What are the challenges with the distributed model?

By Karen Lojeski  |  Posted 12-11-2006 Print Email

Credit Suisse CIO Tom Sanzone on his secrets to IT innovation in a virtual world.

Given all these new opportunities, what are some of the challenges with the distributed model?

Well, a consistently significant challenge facing all change programs is managing people getting the organization ready for change, thinking through how you're going to implement the change, at what pace, what effect does that have on the people currently implementing the function or the process. And then in terms of the model you're evolving toward, how do you make sure the people involved work well together, that the people systems are appropriate for that model. In short, is it efficient?

You're extending what we're normally used to in the workplace, just like the two of us sitting here, building a relationship. Relationships now are different because they're more virtualized. People aren't enjoying as much face-to-face interaction in the same physical location. That's a dynamic change. You have to figure out how you're going to build the same kind of strong and trusting relationships while working across great distances you might only be in the same physical location a few times a year, if ever. So that's a dynamic change. I think it works, but you can't trivialize its importance. You have to think about it in a different way.

We're looking at new videoconference technologies that are amazing. They're high-definition, zero-latency interactions, where you go into a room, sit down and you really feel like you're sitting around a table. The image of the person who is communicating through a flat panel is life-size it's as if they were sitting there.

So the challenge is really about people and change. It's not an everyday, "plain vanilla" change-management issue. Can you expound on that? I have people working all over the world, and the approach to even basic things, how to develop software, for example, is vastly different depending on the country and culture. In the U.S., for example, there's a pretty entrepreneurial mentality. It's aggressive and, from a process perspective, less formal than some other cultures. Conversely, in some other regions and cultures, the precision around project management is extremely important dotting the I's, crossing the T's, thinking everything through in advance. We are currently in a situation where our teams are being integrated, so we are confronting these differences. It takes a lot of work and time to figure out a way to capture the best of both cultures and processes, and come up with something that's a hybrid. This will take some adapting by all groups involved, but it is something that we can aspire to.

However, it is really not a process issue. It's a cultural issue, a values issue. As you create these virtual teams and workforces, you have to deal with these differences at a much higher level. There could be any number of variations that an organization has to deal with. The challenge for management and leadership is how to bring them together, to take the best practices from those different cultures and processes and make it all work. I don't think it happens overnight. It's something that happens gradually over time.

In the initial stages of integrating processes and cultures, it is important to bring the people physically together, which may seem counter to the virtual concept. Let's face it, spending time together in the same location is critical and always will be, because that's human nature. So you need to get the people together, they do need to spend time with one another, and then they can move out to the various locations as part of a virtual team.

It's like creating a strategy together on the back of a napkin, and it turns out to be a great idea that happened because of the natural rhythm and flow of informal, face-to-face conversation.

That's so true. You can be in a meeting all day and you're interacting and you're getting results, but then when you go out to dinner and you're in that environment for an hour, you notice the conversation is much better than it was during the day. The openness, the sharing of ideas, and the more candid interaction

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