Chess and Business Strategy

By Luigi Morsa, Ph.D.

Undoubtedly the chess game is fascinating because it implies deep thinking, strategy, and prediction ability. It is often seen analogous to a business strategy. Each player fervently studies the board, patiently waits their turn, anticipates the opponent’s next move, and runs through potential scenarios in their head. This is not so different from strategic planning in the business world. However, in some markets, the competitors attack simultaneously from all sides, the internal struggles of a company can have a negative effect, and a host of other elements which can all be put into play at the same time. Nevertheless, the parallels between chess and business are clear.

Companies put chess principles into action on a regular basis, often without even realizing that they are strategically positioning their pieces in a series of moves that have been utilized multiple times through the years. No wonder, therefore, that we can find a chessboard in the home or office of top CEOs or world leaders. The list of US presidents enthusiastic about chess is long, from Lincoln to Jimmy Carter to, more recently, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; outside the USA we can mention Mikhail Gorbachev, Yasser Arafat, Angela Merkel and even important historical personalities like Mandela or Napoleon, and even some European dictators.

Sometimes chess is even an obsession: the President-elect of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, who credits his success to his chess playing ability, was said to have delayed a strategy meeting simply in order to finish a chess game! Most of the world’s billionaires are chess players: Gates, Ellison, Soros, van Oosterom, and others; even quite young entrepreneurs  today,  like  Miami’s  Care  Cloud founder  Albert Santalo, A.J. Steigman, founder and CEO of Soletron, and co-founder and CEO of Facebook,  Mark  Zuckerberg, have a history of playing chess and using its principles in creative business  transactions.

Peter Thiel, one of the early investors in Facebook and the founder of PayPal, has history as a chess master. He maintains that it is essential “to know the value of the pieces”. Each piece in a chess game has a specific value. By knowing the value, it is easier to make decisions about game strategy and placement. Similarly, by knowing the value of employees and other associates, it can be easier to make business decisions regarding job responsibilities and other related decisions.

Justin Moore, child chess prodigy, was ranked in the top 20 youth chess players in the United States by the time he was a teenager. Moore is now CEO of Axcient, a cloud services provider. According to Moore, too many companies lose sight of their goal and get sidetracked into reactionary activities. As a chess player, Moore understands the value in planning an endgame, and explains that businesses must model the same behavior. By not being waylaid by the activities of a competitor, it is easier to remain focused on the ultimate goal of the company. Due to the importance that in the business strategy is given to the chess game, two researchers, Hunt and Cangemi in the study, “Want to improve your leadership skills? Play chess!” came to the conclusion that in order to bridge the gap between scholarship and entrepreneurship, and to build better leaders capable of handling future demands; the well-researched and powerful tool of Chess should be incorporated into the early grade curriculum, as well as in graduate leadership, business, industrial, and educational programs. Chess can be the catalyst to enhance the skills of graduates and leaders alike to remain competitive in a global economy.

We could say that according to people in business, in order to succeed, it is becoming more and more advisable to have the mindset of a chess player. In literature, there are several examples about the parallelism between chess and business, but rarely there are specific examples on a real chessboard; the scope of this article is to discuss a clear and real example of chess strategy in business.

The chess game is a competition between two subjects. Therefore, from a business point of view, this fits well when we refer to a duopoly. One of the most interesting and fascinating duopoly markets of the last several years is the one between the two giant airplanes manufacturers: Boeing and Airbus. It is difficult to find other markets where two actors play. In the case of the big airplane market, there are only Boeing and Airbus because the barrier to entry into this market is quite high.

Having only two players, the market dynamics and strategies can be displayed on a chessboard and can be interpreted through the eyes of a chess player. A tangible example is given by the competition between the models of the Boeing 747 and Airbus 380. Boeing introduced the B747 in 1970 and for the following 37 years had the monopoly in big, long range airplanes. This allowed Boeing to gain enormous profitability with the advantage of investing and competing in other segments of the market where Airbus had a presence. For this reason, people at Airbus realized that if they really wanted to compete with Boeing, they needed to attack the B747. Therefore, after a long gestation period starting in 1988 and continuing through the early months of 2000, the board management at Airbus decided to develop the A380 (introduced in 2007), a four engines aircraft like B747, but 20% more efficient and with an entire second floor along its fuselage, able to provide seating for 555 people in a typical three-class configuration or up to 853 people in an all-economy class configuration; while the B747 carries up to 524 passengers.

The precondition for success looked to be close at hand, but something went wrong. While the European engineers were working on the A380 project, their counterparts in USA were figuring out a different scenario. Instead of proposing the classical schema of connection between great hubs and then taking a second flight to the final destination, the idea was to connect directly two minor airports. In other words, instead of taking a short range aircraft from Stockholm flying to London, then London-New York (major hubs connection) by flying a big long range aircraft and then a short range aircraft to cover the distance New York-Las Vegas, the proposal was to fly directly from Stockholm to Las Vegas.

Hub and Spoke
Point to Point

The challenge was to create an aircraft remaining competitive by carrying less passengers compared to A380 or B747. This was a necessity because the demand for direct flights is not the same as among major hubs. In order pursue this task, engineers in the USA developed the 787 Dreamliner (introduced in 2011, 224-330 passengers seats versions), with a carbon-composite fuselage (lighter material than aluminium), equipped with two engines and able to fly longer distances while consuming less jet fuel than the A380. Without going into so much detail, we can say that history has shown that the airline companies have preferred the new model introduced by Boeing with B787, and for this reason Airbus started to develop its own version of a long-range, fuel-efficient airplane, called the A350-XWB (300-350 seating), which entered in service in 2015.

