursue a career in film editing, and I did that for nearly twenty years.

VB: Would you also talk about your work as an instructional designer and writer of corporate training programs?

Jill Nemiro: My experience with corporate training spanned a period of twenty years, where I functioned mostly as a film editor on a variety of corporate training videos and films. I also had the opportunity to write several scripts. In the last few years, I have worked as an instructional designer on a variety of training projects for some major Southern California companies. Some have involved safety-training programs.

Recently, I have moved into designing and implementing workshops and training programs based on my research on creativity in virtual teams. I have facilitated workshops on these topics with companies in the entertainment industry and publishing firms. The workshops have been conducted both face to face and through teleconference methods.

VB: What led to your pursuit of a better understanding of creativity?

Jill Nemiro: My work experience in the film business was the impetus for my pursuit to better understand creativity and, more specifically, to understand what needed to be in place to foster creativity. I observed myself on different projects in the film business. On certain projects, and with certain conditions, I would be so creative. Ideas would abound, and I would have no problem cutting a film together. Then, there were other projects in which I would feel like I was "pulling teeth", and things would not go together as easily. I wondered why this was so. I was the same person in both of those situations, with the same editorial skills. This was the impetus for my quest for understanding of creativity.

All through my Ph.D. study, I used every assignment I could to do research into what elements were needed to create a climate that fosters creativity in people.

VB: What led to your interest in creativity in virtual teams?

Cover of Creativity in Virtual TeamsJill Nemiro: There were four experiences I worked on in the film business that influenced my interest in virtual teams. All of these projects involved me working as a film editor in Los Angeles, with the producers out of town. One was a long-running series in which the producer travelled the world, and sent back footage to the editorial department – myself and another editor. Another was a feature documentary in which I edited the film in Hollywood, and the producer was in Colorado. The third experience involved an ABC children's special, in which I edited the movie in an animation warehouse in Boyle Heights. The director of animation was onsite, but the director of live action was in Seattle. Finally, the fourth experience was an eight-part PBS documentary series. The producer was in San Francisco, and I edited the shows in my home in Los Angeles.

The last two experiences were the most positive. I wondered why this was the case, and so began my interest in virtual teams. In addition, my dissertation chair was also very interested in technology. I recall the night before my oral exams at Claremont Graduate University. Friends of mine told me to be ready to discuss an idea for my dissertation in these exams. Literally, the night before these exams, I had an "aha" experience and thought, "I am interested in creativity, and my dissertation chair is interested in technology. Why not do something on creativity in teams that work together through technology?" And so my interest began.

VB: On your website you quote a passage from William Miller's book, Flash of Brilliance: Inspiring Creativity Where You Work. Of the many possible authors and publications, what especially attracts you to his message? (Vern's note: The passage is "Our most original ideas emerge from the space between our thoughts. Most of us, however, have such a constant stream of thoughts; there is very little space between them. Creating more stillness and serenity allows greater space between thoughts and thus greater opportunities for
breakthrough ideas.")

Jill Nemiro: Oh my goodness, I love that quote, and that book.

I truly believe that life moves so fast, that most people do not take the time to allow their creative thoughts to spring forth. And creativity takes time. It takes silence; it takes us to create space between the constant chatter of our daily thoughts.

In the creativity class I teach at Cal Poly Pomona, I begin the class with having students do something they have probably not been able to do with the teacher's approval since preschool – daydream. They walk away from that session realizing the importance of slowing down to allow creative thoughts to emerge.

VB: You were one of four editors of The Handbook of High Performance Virtual Teams: A Toolkit for Collaborating Across Boundaries. What criteria guided you in selecting which articles to include? Why is this publication an essential resource for leaders, virtual team members, and work group leaders?

Jill Nemiro: The idea for the Handbook emerged from an informal group of academic and practitioner colleagues that I was a part of, called the Virtual Collaboration Research Group. Dr. Michael Beyerlein facilitated this group; at the time he was at the University of North Texas and is now at Purdue University. We met monthly through teleconferences to discuss the challenges of virtual collaboration, and to brainstorm ideas for research and practice in virtual collaboration.

