Jump-Starting Team Collaboration

Improving Team CollaborationThere is no shortage in options for collaboration these days. There are so many competing and overlapping tools and services on the market these days, it truly is a buyer’s market. Of course, the hard part is that there is no single method for collaboration that fits every single organization — nor every team within a single organization. When choices were limited, the one-size-fits-all solutions may have been the right way to go, but those days are long gone — replaced by (mostly) intelligent, dynamic, and personalized solutions.

But are the latest tools and services easy to manage? And by that, I don’t mean the “canned” reports that come with every solution, but a more holistic question about whether or not the solutions you provide to your employees can be easily managed, consistent with comparable solutions and with management expectations? Even with the wave of easy-to-use solutions on the front-end, managing the back-end has arguably become even more difficult. What makes collaboration complex is the desire to keeps things flexible, dynamic, and allow for different collaboration needs. In our rush to give end users everything they want so that they are happy, we often let down our guards around the permissions, reporting, auditing and compliance capabilities of these solutions (or lack thereof).

There is always a balancing act between what your end users want and the things which will encourage them to be more collaborative, and the requirements (constraints) of the business. If you own collaboration within your organization, my advice to you is to hold to your standards high, and ensure that the solutions that you deploy are the right fit for your culture and for your business requirements.

I am a huge advocate for organic growth through experimentation, measurement, and iteration. I’ve been involved in enough technology pilots to know that no matter how rigorous your planning, something will slip through — or your understanding of your organizational requirements will mature during testing, requiring you to adjust your plans. That’s the beauty of running multiple pilots: it’s your chance to test out your theories with real data and real end users, and either prove your hypothesis — or identify the gaps in your planning.

Yes, piloting takes time. There is a cost. There is a people impact. And yet the time and cost of piloting is far less expensive than the time and cost of finding the gaps 3 to 6 months after a deployment. But there are ways to jump-start your team collaboration planning process:

  1. Take the time to really understand your culture. First and foremost, you need to find out what your people are using today, and why. Review the tools and services that seem to be filling the collaboration gaps, and why they are working. If you do this, you’ll better understand the cultural aspect of how your users work, and better plan for future systems because what you deliver will be a cultural fit.
  2. Build your requirements thoughtfully, based on actual workloads rather than vendor-provided use cases. Understand exactly what you are trying to enable and improve through collaborative features. It is not enough to broadly define your business requirements as improving communication and unlocking untapped knowledge. While it may be true, that kind of platitude can make it difficult to accurately measure the value delivered (or lack thereof). Make sure your requirements focus on specific business activities and business benefits to be delivered, rather than the individual features of the tools and products being reviewed.
  3. Figure out what needs to be measured, and what success looks like. How do you know your collaboration efforts are being successful? How do you know they are having the intended effect of improving your target workloads? While measuring qualitative improvements to any system can be difficult, tracking weekly or monthly trending data can help you determine whether the solutions you’ve implemented are taking hold.
  4. Benchmark your activities. An important part of any pilot is to draw a line in the sand, test, review the results, and then adjust. No plan will be perfect – do your best, and let end users get their hands on the new solutions. Monitor for 30 days and then review — and be sure to ask employees for feedback. Identify where requirements are being met and where they are not, make the necessary adjustments, and then iterate on your model.
  5. Be willing to experiment.  Unless your organization has been using collaboration tools for years and your reporting and metrics are somewhat mature, you will need to make adjustments as you try to find the right cultural fit. As you review the data from your success metrics, be willing to make changes based on what you see.

There is no right or wrong way to extend the collaboration capabilities of your organization. While there are a number of vendors who will attempt to win you over to their “comprehensive platform” and claim to meet all of your collaboration needs, the first and fundamental step is to meet the needs of the people who will be using the platform — your end users. Focus on specific workloads, not on broad and often meaningless platitudes, such as “collaborate more” or “improve communication between teams.” These empty goals are impossible to measure, or to show meaningful improvement. If you have your end users involved from the beginning, you will better understand the culture, requirements, and measurements for success — and more quickly achieve your collaboration goals.

In other words, building your collaboration strategy should not be done in a vacuum. That would be anti-social. 🙂

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fractional-CMO for revealit.io, tyGraph, and Extranet User Manager.