I recently had the opportunity to participate in a study by the folks at IBM’s Social Computing Group. I first met a member of their team (Jason Ellis) at Lotusphere 2008. There, I heard how the team used Second Life to create team building exercises. That was exciting, but it also felt a bit like, “just another cool use of virtual worlds”. Still, I volunteered to help them in any future studies – and I am glad I did.

Today, our chosen team met to familiarize ourselves with the environment and try a simple game. The objective was not to begin “team building”, yet, but to get us prepped for these exercises.

Shy of a few brief email exchanges with the coordinator of this event (Katie Bessiere), I had not met any of the team members before (Jason was not in this exercise). However, by the time we were done, I already had people I had never met before, providing me freebies (including a cool IBM T-shirt), suggesting hip places to check out in the world and offering advice on how to improve my SL experience. Within about 20 minutes, people were poking fun of each other (in a kind-hearted manner) and speaking like friends. So, I felt welcomed as a member of the group and registered everyone as friends in SL. Before we ended the event, several members from IBM were sharing knowledge on similar projects in the (admittedly gigantic) organization’s research efforts. It was clear there was something to this concept of virtual worlds for team building and knowledge sharing.

Yet, as I mentioned earlier, we were only supposed to be preparing for the team building exercises yet to come. Perhaps that was the best part of all. None of this “felt” like team building or knowledge sharing. Unlike the “real world” (or “first life” as us hip SL’ers say), where you schedule the day for an off-site, dress in grunge clothes and march off to listen to (often) a stranger talk about how to build your team, we were doing something totally different. Our small group had gathered on relatively short notice, with virtually no extra effort (assuming you are already in SL) and were quickly chatting away, sharing stories and knowledge and yes, even team building.

There’s definitely something to this. I can’t wait to see what happens when we are actually building a team…