We decided there was a need for a handbook on virtual collaboration. I took on the challenge of being lead editor on the project, and with my co-editors – Michael Beyerlein, Lori Bradley, and Susan Beyerlein – we sent out a Call for Chapters. The original call asked for chapters from academics and practitioners dealing with models, processes, tools, assessments, and case examples on assessing virtual collaboration; designing for effective collaboration; acquiring and using technology for effective virtual collaboration; preparing the human element for effective virtual collaboration; leading and managing collaborative virtual work; and sustaining, learning, and growing for future effective virtual work. After reviewing many one-page proposals, we invited over forty authors to develop chapters for the Handbook.

The final chapters that made up the Handbook were assembled to assist those working in virtual teams, and striving to get work done through the process of virtual collaboration in dealing with the challenges they face – the challenges of Distance, Time, Technology, Culture, Trust, and Leadership. To meet these challenges, the Handbook provides readers with an understanding of the requirements and ingredients necessary for successful and high performing virtual teams. Those ingredients represent the content of the first two sections of the Handbook – The Principles of High Performance Virtual Teams, and Designing High Performance Teams. The third section in the Handbook offers four case stories of successful virtual teams and collaboration. The industries in these cases represent health care, computing, banking, and aerospace. The practices, tools, processes, and strategies shared in these stories include patient care, business-focused decision-making, matrix relationships, and knowledge transfer and learning systems. The concluding section of the Handbook offers two chapters that provide readers with a summary of the key "take-away" principles from the book, and an afterword that prods readers into proactive thinking about the future of virtual teams and collaboration.

VB: What do students learn in your senior seminar in creativity class at California State Polytechnic University?

Jill Nemiro: Sadly, a lot of people view creativity as a mysterious force that can't be controlled, and that they either have it or they don't. In fact, many of us think we are not creative.

In reality, researchers know a lot about creativity, including how to define it, how to enhance it in us and in others, and what things to avoid so as not to weaken or deter creative responses. Knowledge of the psychology of creativity, especially knowledge of one's own creative abilities, can lead to more effective and efficient creativity during the course of one's life.

Mostly, I want students to leave this course with an appreciation for, and an understanding of, what creativity is and an awareness of their own creative potential. The course provides students with knowledge of creativity, what it is, and with some creative tools that will help them thrive creatively during and after their college studies.
The specific goals of the course include studying:
  • What is creativity?
  • What characterizes a creative person?
  • What resources are needed for team creativity?
  • What makes up the creative process?
  • What lays the foundation for team creativity?
  • What climate does creativity thrive in?
  • What personal barriers need to be eliminated to be creative?

I love teaching this course. It is so rewarding to see the creative products and services the students develop in the course. But mostly what is rewarding is watching students grow and learn to appreciate their own creative spirit and potential.

VB: How did you select the nine virtual teams discussed in your book, Creativity in Virtual Teams?

Jill Nemiro: I remember talking to Jessica Lipnack, who is an accomplished writer on virtual teams, when I began to search for virtual teams to interview for the book. Jessica gave me some solid advice. "Ask everyone you know if they know anyone working on a virtual team." And so I did. It was not unlike me at that time to be working out at the gym and turn to someone on the next lifecycle and say, "Do you know anyone working in a virtual team?" I did a preliminary search and talked to around one hundred fifty leaders of teams, in search of the virtual teams for the book.

I wanted to use what is called 'Maximum Variation Sampling', which means in more simple terms, select teams that vary on a variety of important criteria. The reason was I wanted the data to generalize to a broad variety of teams. So in the final nine teams I selected and interviewed, I had teams from different industries, teams who had been together for various periods of time – from 6 months to 15 years. Teams with varying degrees of virtualness – some who had never met face to face, some who met twice a year, and some who met monthly. And teams with different numbers of people in the team geographically dispersed – some teams where all team members lived in different parts of the U.S. and the world, to other teams where only one member was virtually dispersed.

VB: You say the question "Is creativity always necessary?" has haunted you since the early days of your research. Why?

Jill Nemiro: Well I suppose that is because I have always had a bias in my life that creativity is good and necessary. I did not want this bias to be carried over into my own research. I wanted to remain objective, but realized that it's not always that easy to do.