If we now look at a chessboard, we can imagine B747 and A380 as the two queens of the black and white pieces set (actually, one of the B747 nickname is “Queen of the Sky”). The idea of the player with white pieces was to attack undisturbed the black queen, but as shown in the picture, the black bishop (B787) was moved to block the white queen’s attack, and as a consequence the player with the white set moved the rook (A350) to contrast the bishop.  It has to be underlined, especially for the chess experts in order to avoid outraging them, that the description above is clearly inappropriate; it is not entirely in agreement with the chess logic, but it is important because it gives a remarkable image of the strategies.

In economic terms, there are models that allow us to understand and above all to predict the impact of the introduction of a new aircraft in a market. One of these relatively simple models is for instance “the Cournot competition” that was applied in 1988 by the professor Richard Baldwin and by Paul Krugman, the laureate economy Nobel prize in 2008, to study the competition between the aircraft models of Airbus and Boeing. The model worked quite well, but as shown in the example above it is a matter of hypothesis and therefore strategies because if we do not take into account that our competitor could introduce something new in the market, inevitably our prediction will be wrong.

Other important economic studies have often taken into account the “static” situation of the market, similar to very interesting works of Klepper (1990, 1994) and Neven & Seabright (1995). Even relatively recent studies like Irwin and Pavcnik in 2004, which examines exactly the competition between Airbus and Boeing after the introduction of A380, did not consider a possible aircraft outside the segment of A380 and B747 that could affect the market. However, in 2004 in defense of the authors, the idea of the B787 Dreamliner was very vague. Nevertheless, the history of the aircraft market evolution has proved that a certain degree of unpredictability should be taken into account.

Finally, the example of the competition between A380 and B747 is meaningful because is a good example to highlight the importance of having a vision of the future and to avoid the limitations of near-term thinking only. We can also say that even though we have good tools to perform the economic analyses and we choose models that do not take into account some possible moves by our competitors, our prediction will fail in any case; for this reason it is important to have in business the attitude of a chess player!

About the Author
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in Germany at the consultant company SII engineering & IT. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. More in detail, Luigi wrote the case study “The Airbus A380” and the chapter on “Innovation Management Software” for the books Project Management Case Studies, Fifth Edition (Wiley, 2017) and Innovation Project Management (Wiley, 2019), respectively. In 2018, he was a speaker at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® EMEA Congress to discuss the complexity of the aircraft-industry market, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the product and customer needs.


  2. Samuel J., Hunt,; Joseph Cangemi; Want to improve your leadership skills? Play chess!, Education; Spring 2014, Vol. 134 Issue 3, p359
  3. Luigi, Morsa; The Airbus A380 Airplane, case study for the book “Project Management Case Studies” 5th Edition by Harold Kerzner, Wiley, April 2017
  4. Richard Baldwin, Paul Krugman; Industrial Policy and International Competition in Wide-Bodied, chapter for the book “Trade Policy Issues and Empirical Analysis” by Robert E. Baldwin, University of Chicago Press, 1988
  5. Klepper, G., 1990. Entry into the market for large transport aircraft. European Economic Review 34, 775– 803.
  6. Klepper, G., 1994. Industrial policy in the transport aircraft industry. In: Krugman, P., Smith, A. (Eds.), Empirical Studies of Strategic Trade Policy. University of Chicago Press for the NBER, Chicago.
  7. Neven, D., Seabright, P., 1995. European industrial policy: the airbus case. Economic Policy 21, 313– 358.
  8. Douglas A. Irwin, Nina Pavcnik, Airbus versus Boeing revisited: international competition in the aircraft market, Journal of International Economics 64 (2004) 223– 245

Thoughts on ITIL® 4 from an ITIL v3 Expert

By Jurian Burgers, MSc, ITIL Expert and Managing Professional

ITIL® has been the leading guidance for IT Service Management for the past three decades. Millions of practitioners worldwide have applied it in their daily jobs to deliver and support IT services for the improvement of business results. Last year, AXELOS launched ITIL4. Why the change? As a certified ITIL v3 Expert, consultant and service management trainer for 20 years, I was curious to find out what the novelties were. I was surprised and disappointed at the same time.

Disappointed at first sight, because the 26 processes in ITIL v3 were expanded to 34 practices in ITIL4. Note that ITIL doesn’t talk about ‘processes’ anymore. They are called ‘practices’. Looking a bit further, the additional practices are not new. They are just adopted from other business and IT related fields. Examples are ‘Workforce and talent management’, ‘Risk Management’ and ‘Business Analysis’. And also my favourite: ‘Project Management’!

But reading a bit further, my enthusiasm for the framework declined again. I broke my head in thinking how I could possibly help organizations and teach students in the use of the new concepts. ITIL4 talks about Service Value System, Value Chain, Value Streams, flexible operating models, guiding principles and four dimensions of IT Service Management. Would the newcomers in the field of IT Service Management ever be able to understand these concepts and models? Most of them are just looking for explanation and guidance on incident-, problem-, change- and configuration management.

The only thing for me left to do was to really dig into it. I certified myself as accredited trainer and took the ITIL Managing Professional Transition course to fully understand ITIL4. This opened my eyes. I will explain this a bit further.

At first, I was glad to see that the core of ITIL is still there. Practices like Incident-, Problem-, Change, Config, Service Level Management etcetera still exist. They are even updated to modern ways of thinking and working.

Furthermore, ITIL4 can be regarded as an umbrella. Underneath it, it seamlessly integrates Project Management-, Agile-, Devops-, Lean- and ITIL(v3) ways of working. And it warmly welcomes the possibilities of new technologies like Cloud Computing, Big Data, AI and other high velocity IT developments at the same time!

