Do you like collaboration? C’mon, all the cool kids are doin’ it.
Well … maybe.
We Mean Well
We all start off life (or, at least, us American type folk – your mileage may vary) learning to collaborate. First of all, we learn how to share. And we are broken into little groups. Furthermore, we pass our science classes because of, in part, how well we work with lab partners. In addition, we might try out for a class play or community theater, and become a part of an acting troupe. Or we play on sports teams or join a fraternity or a sorority. We join churches and volunteer groups.
So why is it so difficult for so many people to collaborate at work?
To be sure, I think a lot of us try. We dutifully send out some sort of an enormous email to the people on our team. And we attend meetings, and we might even take notes at them. In addition, we put our two cents into various documents. We may even attend various team-building exercises and emerge from them confident that our collaborative hurdles have been overcome and from now on, it’s cooperation all the way.
However, lots of us, aside from what is almost forced togetherness at work, end up as Lone Rangers. And we don’t even have faithful sidekicks.
I think that some of it may have to do with work itself. The process of education is competitive. And the process of interviewing is competitive. The process of advancing a career is also competitive. No wonder it’s tough to get together and set all that aside.
I think that email fosters the siloed feeling of being alone out there, just you against the onslaught of various missives. When was the last time any of us truly enjoyed the process of grabbing emails, opening them and answering them?
I mean at work, people.
Email feels like nagging. And it feels incessant. It is a baby bird. And while I love little baby critters as much as the next person, I have to say, these little guys can get annoying awfully quickly.
So … what to do? How to deal with the baby birds or, maybe, deal with fewer of them?
Collaborative Software, Forums, Wikis and Spreading the Wealth
Email is so last week!
The thing of it is, email is a perfectly fantastic medium for a lot of things. And Word, for example, is a perfectly fantastic word processing program. But just like Word is not the best tool for making spreadsheets, email is often not the best tool for collaboration.
Instead, you need to work with software that truly fosters communication and collaboration. You need to draw upon the wisdom of crowds.
Oh my God, you want me to do what?
I want you to talk to a bunch of people. In a forum.
But they’ll be mean to me. They won’t answer my question. They’ll steer me in the wrong direction.
Not necessarily. Consider (insert shameless plug here) Able2Know. Yes, it’s true. There are people who will be less than wonderful to you. There are people who will misdirect you. And there are people who will be friendly but, essentially, cannot answer your question, and so their presence on your question thread is a waste of your time.
There are also people who will take time out of their day to Google for you. In addition, there some people have actual knowledge, and will help you out with things like Latin translations, geology inquiries and philosophical arguments. And there are others, because it is a large and (mostly) friendly forum, who don’t know the answer but will steer you to the people who do.
Wikis, Databases and One-Stop Shopping
There are plenty of other places online with common, pooled information. Memory Alpha, for example, is a large wiki about canon Star Trek in its various forms. SparkPeople, while it has dedicated health, fitness and nutrition experts, also has a huge section filled with the weight loss and maintenance wisdom of people like you and me. And IMDB (The Internet Movie Database) is the product of all sorts of people working together, including actors and actresses, agents and fans, to get the most comprehensive information on film and television, all together into one neat, easy-to-use package.
What do these three rather diverse sites have in common? They all have people who have a passion for the subject matter, who are willing to do a few things –
- Research and make sure that their information is as accurate as possible
- Spend time getting the information onto the site and
- Work with IT in order to assure that the site remains fast and easy to use.
Oh and, except for IMDB Pro, they all have another thing in common.
Amazingly, they are all free to use.
Collaboration: Bringing it All Back Home
So what’s in it for you, to use a forum or a wiki at your place of business?
- Get out of the email rut and make it easier to actually find what you’re working on. 1,000 emails in your inbox are not possible for you to read, digest and work on. You may as well delete them. Because you are not reading them.
- Make it easier for everyone to see, at a glance and at the same time, what you’re working on. The mass email to fifteen people will inevitably begin to splinter, as someone changes a status from the To: field to the CC: field, or leaves someone off the distribution list entirely, or hits Reply instead of Reply All. Using a forum or a wiki eliminates that as a possibility and fosters collaboration better.
- Urgency can more granularly be communicated. I use Yahoo mail at home, and I like it, but there are only a few possible modes. Read/unread, star/no star. Well, what about urgently starred? As in, it’s not only important, but I need to do it yesterday. Alas, the only way I can get this across in my own mailbox is to use an “Urgent” folder. But that doesn’t tell anyone else, at a glance, that a particular item is red-hot. Life is not binary, not really. Why should your communications be that way?
More Benefits of Collaboration
Oh, and one more thing. Collaborating on one thing can often lead to collaboration on other things. The people on Able2Know who get together to help solve problems that someone might have in introducing a new puppy to a household also do things together like play Fantasy Baseball. They rally around when someone is ill, congratulate users when they marry or become parents or grandparents and even meet on occasion. In short, they reach through the pixels and become friends.
How ’bout that, eh?