When I started interviewing virtual team members, I learned from them that creativity and efficiency do not always go hand in hand. That sometimes there are tasks where creativity can actually be a waste of time, and eat up energy that should be saved for a task where creativity is really necessary. I even recall the first question in my oral exams in my Ph.D. program – one of my committee members asked me, "Don't you think creativity is just a fad?" I know the professor was trying to put me on the spot, and I handled the question with ease and poise in the exam, or so my dissertation chair, who was also there, told me.

But I don't. I don't think creativity is a fad. I think it is a necessity in life.

VB: Would you talk about the importance of having the time to think as it relates to creativity?

Jill Nemiro: The story I like to tell my students when I talk about time and how it relates to creativity, is how I still, even today, am squeamish when the clock strikes 5 pm. For me, in the film business, 5 pm was Fed Ex delivery time. For the children's series I worked on, editorial cuts had to be ready for delivery for the 5 pm Fed EX deadline – those days were stressful. I felt the pressure when I was cutting a scene, looked at the clock at 3 pm, and thought, "Yikes, only two more hours and I have to be done." I ended up putting a picture of my dog and a picture of the Sierra Nevada Mountains next to me. When I felt the stress of time pressure, I looked at these pictures momentarily to relax.

Of course, we all need to work to meet deadlines. But there has to be enough time scheduled into these deadlines to allow for creative thoughts to develop. The struggle I faced as an editor was that I was not always consulted when schedules were made up. Sometimes the schedules were unrealistic, and did not allow for the necessary revisions and creative tinkering that is necessary in the editing process.

VB: You observed that the virtual teams you studied worked and created in the same manner as humans have done since ancient times. Similar approach, different technology. What is the significance of this finding?

Jill Nemiro: What I think you are referring to here is something I learned from a few of the virtual team members I interviewed. One shared that he felt virtual teams had been in existence for a long time, but that today technology has just become more advanced. Another suggested that virtual teams really were around for ages, even way back when Emily Dickinson sent her poems to her publisher through mail. The fact is that people have been working virtually with less advanced technology for many years.

However, I'm not sure I would totally agree that it is a similar approach, different technology. I think the types of technology today that allow for dispersed team members to be able to connect in more rich mediums, and that allow for more verbal and nonverbal cues in addition to just the written word, actually assist in the process. The more rich the technology, the less chance for misunderstandings to occur. And the more chance for spontaneity. Emily Dickinson, I imagine, had to wait much longer for feedback from her publisher, than contemporary poets. The give and take, iterative approach of creativity, must be easier today.

VB: You say that the thirty-six members of the virtual teams you studied saw themselves as a team first with attributes such as interdependence, shared values and common goals. Is it therefore correct to say a team is a team, whether virtual or not?

Jill Nemiro: Absolutely! A team is first and foremost defined with the characteristics of interdependence, shared values and common goals. Without those, whether you are working virtually or not, I don't consider you a team.

VB: You say that the virtual team creative process that emerged during your study of the nine teams was composed of three stages: problem finding, problem solving and solution implementation. Why, as you indicate, do most other creative process models not include solution implementation? Doesn't the implementation stage often require at least an equal amount of creativity and innovation?

Jill Nemiro: In creativity research, there does seem to be some confusion around the terms creativity and innovation. Some refer to creativity as the thinking up of ideas, and innovation as the implementation of those ideas.

I tend to take a broader approach. So in reference to your first question, I think those who do not include solution implementation in the creative process are saying that it is a part of innovation.

But I do agree with your second question. It's often difficult to separate creativity and innovation. Of course, we can see when an idea takes form and turns into something tangible. But what I don't like about leaving solution implementation out of the creative process is that it might imply creativity stops there, which it does not. I liken this to the publishing process of The Handbook I discussed earlier. Even after the chapters were turned from ideas into full-length chapters, we were still creating, revising, and fine-tuning. I don't think the creative process stopped until the final page layout review, where we were just examining the pages for typos and such. So I guess that is my problem with separating out creativity and innovation. They are really so intertwined.

VB: It seems that the iterative approach to completing work, where team members work together virtually, would almost always be more creative and productive than a modular work design approach were work is parceled out to qualified team members and their work is later integrated together. Would you agree it may be less efficient but more creative?