Also, I was glad to see that ITIL finally left aside the rigid and inflexible nature that processes hold. That has always been the criticism in adopting ITIL. Especially for those who did not really knew how to use it. And to some extend I don’t blame them for this. The key in ITIL is that all activities must contribute to value for the users and customers.


This new ITIL way of thinking and working holistically can be tough for die-hard technicians and experts. But hey, the world changes. Open your eyes. Look at the fast moving and changing world we are in. Digital Transformation is happening all over. Successful fintech startups, game-changing blockchain implementations and the power of the voice of social media cannot be ignored. Moreover, they need to deliver value to customers, and need to be managed. ITIL4 brings you the tools and practices to guide you in this challenge. It is up to you to reach out.

Critical note: Will it be the holy grail? I don’t think so. Just because organizations are not that flexible in adopting and adapting new ways of working overnight. But it is definitely worthwhile looking into it and experiment with this super flexible model to support your IT services and deliver value to your customers. I wish you all the wisdom for the future.

Start your ITIL 4 journey with IIL!
ITIL 4 Foundation Course
ITIL v4 Passport Foundation (on-demand)


About the Author


Jurian Burgers is a subject matter expert, trainer, and consultant in IT Service Management and Cloud Service Management, with over 25 years of international experience helping enterprises in their journey towards digital transformation in various organizations, sectors, and countries.

ITIL® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.



How to boost your career with simple time allocation tricks

By Karim Radwan, Founder of Impactus Consulting | IIL Consultant and Trainer

If you often feel overwhelmed by the continuous flow of new tasks coming your way, pressured by time, or that your employer does not fully exploit your skills, be assured that you are not alone in this case.

According to Gallup reports, the majority of American citizens (79% in 2017) feel stressed. Work and lack of time (together with children) seem to be the major contributors to this figure.

This article ambitions to provide you with essential principles to allot your time in a way that maximizes your productivity and benefits your career.

Never enough time – Forget time management

No matter how skilled or smart you are, you can’t actually manage time. It is not possible to slow the seconds ticking on your watch, rewind a bad day back or fast-forward moments of boredom.

The only manageable aspect of time is how you allocate it.

Though it may sound obvious, it is essential to understand that time allocation is a 0-sum game. Put simply, the time you spend doing a task is time you can’t spend doing something else (this is known as the law of the excluded alternative) and as far as I know, once spent, time can never be recovered or reclaimed.

Knowing this unfortunate reality, Let’s see how can we ensure we are allocating this ever-elapsing time in the best way possible.

Everybody has an agenda – Take control

The number one priority is to take control of your time allocation. Obviously, if other people are deciding everything you are doing and when you are doing it, you can’t improve your time allocation.

You may think that your boss has total control on your schedule, but that is in most cases not the case. Let us see how you can twist your daily agenda to favor yourself (and later in the article how to create opportunities when there seem to be none).

Be the one who proactively sets the meetings and schedules the calls you must participate in. Else, these sessions will be scheduled to suit somebody else’s agenda, that is the reward one gets for taking the lead.

Avoid wasting your time in meetings you know will have no meaningful outcome. A good indicator is when a meeting has no agenda. Avoid those like the plague but learn how to say no in a constructive manner.

When you excuse yourself for a meeting, virtual gathering, or conference call, do not leave the organizer empty handed. Share 3 ideas in bullet points to contribute to the session (this will probably exceed the inputs of many participants in the meeting and will likely be remembered).

Do not just let the day “happen”, be proactive and try to get as many blocks of time as possible under your control.

90% is waste – Prioritize

As explained previously, deciding to do one task implies you have decided to do this task over any other task in the world. So, before starting a new endeavor, take a few seconds to reflect whether it is the most useful or the best for your career amongst all other tasks you could be doing at this time.

In the Lean project management methodology, anything that is not adding value is considered as waste. Apply the same reasoning when prioritizing your work and you may be surprised by the amount of time we spend without creating any value for the company or its clients.

“As a rule of thumb, 90% of everything a business does is waste.”
– John Earley, The Lean Book of Lean

While I don’t necessarily disagree with this figure, it is so extreme that it sometimes makes it difficult to know where to start to cut waste. We shall see below, where we can begin this exercise.

Not all tasks are born equal – Use the 80/20 rule

A good starting point to decide which activities deserve the most attention is to view the world through an 80/20 lens.

Also known as the Paretto principle named after Italian economist Vilfredo Paretto, Law of the vital few, or principle of factor sparsity, you will find references to this concept in most management books as it is a key concept of productivity.

The main idea is that there is an imbalance between inputs and results, meaning a minority of your efforts (approximately 20% in most cases) will have the majority of the impact (80%).

80% of the value perceived by your customers comes from 20% of your company’s actions.

One common example is spending some time contacting existing or former clients. This takes little time but often yields substantial revenues. However, people tend to allocate very little time to this activity as they are focusing on “growth” (new business).

While the exact percentages inputs/results will obviously vary from one company to another. Keep in mind that all tasks are not equal, and that priority should be given to those that generate the most significant outputs with the least time invested.

Take time to reflect on your latest success (a satisfied client, a new process, reward from your peers, etc.) and list the actions that made it possible and approximately how much time they took you. You may be incredibly surprised by the little amount of time they amount to.

Once identified, always give priority to this category of actions, and try to delegate or cut the actions that take 80% of your time but offer little or no return.

Money talks! A lot! – Put a price tag on your tasks

If it is difficult for you to apply the 80/20 lens and paint a clear picture of the actual return or result of your contributions, below is a technique you can use to differentiate and prioritize your duties by putting a price tag on them.

Ask yourself the following:

Does the task I am about to work on translate into money for the company (or avoids losing some)?

If the answer to this question is no, in most cases it is wise to postpone it, delegate it, or drop it.

