True Team Collaboration – Not There Yet?

One of the most challenging problems I face when leading work teams is how to get the team to collaborate better together. To set the stage, my work team has members in Arizona, Oregon, California and England. The folks that we interface closely are in the same sites but we can add Hong Kong, Israel and Malaysia. Getting teams to work together when you team is spread across the globe is a very difficult task. Leaders are always looking for different ways to make this work. This is not a new problem, but when I talk to others in the same situation as I, they comment that it is still a big concern and issue.

There are the traditional methods:

  • Email
  • Voice Communications (phone and audio conference)
  • Workspace or team sites (Microsoft Sharepoint or home grown web sites)
  • Instant Messaging
  • Data sharing sessions

For me, I look am open to just about anything in order to make this work.  My employer has very strict intellectual property guidelines which may or may not add to the difficulty of team collaboration. Being aware of them is important to understand when you are trying new tools or processes for collaboration.

New tools that we are trying to add to the mix are:

  • Social Computing software – forming groups, blogging or micro-blogging, discussion forums, polling and wiki’s. I see these tools as ways for folks to share a thought, bounce or poke on it and then develop into an action. A place where information can be stored for all to see. Something that can be done on your timezone without having to meet to get work done. There are only so many overlapping hours on a global time.
  • New Video capabilities – with the introduction of HD, now we can really see each other.  I know that some folks are really excited about this. I am open to it, but if this is only going to be a talking head item – then I am not convinced this is necessary. Sharing video of troubleshooting a piece of equipment, process or CAD drawing – now video can be huge. It is really that doctor working on a patient in a totally different city and helping out.
  • RSS – Having the ability to have information that I care about pushed to me, before I asked for it. Another items is when it is my turn in the workflow to do something – and I am alerted to that – well, enough said.
  • Podcasting – Messages out to the masses. Verbal communication is better than written, verbal with expression is better yet.

Add these new things to the mix and they can only enhance the experience of team collaboration, in theory. There are many issues that need to be addressed in this space.

  • Adoption of these tools – Interesting stuff, tools change and now a days this happens rather quickly; but people do not. Getting folks to see the real value in the tools is somewhat difficult. For me, I am asking that my team – just do it! I see value, I know it is there, I accept it! Many on the team are open and willing, but others are not – I have to mandate it. Once we get everyone using and adopting in our normal workflow – all will see the value.
  • Rewards systems – Here is one that for some folks, is a no brainer. You get what your pay for. If you reward folks for sharing, collaborating and working as a team for the common goals of the team – everything should work out find. Problem is, do your reward systems match the behaviors you are truly rewarding?
  • Management Support – I don’t mean the immediate manager of the team. I am talking about the upper management structure. A true commitment to trying some new scary stuff. Letting loose of some of the old management habits of command and control, trusting employee’s to do what is best and transparency.

My team has embarked on some of the journeys into the new tools. Are we there yet? Nope, we are early in experimental ways. Figuring out how to use all of what we have – is a task. Getting those integrated into our normal workflow – still a work in process. Do I or my team have any real timelines to follow? Yes and No… We know that we have to do something different and quickly, just that some are more willing that others.

Thoughts?

  • Very nice post, Steve. Our department is in a similar boat; we have a mix of a few gung-ho ready-to-share and try folks, many willing but tentative, and a few couldn’t care less.

    I’m finding that by and large, the average user still doesn’t know when to use what tool, and on top of that, how to use the tool. It seems that folks really need some hand-holding to get started. Even if they’re interested in using the tools, they’re mostly unwilling to learn it on their own. I suppose I take it for granted since I was a software developer for eight years and I love to learn new stuff–whether or not I have to teach myself. How does everybody else learn?

    Overall, I think we need to take an educational approach and be patient. We’ll get there. I’d bet email adoption was slow when that started. I know I definitely hated IM when we first introduced it.

  • Jeremy – thanks. Patience is good.