Jill Nemiro: I don't think that these approaches necessarily have to be used exclusive of one another. The iterative approach and modular approach can be used together, and at different stages of the project life cycle.

I tell my student teams, who have a tendency to move too early to a modular approach, that they need to start by brainstorming together. Then once they have worked through the idea generation stage, they can assign parts of the project to be parceled out for development; thus use the modular approach here. However, it is also crucial to include iterative discussions and reviews during the development stage.

What I am saying is that the modular approach should not be gone to too quickly, and when it is used, it is best used in the development stage of the creative process. Even then, there should be periods of iterative feedback and review.

VB: Are most virtual teams destined, unless carefully led and facilitated, to be less creative than their full potential due to the tendency of business leaders and perhaps even participants to want to find quick solutions rather than taking the time to properly define the problem, generate lots ideas for possible solutions, and adequately assess alternatives to determine the best? Is that an innate risk due to the fast paced, highly competitive and global nature of business today – and perhaps also the very nature of the N Generation who are entering the workforce?

Jill Nemiro: You know, I am not sure whether the team is virtual or not is really a factor, but rather the point you bring up is that business in general wants to move quickly to solutions, whether virtual or not.

I remember after graduate school going on a job interview for a position in a major corporation's organizational development department. During the interview one of the managers said to me, "We don't have time to train you. We want you to hit the ground running." I think that mentality happens a lot in business. I do, also, think that the pace of business moves us toward quick solutions. Nevertheless, I still am optimistic and believe that there are organizations that appreciate taking the time to think creatively before moving to solutions.

VB: You found that information sharing and trust are crucial for creative work in virtual teams. Is this any different than for teams that physically work together?

Cover of Handbook of High-Performance Virtual TeamsJill Nemiro: I think that for any team, trust and information sharing are key. But for virtual teams, trust is even more difficult to build. And without trust, I don't think a virtual team can survive.

With regards to information sharing, I'd say that it is important for both types of teams – virtual or not – but it's probable that virtual teams have to work harder to ensure that there are systems in place to exchange and update information. Face to face teams have to do this as well, but sometimes it's done informally in "water-cooler" discussions or in face-to-face meetings.

VB: Were you surprised to find that members of virtual teams talked about having a personal bond with each other – that they felt like a family – even when no face-to-face contact ever occurred? Were you also surprised about the ways or techniques they used to form these personal bonds?

Jill Nemiro: I was totally surprised at the high level of bonding that some of these virtual team members had with one another, especially with those teams in which the members had never met face to face. And I still am surprised by this even today!

VB: Your research also found that interpersonal skills were as important, if not more so, with virtual teams compared to teams where the members were located together. Do you have any special advice about how to develop virtual team members' skills such as active listening, showing empathy, resolving conflict, developing trust, nonverbal communication and communicating across cultures?

Jill Nemiro: Oh my, this a such a good question, and there is now a lot of material on this. I'm not sure I could answer this adequately in just this interview. Suffice it to say reading my book, Creativity in Virtual Teams, will be a resource that can help your readers with this. There are many other good references as well. One book I really like is The Distance Manager by Kimball Fisher. Fisher talks about what he calls 'Socratic Questioning' and 'Coaching at a Distance'.

VB: What are some of the key skills required of team leaders and facilitators of virtual teams?

Jill Nemiro: Well, first of all, I would have to say that in virtual teams, team members are often required to play many different roles on multiple projects. So a person may be a team member on one project, and a team leader on another, but still be part of the same virtual team. Thus, the skills that team leaders need are really important for all team members. That being said, there are a set of eleven different team member and leader competencies that I lay out in Creativity in Virtual Teams as crucial for effective virtual teamwork.
The competencies include:
  • Developing an awareness of yourself and how you interact with others;
  • Developing and practicing supportive communication skills;
  • Building the ability to communicate effectively across cultures;
  • Resolving conflict effectively;
  • Problem solving and decision making skills;
  • Managing stress because virtual work schedules are often 24/7;
  • Time management and personal productivity skills;
  • Developing and motivating others – coaching and empowering;
  • Utilizing positive political skills to push ideas forward;
  • Knowledge management, data gathering, and information access skills; and
  • Developing ways to advance one's career in the virtual workplace.