If the answer is yes, ask yourself the following:

Could I work on another task that would translate into even more money for the company (or avoiding even larger losses)?

If the answer is no. Do the task. If the answer is yes, complete the task with the higher remuneration first.

If you are not in a position to assess the financial impact of your actions. You can still use the price tag technique to classify your work by asking yourself the following question:

How much would a company usually pay somebody to work on a similar task?

If the answer is below what you are earning, postpone, delegate, or drop the task.

It is fine to make rough estimates, this is not an accounting exercise, the idea is to understand whether the tasks you complete reflect your level of salary and more importantly the salary you are ambitioning to attain.

I can’t count the number of times I have witnessed people in managerial positions spending hours every day chasing suppliers’ payments, correcting typos in reports or emails, summarizing meetings to higher management, checking on employees’ presence, etc. this is such a waste of time and resources. An employee who earns one third of their salary could complete these tasks and would probably do them in a better way.

“If you aspire to earn 500$ an hour, do not spend your time doing tasks that can be done by someone who earns 5$ an hour.”
– Brian Tracy, Master Your Time Master Your Life

Of course, this is not an absolute rule. It is for you to judge if a task has the potential to generate revenue or benefits in the future. For example, inviting your best client for diner, may cost the company money, but safeguard future business.

The client is king – Focus on creating value

Ultimately, no matter how remotely their work is carried out, everybody in your company is being paid by its clients.

Keep this in mind throughout your working day. More specifically, before working on something, ask yourself if it will create value for your clients and if there aren’t any other tasks you could carry out that would generate more value for them. Of course, it must be value they are willing to pay for.

Once you start looking at your company’s work this way, you may be incredibly surprised by the tremendous amount of wasted efforts. Anything that does not contribute directly or indirectly to add value for your clients is likely not worth your efforts.

My personal experience – Design your own tasks

It can feel comforting to complete easy and repetitive tasks but very often they are not the ones creating value for your company.

If your job does not comprise many opportunities to add value for the company and its clients, you have to be proactive, create your own opportunities, and take the lead on issues that matter.

When I was an intern at a luxury wine and spirits distributor who also organized events (this was the part I enjoyed most), whatever the topic being discussed, I was not invited to say much. The General Manager came from the fine dining industry and had a similar character to Gordon Ramsey’s.

I noticed we had many women as clients, but no specific offer for them. I told the General Manager that I believed we were missing out on substantial revenue as the women buying our wine are not participating in our events.

I suggested to test an event focusing on women in the wine industry, inviting women sommeliers, women winegrowers, etc. to present their favorite wines and discuss their experience in a rather masculine line of work.

The General Manager thought I was wrong obviously, but the mention of potential revenue was enough to convince him to check the data (people always listen when you approach them with an idea to generate revenue). To his surprise, he had never noticed that women actually represented the majority of clients in a store that offered a customer experience entirely designed for men.

We organized the event. It crushed the record number of attendees of our past events and led to substantial free press coverage.

This is how I became in charge of redesigning all events for the Swiss market. Had I exclusively stuck to what I had been asked to do, I would have most likely ended up doing deliveries on a full-time basis.

When you focus on the most productive tasks, great things happen, you then get to do more of the interesting work, your motivation soars leading your overall productivity to skyrocket.

This post was originally published on the Impactus Consulting Blog. Republished with permission.

About the Author

Karim Radwan is the Founder of Impactus Consulting, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL.
Building on his extensive program and project management experience, Karim specializes in productivity and crisis management methods. He is well known for his ability to translate complex issues into simple and actionable concepts. His skillset and enthusiasm have benefited a wide range of clients including fortune 500 companies, startups, and governmental entities.


The Effective and Innovative Virtual Team Leader

By Frank P. Saladis, PMP, LIMC MCCP, PMI Fellow

Virtual teams have been a part of the business, public, and not for profit environments for many years. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the internet began to significantly influence how information and meetings were managed. The economic situation in 1986 also had a major impact on business travel and companies sought new ways to conduct meetings more economically and to minimize travel. Back in that time period, technology was available but expensive and was used primarily by large corporations that could afford to construct what was basically a television production studio. 

Today there are multiple platforms to choose from and they are generally very economical. The features and functions associated with the platforms provide the team leader or meeting facilitator with a variety of tools that can engage the attendees and produce the desired meeting outcomes. 

In today’s new business environmentremotely distributed and virtual teams, although not entirely a new concept, have become a much more integral part of daily business. The leaders of these virtual teams must adapt to a very demanding and nearly constant state of “virtuality.”

Here are a few suggestions that may assist in creating a virtual team community that is well connected, engaged, and productive: 

  1. Prepare an agenda for your meetings to send out to attendees, regardless of planned duration. Team members want to know the topics in advance. This helps them to prepare and participate more productively. 
  1. If possible, schedule “recurring meetings” and “status updates” for a specific day and time each week/month. This allows everyone to plan their schedules and avoid commitment conflicts. 
  1. Everyone’s time is important, so keep meetings as brief as possible and, as the leader, always be on line before everyone else. This also allows for some “social chat” and warm up before you begin. 
  1. Some meetings require attendance by very specific individuals. Invite only those people who are truly needed for each meeting. 
  1. Use “visual anchors” to maintain engagement – pictures, charts, images, diagrams. Use color to enhance the visual effect. 
  1. Use “verbal anchors” to ensure clarity and understanding – comparisons, analyses, processes and steps, examples, repeating information for emphasis. 
  1. Use “connection anchors” to maintain attention and participation – Ask team members specific questions, shift responsibility for facilitation., 
  1. Share work assignments equally. In many cases, leaders subconsciously assign particular work to team members based on the leader’s perception of an individual’s work performance. The leader is a coach and a mentor, and trust is a key factor in creating high performance teams. Show your entire team that you trust them. 
  1. Connect with each team member individually and establish a rapport. This is necessary to ensure that performance related discussions are productive, comfortable, and meaningful. 
  1. Establish ways for the team to get to know each other. There are lots of creative techniques to establish a very supportive virtual team environment: Share baby pictures and ask people to match each picture with the team members, have occasional round-table discussions, pair people to work together, be an idea champion and encourage everyone to come up with suggestions for increasing engagement and meeting enjoyment. 

