In Part 1 of this series, I discussed use cases for collaboration. In this part, I discuss collaborating in teams.
Collaboration as part of a team is important for any organization with a project-based approach. Before there were collaboration tools, teams had to rely on passing pieces of paper back and forth or being physically together in the same place. But with modern tools there are ways of making collaboration more efficient. These include team spaces, group chat, and web conferencing.
Team spaces are collaborative workspaces designed to allow teams to share documents, libraries, and schedules; conduct meetings, surveys, and polls; and store meeting minutes, discussions, reports, and plans. A team space is a site that enables team members to post and retrieve files, share information, and participate in group activities. If teams lack such a tool, they need to send more email to one another, they struggle to locate required documents, and could lose access to critical information when one of the team members is unavailable or leaves the organization.
Using file shares, shared drives, and other ad hoc storage mechanisms is an unreliable way to collaborate. Providing a standard, readily accessible, predictable, and backed-up environment enables effective and enduring collaboration to occur. Team spaces provide access to all project information from any place at any time without relying on the presence of any one person.
Following are guidelines for offering, creating, and using team spaces.
- Make it fast and easy to create a team space using a self-service intranet site. Provide standard templates for work teams, project teams, and communities to use when creating new team spaces. These templates can provide a consistent look and feel, useful links, and required documents.
- Establish and communicate rules for allowable file types, backup frequency, and storage quotas. Regularly communicate to users about inactive team spaces, storage usage, and maintenance schedules.
- Define the team members and provide access for each of them. Define at least two administrators for each team space.
- Provide a team roster page where members can post their photos, add links to personal sites, and describe their roles. Populate it with available data and encourage team members to expand and update their information.
- Establish rules that all files should be shared by posting to the team space, not by sending as email attachments. Remind new users about how to do this.
- Set up recurring meetings in the team space so that for each meeting, there is a webpage with the agenda, attendees, action items, and shared documents. Allow users to add their names to the attendee list.
- Allow users to subscribe to alerts for notification when new documents are posted to the team space or when other changes are made. Explain how to do this and encourage all team members to do so.
- Use polls to conduct surveys, take votes, and made decisions. Publish the results in the team space.
- Discourage team collaboration from taking place outside the team space. For example, project team members should not maintain any files on other sites.
- Create a process for deciding which files are kept in the team space, posted to reusable document repositories, archived, and deleted. Ensure that the process is followed.
You can reduce the need for face-to-face meetings and disruptive phone calls by offering persistent group chat for project teams. Team members can interact with each other through chat and avoid the need to visit, call, or send email. When they have a quick question or quick update, they can post it in the group chat, and everybody gets it right away. They don’t have to schedule a conference call or meet in person.
Group chat enables a more natural flow of information and allows for sharing critical information instantly rather than waiting for meetings or waiting for emails to be read. It should not be used for community threaded discussions, which are better served by tools designed for that purpose.
Virtual teams have become widespread. In the past, team members were often located in the same location and could meet in person whenever they wanted. Now they are often widely distributed across geographies, might never have met one another in person, and communicate primarily through email, instant messaging, and telephone calls.
Most people are now accustomed to using tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This familiarity make it easier to use these routinely as part of ongoing team collaboration. Web conferencing tools allow participants to view common presentations, share applications, write on virtual white boards, conduct polls, engage in group chats, and see one another on video.
Virtual meeting rooms are online, real-time tools designed to allow teams to share presentations, applications, and white boards during meetings. Videoconferencing is technology that allows two or more locations to communicate by simultaneous two-way video and audio transmission. Telepresence allows a person to feel as if they were present, and to give the appearance of being present, at a place other than their true location. Advances in video conferencing technology allow more closely approximating in-person meetings. Participants actually feel as though they are in the same room despite being in different locations.
All these tools can reduce or eliminate the need for physical travel in order to convene a group. But it can be frustrating not seeing everyone’s body language, facial expressions, and physical responses. If the newer technology can better enable this, it will greatly enhance collaboration.
A standard collaboration process ensures a predictable, reliable, backed-up, and supported environment, which is preferable to ad hoc methods such as email, shared drives, personal hard drives, or unsupported tools. The process should allow a team to continue collaborating without losing information even if one or more of the members departs, a PC is lost or stolen, or a hard drive fails.
Without a standard, collaboration will happen in a variety of sub-optimal ways, or not at all. Thus, it is desirable to define a policy requiring all teams to follow the collaboration process. The policy should be supported by a standard tool for collaboration, with an easy to use self-service creation process. Until collaboration becomes ingrained, make it one of the three KM goals for all employees to whom it is relevant. For example, “For every project, a team space using the standard collaboration tool should be created for project team collaboration.” Then report each month on progress toward achieving the goal.
The combination of a quick self-service creation process for team spaces, the ease of use of the chosen collaboration tool, and an employee goal should lead to rapid and widespread adoption. As a result, you should be able to declare success and replace the collaboration goal with a different goal for the subsequent year.
A collaboration process should include a policy, procedure, standard tool, standard templates for different types of teams, training, and support. It can be supplemented with a capture process that allows reusable content to be selected from team spaces and submitted to appropriate repositories for later reuse.
Providing a standard, supported way for teams to collaborate is a basic enabler of knowledge management. It allows knowledge to flow between people, creates an environment where documents and ideas are shared, and provides supporting tools such as polls that make it easy to find out what team members are thinking.
At HP, we wanted to establish that collaboration was expected to occur, and in a standard way. Before there was such a standard, people were collaborating informally, sending email to one other, or storing documents on personal hard drives. The problem was that if someone left the project team, someone else who wanted to find out what had been shared might not be able to get it. Without a standard way to collaborate, we would have been unable to achieve our desired form of collaboration.
Just requiring team collaboration is not enough. You have to make it easy for people to create a collaboration space. At HP, we used Microsoft SharePoint team sites. This allowed us to emphasize self-service — anyone could create and begin using their own team site in just a few minutes. We provided a template and allowed users to populate it with standard information and links that a project typically needed. This really helped things take off. One of HP’s three original KM goals was that every project should establish a project space. But we no longer needed that as an explicit goal because everybody had started doing it routinely.
It is important to identify the business need that collaboration addresses. At HP, it was the need for project teams to work together, to communicate effectively, and to have common access to documents. We created a standard environment that did not require people to learn multiple tools or prevent them from reusing materials across projects. The self-service element was important — people didn’t have to wait for the IT department to create sites for them.
The collaboration process spanned four stages in the project lifecycle:
- In the initial phase, someone began pursuing an opportunity. They started up a collaborative team space for the team going after the deal.
- They began including people from the sales force, people from services, or anyone within the company working on that deal who needed to collaborate.
- As the project moved along, new project team members might be added, and the project manager might get assigned to work on another deal. Teams needed a way for things to be handed off from the sales part of the opportunity to the delivery part of it. The team space offered a good way for handoffs to happen, to prevent information from being lost, and to ensure key materials (e.g., proposals and project plans) were widely reusable.
- Finally, these documents could be shared from the team space into the project document library, where others could access and reuse them. A standard workflow process moved documents from the team space into the project document library.
In Part 3 of this series, I discuss collaborating in communities.