What is interesting about the skills needed is that they function at many different levels – the individual team member and leader, the team, and the organization. It's important for individual team leaders and members to be self-aware, manage stress, be personally productive, use positive persuasive and political skills, and develop ways to advance their individual careers in the virtual environment. At the team level, team leaders need to communicate supportively across cultures, collaboratively solve problems and make decisions, help to resolve potential and real conflicts between team members, and motivate and coach virtual team members. At the organizational level, there needs to be systems in place to help team leaders and members manage knowledge and information.

VB: If you were putting together a virtual team what weighting would you put on personality compared to skills? What kind of personalities are most suitable to achieving a highly creative virtual team?

Jill Nemiro: Not all individuals are comfortable, or even want to work in virtual teams. And of course there are many different forms that virtual teams take.

Some virtual teams are composed of people who never meet face-to-face, and some have varying degrees of face-to-face interaction involved. So that would be a variable that might influence the type of personality needed. For those individuals who require, as one of the team members I interviewed shared, "warm, human contact", being on a team that is totally virtual may be somewhat isolating. On the other hand, another team member I interviewed said she did not require this type of social interaction from work colleagues, and actually rather enjoyed only having contact virtually with her fellow co-workers. She commented that there was less politics involved. So I suppose the degree of interpersonal connection one wants at work would be a factor.

What I think is even more important is a sense of self-discipline and responsibility. Virtual teams require team members who are self-driven, responsible, and proactive. So to go back to your original question about what do I think about personality versus skills in terms of a highly creative team, I'd say that it is extremely important to have members on virtual teams that are self-motivated – especially those in which the level of synchronous and face-to-face communication is limited.

Beyond that, I'd say that the development of the eleven skills I mentioned earlier are much more important than any other personality traits for developing a highly creative and effective virtual team.

VB: Would you expect members of a virtual team to be more willing to accept change, even radical change, because the way they are working is still somewhat unconventional in the business world?

Jill Nemiro: That is an interesting question. I tend to believe that virtual team members accept or resist change just as much as those who work in more traditional teams.

I'd have to say there are probably a lot of other variables, other than being a member of a virtual team, that would need to be considered – for example, the type of change that is being required. It may be that members of virtual teams would be more open to changes in the implementation of information technology into the work process, just because the nature of their work requires it.

This question also seems to relate to your previous one as well. It may be that the specific types of people that are attracted to virtual work – people who are self-motivated and who desire and appreciate autonomy and freedom in their work – are more accepting of change.

VB: You advise that "clarity" is the way for virtual teams to deal with conflict. Would you explain?

Jill Nemiro: Let me start with a little example. When I was in graduate school, I remember working as a research assistant for a professor who was not located at my university. So for the most part, all our work together was conducted virtually. I remember he sent me an email to do some research in a particular area. I proceeded to spend days working on the project, and then sent him the results. A few days later, I received an email from him indicating that I had not totally understood what he wanted, and that I needed to basically "go back to the drawing board." I was so disheartened, and this was my first experience with the difficulties of establishing goal clarity through virtual communication.

When I say clarity, I mean goal and task clarity. It is imperative that team members are clear on what the team and organizational goals are, and on the tasks that need to be taken to accomplish those goals. Otherwise, not only may conflict arise; wasted efforts and time will occur as well. And frankly these days, who has time to waste?

VB: You reference Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps' fifty foot rule of collaboration in Creativity in Virtual Teams. Why is it that individuals who work more than fifty feet from each other tend to communicate electronically? Does this suggest that working in virtual teams is somehow instinctive to humans?

Jill Nemiro: The fast pace of work today creates an environment in which people are always trying to get more done, in too little time. I see this a lot in my own workplace, where people avoid talking to one another and instead send off a quick email. They have so much to do and know that sending an email will take much less time than it will to walk to the person's office, exchange a few greetings, and then get to the topic at hand.