This new virtual business environment we are experiencing will probably continue as the business world moves forward. Technology will evolve to meet the needs and the team leader must adapt to the many new norms that are just over the virtual horizon. 

One more tip I have for you is implement “enjoyment time” for each meeting, demonstrate your trust in your team, and exercise some creativity in your meeting management. Give everyone an opportunity to excel and contribute and keep communication flowing to ensure a strong team connection. 

About the Author

Frank Saladis is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant and instructor in the project management profession with over 35 years of experience in the telecommunications and project management training environment. Frank is a past president of the PMI Assembly of Chapter Presidents and is the originator of International Project Management Day. In 2006 he received the prestigious Person of the Year Award from PMI for his contributions to the practice of project management.

Overcoming Distance and Cultural Barriers to Virtual Teamwork

“Out of sight, out of mind.”

This expression exists in many cultures. In some cases, the distance makes us far from the mind. In others, it is from the heart that we are far. This thinking versus feeling cultural aspect is interesting in itself… But in all cases, we agree that when one is far, one is easier to forget!

To conclude our quest for full proficiency in virtual, international teamwork, today we will investigate the distance and human aspect/cultural barriers, finalising the evaluation of ourselves and our counterparts. See our previous blog post on the language barrier here

Based on this, we will be able to make any needed improvements to our own techniques and, as Project Managers, help team members and other stakeholders to progress in proficiency.

As a reminder, here are the Transactional Analysis Discounting levels again (from this blog post):

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

The Distance Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

The distance barrier is like a two-sided coin.

On one side, the physical facts: remote communication techniques such as email, telephone, videoconferencing, text messaging, etc. are needed to communicate across distance and time zones. From studies such as the work of Mehrabian, we know that not all information passes through the words of an exchange (verbal communication). A vast majority passes through the non-verbal communication (body language) and the para-verbal (tone of voice). Based on this, an audio-only conversation (phone call) can lose up to 50% of the information content; a text-only communication (email, text message) can lose up to 90%.

On the other side of the coin are the human effects: it is harder to create and maintain fundamental emotional bonds and mutual trust at a distance. Knowing that this is a key characteristic of high-performing teams, the significance of the problem is clear.

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

To solve both the information loss and trust-building issues of distance communication:

  1. Blended communication is the tactic of mixing communication methods to ensure the most effective and efficient overall communication strategy. Like blending the ingredients of a cake: if we only had flour, it would be a poor cake! But add eggs, butter and sugar and we have something good. In the same way, if we only use email to communicate, we don’t have a very good “cake”. If we add videoconferencing, audio and instant text-messaging we have something much tastier! Blended communication leverages the positive aspects of each communication method. Used wisely, we obtain communication which is more effective and efficient than some co-located mono-method communication. It also addresses the trust issue as we can build better bonds with videoconferencing than via email, for example.
  2. To further improve mutual trust, we use inclusion. This means purposefully spending time and energy to genuinely exchange with speaking partners. By enquiring how a colleague is, and genuinely listening to the answer, we may or may not see results straight away. But the additional bond made and trust built through this fundamental human interaction will bear fruit throughout the relationship.

Human Aspects / The Cultural Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

Whilst each one of us is unique, we all have the same fundamental needs – safety, physical and psychological well-being and belonging/recognition. Our uniqueness is a mix of our individual personality and our cultural background. On a macro level (country/region/company), cultural tendencies are clearly visible. On a micro level (person/team), individual personalities have a high importance.

In our daily work with others, we may observe that:

  • Some people prefer to do one thing at a time; some prefer to multi-task
  • Some believe that rules are rules; for others, rules are relative and depend on the situation
  • Some keep strict timing whilst others think that it is naïve to believe that we can divide and “control” time in this way
  • Some prefer to act alone whilst others place a high importance on relationships. Sometimes we feel that this is just for relationships’ sake; sometimes we feel that potential advantages of the relationship are taken into account

These and other observations lead us to the conclusion that others act differently to the way we do. We can fall into the trap of thinking that our way is the “right” way and their way is the “wrong” way. This leads to poor working relationships.

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

The owl and the chameleon are our guides here.

Firstly, the owl for its incredible senses of perception and reputation for wisdom. The wisdom we seek is to perceive diversity as an advantage rather than an annoying barrier to overcome.

Secondly, the chameleon for its agility and capacity to blend into its surroundings.

By combining these characteristics, we:

  1. Free ourselves from the “right way / wrong way” trap. We recognise that “their way” is simply “another way” and that different points of view increase creativity and generate new ways to solve problems
  2. We observe, using all our senses, what is going on in a situation and try hard to understand and interpret with an open mind
  3. We use the chameleon’s power to adapt agilely to the situation with the aim of enhancing mutual success.

Virtual Teamwork – Harnessing the Power

By understanding the problems and their significance (Levels 1 & 2) and identifying options for action (Levels 3 & 4), we transform the three barriers into three solid pillars supporting our international and virtual teamwork.

By seeking to:

  1. Understand each other through high quality communication and thus build trust
  2. Use blended communication and inclusion to increase efficiency and deepen trust
  3. Use difference as power and understand others’ behaviour (owl) then adapt to the needs of the situation whilst keeping our own identity (chameleon) we harness the full power of virtual global project management and teamwork.

