enous communities. This tradition,
which might be called “hierarchical
uniformity,” is no longer valid for
many groups. Instead, many groups
are confronted with what might be
called “diversified nonuniformity.”
In this context, teams are multicultural, deadlines are short, actions are
automatic (nonreflective), decision
making is distributed, leadership is
earned, performance assessment is
purely merit based, in-person meetings are infrequent, resources are insufficient, information is overwhelming, and sensory data is conflicting.
It is no surprise that hastily formed
networks for disaster relief are fertile
grounds for miscoordination: they violate the tradition dramatically. 2 Participants from hierarchical uniform organizations have little need to practice
coordination in pluralistic networks.
When they convene in such a network,
they are unprepared to work together.
The hierarchical uniform tradition
goes hand in hand with three other beliefs about effective teams. One is the
notion of “best practices”: the leadership finds a “best” way to do something and requires everyone to do it
that way. In our experience, this notion is incompatible with pluralistic
networks. There is no one “best way”
for a diversified team to accomplish its
mission. It must adapt and flow with a
constant stream of new possibilities.
Second is relativism, the notion
that all team member worldviews are
equally valid and, hence, the common
ground must be found in the absence
of universal values. We believe, to
the contrary, that there are universal
values. Seven of them motivate the
practices we recommend below. For
example, asking for and receiving
binding commitments is universal,
although the style of making requests
and promises varies among cultures.
Another example is that everyone be-
lieves in “do not kill any person,” al-
though many do not hesitate to kill
those whom their culture defines as
Third is team stages of development,
the notion that teams move through
the stages that Bruce Tuckerman called
“forming, storming, norming, and
performing.” 9 This is useful guidance
for leaders of relatively homogenous
teams. In pluralistic networks, the for-
the main issue of
is that the members
bring different values
and do not see the
world the same way.
mation of leadership itself becomes a
central concern. There is no externally
appointed leader who can guide the
team through those four stages. The
team’s emergent leadership must do
this by itself. The possibilities of miscommunication and dramatic mood
shifts are constant threats.
Practices for Diversified
We have been conducting experiments
to understand a small but important
piece of the problem: What practices
do small teams need to function well
in a pluralistic network? Answering
this question is the first step toward
building helpful computational tools.
The main issue of pluralistic net-
works is that the members bring dif-
ferent values and do not see the world
the same way. We have investigated
whether there are universal values
that would bridge the diversity, gen-
erate mutual respect, and support ev-
eryone’s dignity. We have found seven
universal values and associated prac-
tices that realize them in the team:
Proficiency in a practice essential 1.
to the team;
Capacity to articulate a vision of 2.
the team’s value in the world that others embrace and commit to;
Capacity to enter into binding 3.
commitments and fulfill them;
Capacity to spot and eliminate 4.
Capacity to share on the spot, real- 5.
time assessments of performance, for
the sake of building and maintaining
trust, including disclosures of moods
and emotions inspired by the environment and action of the team;
Capacity to observe one’s own 6.
history and how it interacts with the
histories of the others on the team;
Capacity to blend, meaning to 7.
dynamically align one’s intentions,
movements, and actions with those of
Research and experience support
the hypothesis that these practices
constitute the essential core for coordination in pluralistic networks. For
example, Womack and Jones11
promote “lean thinking,” a practice of seeing and eliminating waste. Gladwell4
reports on how airlines discovered
that most accidents could be traced
to cross-culture miscommunication
in the cockpit; accidents dropped significantly after the airlines put pilots
through multicultural communication training. Multicultural group processes such as the Barrett-Fry Appreciative Inquiry1 and the Straus-Layton
method7 have been very successful at
developing shared interpretation and
solidarity in pluralistic communities.
Strozzi-Heckler8 reports that Leadership practices for making assessments
and blending have been very effective
for teams and groups. Tuomi10
concluded that loosely formed volunteer
networks of collaboration frequently
fall into practices like these.
We recently completed a four-month
experiment to examine whether an
MMOG could be used as a learning
environment for the core practices
listed here. The diversified group consisted of 28 people who did not know
each other. They came from about
half a dozen countries and varied professional backgrounds. The MMOG
was the WOW game. We chose WOW
because it is an amazingly complex
synthetic world created by a social
machine from the interactions of millions of players. John Seely Brown and
Douglas Thomas have already brought
WOW to the attention of the business
community as a possible training
ground for leadership. 5, 6
Within the WOW context, it is possible to define precisely what it means
for a small team to be proficient by extending the Dreyfus definitions3 from
individuals to teams. The definitions
enable us to measure the progress of
teams toward proficiency. The game