Cover of The Collaborative Work Systems FieldbookI don't necessarily think we have some kind of "instinct" to work virtually. The quick pace at which work moves today drives individuals to seek out the most efficient, and less time-consuming way to perform work. However, I'll have to clarify this statement a bit. My gut feeling is that the application of the fifty-foot rule of collaboration probably varies depending on the culture and the degree of what is termed "individualism" versus "collectivism" in the culture.

Individualistic cultures, like the United States, are characterized by individuals who tend to look after themselves and their immediate families, are self-centered, and emphasize individual goals, success and achievements on the job. Collectivistic cultures, like China, emphasize the collective group – harmony, loyalty, and individuals think more in terms of "we". So it very well may be that this fifty-foot rule of collaboration does not hold true in collectivistic cultures, where relationships are key.

VB: What is social presence and why is it an important factor in enabling successful collaborative and creative work in a virtual team?

Jill Nemiro: Social presence refers to the degree to which a specific type of technology facilitates warmth, sensitivity, and a personal connection with others. For example, a face-to-face meeting has a high level of social presence, because it allows for facial expressions, touch, posture, and other nonverbal cues to be communicated along with the verbal message. Email and other forms of written communication have far less social presence.

Using communication methods with high levels of social presence is very important in creative work because these types of communication methods build 'interpersonal connection' among team members, a necessary condition for creativity in virtual teams. These communication methods involve high levels of information sharing, personal bonding, and trust.

VB: You identify six linear techniques for stimulating creativity: attribute listing, morphological synthesis, force-field analysis, mind mapping, idea checklists and brainstorming. Which of these techniques are your personal favorites, and why?

Jill Nemiro: I'd have to pick three, for different reasons. I really love brainstorming because it is a great way to get a team started on the path of coming up with ideas. It is exciting to be a part of a good brainstorming session, because of the synergy and building of ideas that evolves. If these sessions are run correctly, with deferment of judgment of ideas at the onset, then the "sky's the limit" in terms of the kinds of ideas that can be generated.

Mind mapping is another favorite technique of mine, because I am a very visual person. I like to see ideas, and how they connect and build on other ideas. A mind-map allows you to see this in a graphic format.

And lastly, force-field analysis is a technique that I have used personally to work my way through some difficult challenges. By focusing on a particular challenge, outlining the positive factors pushing you toward the ideal and the negative factors hindering you from that ideal, and then developing actions to strengthen the positive factors and weaken the negative factors, it gives an individual or a team a way to develop concrete action plans to work through challenging situations.

VB: You also identify imagery, analogical thinking, drawing, and meditation as intuitive techniques. Did the teams you studied for Creativity in Virtual Teams use these with success to enhance their creativity?

Jill Nemiro: Good question. Unfortunately, in business the intuitive techniques sometimes get a "bad rap," and are thought to be a waste of time. However, they are not, and can help team members reach a level of calm that can lead to "aha" moments.

Drawing was a technique some teams I interviewed used, especially product-oriented and design teams. Meditation was also used, but, as I mention in my book, not to the same degree. Individual team members utilized specific techniques to "clear their minds" when "getting stuck" – techniques such as taking a short break or a walk down the hall.

VB: You devote a whole chapter to the lessons learned from your study of the nine virtual teams. Which one or two lessons were especially noteworthy?

Jill Nemiro: While I think all the lessons are important for the functioning of successful virtual teams, three are especially crucial or noteworthy. The first is "Assess whether the type of creative project is really best accomplished in a virtual team design".1 Not all work can effectively be accomplished virtually, and organizations need to seriously consider if this new working arrangement will suitable for the tasks they are suggesting it be used for.

The second crucial lesson is, "Managers and team leaders of virtual teams can build interpersonal connection among team members by providing funds and opportunities that will allow virtual team members to bond personally".2 Creating a good, personal connection at the beginning of a virtual team's existence forms the foundation upon which the team can function in the virtual environment.

Finally, the third noteworthy lesson is, "Establish agreed-upon norms for regular communication early on".3 Having norms in place that keep the team communicating, sharing information, and staying in contact is important to ensure high levels of accountability and involvement. It will promote positive interpersonal dynamics and enable the team to function successfully to accomplish its tasks.