Wishing you much success and enjoyment in your virtual international interactions!


For further details, see “Foolproof International Communication”, Moberg & Chadwick, Japco Publishing House 2013, ISBN 978-91-637-1116-9, 2013

About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.

IIL’s Trusted Virtual Trainers Contribute to Virtual Top Tips Report

Over the past 25 years, IIL has been providing clients with thousands of virtual training experiences and we’ve learned a lot in that time; delivering high quality virtual learning is not an easy task!

Whilst we have been ahead of the game, many people in our industry are currently making the move to virtual training, which is a daunting task. So, when Course Conductor told us they were publishing a report to help those people, by sharing the top tips from lots of other expert virtual trainers – we were only too pleased to get involved.

Course Conductor has just published the report and it is aptly named “60 Top Tips to Help New Virtual Trainers (from 60 Trusted Virtual Trainers).”

The report contains a wealth of information from 60 virtual training experts, all of which will be incredibly useful to any trainer that is currently making the transition from traditional classroom training to virtual training.

Three of our virtual trainers contributed to the report: Ed Lively, Ken Terry, and Keith Wilson. They have all been verified by Course Conductor as ‘Trusted Virtual Trainers’.

Here’s Ed’s tip in the report:

Download the full report here:

Learn more about IIL’s virtual courses here:

Lifting the Language Barrier

“If you differ from me, my brother, far from harming me, you enrich me.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviation pioneer, writer and poet, 1900 – 1944

Over more than three decades working internationally as an engineer, project manager, trainer and coach, one of the major things that I have observed is the importance of the language barrier, particularly from a “Discounting level 1 & 2” point of view.

As a reminder, here are the Transactional Analysis Discounting levels again (from the previous blog post):

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

We also identified three main barriers to effective virtual global teamwork:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Distance / time zone barrier
  3. Human aspect / cultural barrier

Today, we will concentrate on the language barrier. We will run it through Discounting Analysis, moving from problems to solutions. We will also take a step further and leverage advantages to enhance effectiveness.

Our aim is to evaluate our proficiency and that of our counterparts. We can then make any needed improvements to our own techniques and, as Project Managers, help team members and other stakeholders to progress in proficiency.

The Language Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

To work together, we need to communicate, to “speak the same language”. Yet, around seven thousand languages are used around the world today.

Over time, we have found solutions to this problem. The use of a lingua franca is one. In order to understand each other, the contemporary use of English is common in international communication. And that is the trap! Thinking that (a) speaking English solves all problems and (b) those who do speak English truly understand each other!

  1. Only around 20% of the world’s population speak English (as a first or second language). This distances 80% of potential co-workers. The significance of this problem is clear.
  2. A more subtle problem exists: registering issues between users of English. Of the global 20% of English speakers, around one-fifth speak English as their first language. For the other four-fifths, English is a secondary language or is present in their country. For less-proficient practitioners, it is obvious that care must be taken to ensure correct communication when using English internationally. However, amongst fluent practitioners, frequently no such caution is observed. International audio meetings filled with, “full speed ahead”, jargon-rich English spoken with strong accents are common. Less fluent participants try hard to follow, with difficulty. It is often clear that some practitioners have not registered that a problem exists. “This meeting is in English, we are speaking English, so there’s no problem, right?” Unfortunately, very, very wrong!

The cultural/personality iceberg – above and below the waterline

Above the waterline, we see the “what”. Observable issues of international communication are often in plain view: puzzled expressions, mistakes, incomprehension and unexpected/unwanted deliverables, sometimes months later, are common.

Below the waterline lies the “why”. We would all like to communicate using English confidently and with ease. However, if we subjectively judge that our level of English is “inadequate”, we may be tempted to stay silent to hide our self-perceived “incompetence” and “save face”. The importance of “saving face” is particularly important in certain cultures. “Low-face-importance” cultures assume that anyone not understanding will interrupt to clarify. “High-face-importance” cultures assume that it is clear that doing so would induce a loss of face and is therefore not a viable possibility…

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

When using English to communicate:

  1. We use easy words and short, clear sentences. The simpler, the better
  2. We articulate clearly and take our time to speak. We use full words rather than joining two words together: “I am an engineer” is clearer than “I’m an engineer”
  3. We use Latin root verbs instead of Germanic root verbs: “I will obtain the contract” is clearer than “I’m going to get the contract” for many non-native English speakers
  4. We borrow best practices from international aviation communication:
    – we use the international alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.) to spell-out difficult words
    – we use individual digits to clarify numbers: “one-four” is clearer than “fourteen”
    – we confirm key elements by repetition: Person A: “Please supply fourteen (one-four) samples tomorrow.” Person B: “We will supply fourteen (one-four) samples tomorrow.”
  5. We use regular pauses and “sign posting” to allow speaking partners to easily follow the conversation: “I will now talk about X / [I deliver message X] / “I have talked about X and will now talk about Y” / [I deliver message Y]
  6. We prefer nouns to verbs: “Who is your Manager?” is easier to understand than “Who do you work for?”
  7. We avoid phrasal verbs: “call off”, “go back” and “shop around” – completely confusing!
  8. We avoid question-tags: “you do understand, don’t you?” – even more confusing!!
  9. We are careful with humour as cultural norms for humour in business vary widely. A well-intentioned humoristic comment may be misunderstood and cause unwanted confusion. It may also produce a negative effect for cultures for which the norm is to keep humour for outside of office hours…
  10. Most importantly, all nationalities, particularly native English speakers, must make efforts to adapt their speech with the one common goal of facilitating mutual understanding

When some parties have a very basic level of English (or do not speak English at all):

