With the explosion of the Internet using high-speed connections, every team already has a virtual element because Email has become an integral part the work whether or not team members are dispersed or co-located. But information technology can do so much more for teams and their organizations. A digital group memory (DGM), as I have described in this paper, provides an electronic memory with the following benefits:
- Provides group cohesion
- Keeps all team members up-to-date without a meeting
- Facilitates external parties providing feedback and expertise
- Brings new members up-to-speed on the team's work
- Smoothes the transition from one team to another in work that is organized in phases
- Manages explicit action statements regarding who is doing what by when, which in turn is communication that keeps team members informed
- Facilitates peer-to-peer assistance, not just manager-to-subordinate
- Facilitates coaching by the team leader
- Eases knowledge sharing between teams via community action
However, a fundamental shift is necessary in how teams function. Moving from Email to a DGM is like moving from the classic hub-and-spoke communication of team leader and team member to a team member to team member pattern. The immediate benefit is that the team leader will spend less time collecting status, collating information, and re-entering data for, say, a management report. Instead, the leader will simply package content that exists as a result of the team using the group's DGM.
This makes more time available for the leader to support team members through coaching, supervision, and looking ahead. The team and business processes shift from being discrete events to ones of continuous flow that have synchronization points along the way for in-depth, face-to-face problem identification and problem solving. For the team members it also means less work for they have immediate access to the latest information and no longer have to create their own conclusions by sifting through strings of Emails.
Finally, with a shift of team work-related communication away from Email and into the digital group memory, Email can return to being a powerful medium for other uses. This is because it, and its users, will no longer be overloaded.