VB: Would you describe the writing and editing process you followed when writing Creativity in Virtual Teams in order to achieve a publication with virtually no mistakes? How does one strive for such perfection?

Jill Nemiro: The writing and editing process of this book was definitely one in which I had to practice what I was preaching. The key players in the process apart from myself included Susan Rachmeler, my developmental editor at Pfeiffer; Michael Beyerlein, the Collaborative Work Systems series editor; Justin Frahm, production editor at Jossey-Bass; and Kathleen Dolan Davies and Matthew Davis, senior editors at Jossey-Bass.

The process started with me creating a proposal and drafts of two chapters of the book, and submitting them to Mike Beyerlein. Mike was a professor at the University of North Texas at the time – he's now Head of Organizational Leadership and Supervision at Purdue University. Mike then "pitched" the proposal of my book, along with a few others, as a Collaborative Work Systems series to Jossey-Bass. Once I got the "go ahead" to draft the book, I spent about six months writing the initial draft. Following that, I worked closely with Susan Rachmeler, integrating in her remarkable insight and feedback into chapter revisions. This work was done virtually; I never met Susan face-to-face.

After the chapters were in final form, they were sent to Justin Frahm, and his copy editorial staff. Again, I never met Justin and his copy editors face-to-face. The copy editors, Laura Reizman and Elyse Lord, combed the chapters and sent me revisions, which I reviewed and made changes as I thought appropriate. In the meantime, I also worked virtually with other members of the Jossey-Bass team in designing the front cover of the book and developing a marketing plan for the book – Bruce Lundquist, Chris Wallace, Bill Matherly, and Gabriela Bayardo.

So you can see, there were many different people involved, and all of this was accomplished without me meeting any of them face-to-face. Email was our primary mode of communication, interspersed with phone calls when necessary. I'd have to say that one of the things I did right throughout this project was to use strong organizational and time management skills. I had to work with many different people, and keep track of many different elements.

I also had to build relationships with these individuals in the virtual environment. How did we build relationships on this project?
Here are a few things we did right:
  • We took the time initially to introduce ourselves, even if it was through virtual methods.
  • We valued and respected one another's area of expertise.
  • We remained accountable, delivering what we said within the timeframe we had agreed to.

VB: Do you have any final comments or advice for our readers?

Jill Nemiro: I'll close this interview, just as I closed my book, Creativity in Virtual Teams. I ask each and every one of your readers, whether working virtually or not, to "make room for creativity in their life and in their teams' lifecycle".4 Believe in yourself and your creative potential. The real value of my book and this interview will be the ways in which your readers use this content to build and maintain high levels of creativity within their work teams. Enjoy the journey.

If your readers have any questions or would like to dialog virtually about creativity in virtual teams, I can be reached at Jill Nemiro.

Creativity can result in incremental innovation – improvements to existing processes – or radical innovation resulting in entirely new activities. A virtual team is like a team that is physically working together. They are characterized by interdependence, shared values, and common goals. However, there are special considerations that must addressed in order to make them productive and successful.

Author Jill Nemiro advises that when she asked members of virtual teams to describe themselves, they "overwhelmingly responded that they were a team first".5

Dr. Jill Nemiro's Bio:
Jill Nemiro is an Assistant Professor in Psychology and Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Her research interests are in organizational team creativity, and the virtual workplace. She has published and presented numerous papers on teams and creativity. Nemiro is the author of The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams: A Toolkit for Collaborating Across Boundaries (2008), Creativity in Virtual Teams: Key Components for Success (2004), and co-editor with Michael M. Beyerlein, Craig McGee, and Gerald Klein of The Collaborative Work Systems Fieldbook: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques (2003).

Dr. Nemiro worked for twenty years in the entertainment industry, as a film and videotape editor, specializing in management training and corporate videos.

She has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from Claremont Graduate University, M.A. in Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, B.A. in Motion Picture/Television from University of California, Los Angeles, and A.A. in Theatre Arts from University of Florida, Gainesville.

1. Jill E. Nemiro, Creativity in Virtual Teams: Key Components for Success, (Pfeiffer and Company, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), p270.
2. Ibid., p272.
3. Ibid., p277.
4. Ibid., p282.
5. Ibid., p127.

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