  1. Support from a professional translator/interpreter is of great value, allowing swifter communications and fewer expensive misunderstandings and mistakes. Language support from multi-lingual colleagues is also useful. When using translation/interpretation software, we are aware of the risk of incorrect translations
  2. A picture is worth a thousand words! Images, drawings and sketches boost mutual understanding
  3. Written communications allow time for translation and understanding. They can, however, lead to “conversations” which take many days and still end in confusion
  4. A way to improve on this is to write and talk at the same time: during an audio meeting, as one is speaking, one writes key words and figures on-screen to provide anchors for understanding
  5. We plan regular follow-up meetings: daily status points to check that progress made is according to understandings. This allows misunderstandings to be identified and corrected early

For all interactions:

  1. We reduce “loss of face” risks by clearly stating our aim of mutual understanding and the use of “less-than-perfect English” as the communication norm
  2. We reinforce openness by allowing time for people to build relationships and confidence
  3. We continuously monitor speaking partners to detect non-verbal signs of confusion or disagreement
  4. We ensure that all people contribute to the conversation by bringing in members with a tendency to stay silent (perhaps due to a difficulty to interrupt to enter the conversation)
  5. For important decisions, a written record of agreements is made during the conversation, in real-time. Participants confirm and approve the record post-meeting.

Building Strong Foundations

Our efforts to address the language barrier will obviously bring immediate benefits in improved understanding between global team members. Also, as a collateral benefit, the care, energy and good will that we transmit through our efforts to understand and be understood will be noticed by our counterparts. This tangible good will builds trust and good working relationships, particularly between cultures and at a distance.

We will build on this strong foundation in the next and final blog focused on the distance barrier and human aspect/cultural barrier.

Until then, take care and don’t hesitate to share your experiences or highlight any questions.


For further details, see “Foolproof International Communication”, Moberg & Chadwick, Japco Publishing House 2013, ISBN 978-91-637-1116-9, 2013

About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.

“Discounting” theory as a framework for assessing remote work proficiency levels

Working virtually with team members dispersed nationally or across the globe is nothing new and our use of this way-of-working has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. We don’t need to be talking about full-blown “follow the sun” projects to make use of remote working methods: from interactions with overseas suppliers to outsourced project team members, most of us have developed skills in remote working.

With the current Covid-19 crisis, though, remote has sky-rocketed, exposing many people to the need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency.

So, we just do it, right? Or are there pitfalls to avoid? Well, indeed there may be! A good starting point to fully understand what is at stake is the “Discounting” theory of Transactional Analysis. This is nothing to do with trying to get a reduction on a price but rather a sub-conscious process which is best described through an example.

There are four levels of discounting:

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

As an example, two flatmates, John and Chris, are at home and a tap (faucet) is dripping. In actual fact, it has been dripping for months. Chris says to John, “Can you hear that tap dripping?”. “Tap dripping?” John replies. He listens. “Now you mention it, there is a tap dripping! Well how about that!” He goes back to reading his book.

→ John has just cleared past level 1: he has registered that a problem exists

Sometime later, Chris, who has been searching through water bills, comes back into the room brandishing a stack of paperwork. “Do you know how much money a dripping tap wastes?” he asks. John replies that it’s only a drip and can’t be that much. Chris shows John bills dating back over a year showing a $20 increase per month since the tap started to drip. “Wow! $20 a month! That’s terrible! But it costs a fortune to call out a plumber and anyway you can never get one to come out…”

→ John has cleared past level 2: he has registered the significance of a problem, and has started to move on to level 3 (not believing there are options for action to solve the problem).

Chris shows John the results of an online search. It shows a bag of 50 tap gaskets of various sizes, with free next-day delivery, for $2.59. “Well that’s very interesting, but I’m no plumber!” says John.

→ John has cleared level 3: he has registered that there are options for action, and has moved onto level 4 (not believing he has the capability to act to solve the problem).

With a heavy sigh, Chris flips to an online tutorial showing “how to fit a new gasket to fix a dripping tap in 5 minutes”. After watching the video, with a shrug and a smile, John sets aside his book, orders the gasket set online and goes off to the tool cupboard to find a wrench…

→ John has cleared all the way through to level 4: registering that a problem exists and is significant, that options for action exist and that he is capable of implementing them!

Discounting applied to virtual teamwork

So how does this apply to our need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency in remote working? Well, it provides a framework for each of us to evaluate where we are on the proficiency scale.

Level 1: If we believe that, to “go remote”, we just carry on working as we did in the office but now via videoconference from home, we would be at level 1 – not registering that issues exist such as the time needed to set up remote links and use the technology, potential technical gremlins and the additional concentration needed when remote-working all day long.

Level 2: If we believe that these issues do exist, but we just have to “get on with it regardless”, it would be to discount the additional fatigue that distance working can cause. We may also find ourselves working long hours to get the same results as before with, at the same time, a strange feeling of frustration and lower efficiency. We would be at level 2.

Level 3: If we realise that we do need to do something to adapt to the remote working situation but are not sure of what, we would be at level 3. Solutions such as adapting the rhythm of work and using a blend of communication methods to leverage the pros of each whilst reducing the cons are just within our grasp if we take the time to think about it.

Level 4: Finally, we may be aware of key remote working techniques but be unfamiliar with them and need to gain proficiency and confidence through try-outs in a safe environment, and maybe training, coaching or support from colleagues.

Barriers to effective virtual teams

We can identify three main types of issues faced by global co-workers:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Distance / time zone barrier
  3. Human aspect / cultural barrier

Over the next few days, we will not only look into how to “get around” these three categories of barrier but, even better, we will check how we can leverage opportunities to be even more powerful than before in traditional “face-to-face” work.

As we move ahead, it would be great to get your input, discoveries and experience so that we can be stronger together. So, tune in again soon for the barrier analysis and, in the meantime, please share your virtual teamwork experiences, successes and questions below!

Take care!


About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.

Are You There? Hello...?

By Keith Wilson, MBA, B.Comm., PMP, MCP, MCT, CSM, CSPO, KMP, CDA

Virtual meetings/teams can be new territory for many of us. It can be especially difficult to be sure all attendees are getting the most out of the meeting. Sometimes, you can be left questioning if you have their full attention or if things are getting lost in translation.

Are you new to virtual teamwork? In this blog, I will share engagement techniques that I have used for years when training or consulting with teams virtually.

First, remember to be prepared and test your audio and camera beforehand. If you’re the facilitator, arrive an hour early to ensure everything works and advise other attendees to connect 5 minutes early so you will be ready to start on time.

Ice Breakers

If your web meeting app has icons that the team can use, start by asking everyone to “Click the green check or ‘OK’ icon” when they are ready to go. You may have to ask for this several times until everyone has clicked the icon. Unlike an in-person meeting, we may not have had a chance to socialize easily before the meeting begins, so take the first few minutes for a brief ice breaker. For example:

If your team has members from different parts of the world, select a word and have everyone share how they say it in their language. (For example, “beer.” I just know two other ways to say beer: “bière” (French) and the only word I know in Spanish, “cerveza.”)

Have people share an interesting factoid about the area where they live or a colloquialism. For example, I could ask people if they know what “I am going to the dépanneur and will stop at Timmy’s on the way back, eh” means. (If you’re a fellow Canadian ,you know that I am going to go to the store and then stopping at the donut shop on the way home. This can add a bit of fun to your meeting and also be educational.)


If this is the teams’ first meeting, try this technique for introductions:

Have each person select a partner and interview them. This is easy if you are using a meeting app that supports break out groups; if not, perhaps they can send emails, texts or call each other and determine the following about their partner:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • What they do for your organization
  • How long they have worked at your organization
  • 2 things you have in common outside of work

Now instead of each person introducing themselves, they introduce their partner. By sharing commonalities, it will help the team relate to each other with realizations such as, “Oh, she has young children as well”, or “ I didn’t’ know he also likes cooking.”

Frequently Ask Questions

If the questions are close ended, instruct attendees to hit the green check mark icon for yes and the red “x” for no. But don’t forget to ask open ended question that start with the 5 W’s or how. If no one responds via chat, text, phone or VoIP, try this technique: first call upon 2 people, “Ann and Amit.” Now you have their attention to ask the open-ended questions; this is better than singling out one person. Do keep in mind one of the top fears people have is public speaking and this can be compounded if they are unfamiliar with the meeting app.


Use the whiteboard frequently and ensure that everyone can type or draw on it; do not just have “death by PowerPoint.” My tool of choice is Adobe Connect and when people write on the whiteboard it doesn’t show who typed the comment. The anonymity helps people participate without fear of embarrassment. Also, let people know they won’t lose points for a misspelling.

As per an in-person meeting, you should also be sure to:

  • Start and end on time
  • Have an agenda with desired results
  • Document Action Items and have people assign themselves to the Action Items

I hope this blog helps you work successfully with your virtual teams. Stay tuned for more blogs.

About the Author 

Keith Wilson is a Senior Consultant and Trainer with IIL. His background includes over 25 years of successful coaching, training, management, and consulting experience. He is well known for his public speaking skills and enthusiasm, and has been a welcomed facilitator at numerous Fortune 500 corporations, universities, and associations worldwide.

Practical and Tactical Techniques for Managing Remote Teams

By Frank P. Saladis, PMP, LIMCA, MCPM, PMI Fellow

Managing a remote team is new territory for many businesses. In order to help manage effective and productive virtual teams, implement these useful tips and suggestions:

Keep in mind that when one person is remote, everyone is remote to that person.
Practice a virtual version of the “Stand-up Meeting” and get the business done quickly by keeping meetings as short in duration as possible.
Virtual team leaders should connect directly with each team member at least once a week. This will demonstrate that the leader maintains an interest in the individual as well as the work assigned.
Make sure virtual meetings are “Asynchronous”. Meaning, allow for discussion and avoid one-way transmission of information.
Make sure you have an agenda for your virtual meetings along with a specific time frame.
Create a virtual culture of communication, When possible, assign work to small groups and create a need for team members to communicate with each other outside of scheduled team meetings.
Share the responsibility for organizing and facilitating meetings in order to give everyone experience managing a virtual meeting.
Clearly define the expectations for the virtual team regarding assignments, timeliness, meeting etiquette, status reporting etc.
Require routine technology checks to ensure everyone remains connected. Reinforce cyber security and protection of company owned physical and intellectual property.
Keep in mind team members across multiple time zones when balancing meeting schedules.
Remain sensitive to cultural differences and be prepared to address verbal communications issues when accents and pronunciation present difficulties in comprehension.
Remote teams and employees may not have any actual in person contact and that limits the “casual office talk” that many people enjoy. Arrange for a virtual message board or “Keeping you in the know” blog or link and allow people to post messages.
Test the technology before a virtual meeting begins and arrange for one standard platform for use by everyone.
At the organizational level, plan for regular town hall virtual meetings and keep people informed about the business.

Although this may be new territory for some, using these tips will help anyone manage a successful and productive virtual team.

About the Author

Frank Saladis is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant and instructor in the project management profession with over 35 years of experience in the telecommunications and project management training environment. Frank is a past president of the PMI Assembly of Chapter Presidents and is the originator of International Project Management Day. In 2006 he received the prestigious Person of the Year Award from PMI for his contributions to the practice of project management.