Thursday, February 18, 2010

Can't See Your Team?

By Dr. Scott Rudge

The world is shrinking and collaborations growing. If you’re like me, you’re getting less sleep as collaborations go global. It’s all made possible by the internet, but is it good or bad?

I don’t think that it is either good or bad, it’s a new and evolving reality, and figuring out how to collaborate effectively using the internet is a job skill that everyone needs these days. In this blog, there are three tips for collaborating on the internet with your colleagues, local and distant.

Set rules, enforce them, obey them. Every good collaboration needs a good set of rules for how collaborations are to take place. Very few teams take time to communicate the rules, which fails as a strategy for getting people to obey the rules. An example is the use of a shared document repository. Folder names and structure should be thoughtfully laid out. The status of a particular piece of work should be clear from its file name. If the repository features check-in / check-out capability, it should be used religiously. Once set, collaborators should refrain from making additional folders, unless the workspace has been created for brainstorming, rather than, say, assembling a regulatory filing. Once the rules have been set, enforce them. If a team member doesn’t know how to use the technology, teach them; resist the temptation to do file management for them, for example. If you are not leading the collaboration, but contributing, learn the rules and follow them. If you’re confused or uncertain, ask for help. Be a good citizen in your collaboration community.

Don’t use too much email. Email is great for quick communication, horrible for collaborating on technology development. The fastest way to lose critical comments and revisions to your work is to use email to distribute it. You will get as many versions back as you’ve sent out, and collecting all the information back in to one piece of work is laborious and prone to error. Furthermore, emails cross in the ether, and are not always copied to everyone (and when they are copied to everyone, they become even more painful). It is much better practice to post your work in a repository and email a link to it, to let everyone know that your part is done, or in progress, and that they are free to look at it and contribute. Free up your inbox, start posting!

Be transparent. The old days when you can walk down the hallway and get a quick status update from everyone are over. And status updates are needed by management with very little notice. You want your update to be accurate and reflect the true progress of your collaboration, but you don’t have time to call everyone, and quite often it’s inappropriate to do so, because of time zone differences. To make updates easy and accurate, it is again critical to make use of the internet repository for all your “updateable” work. In addition, creating a tracking sheet that is also available in the internet repository is a good idea. Furthermore, it should be the responsibility of every member of the collaboration team to update the tracking sheet, at a frequency mandated by the collaboration leader (see “rules”, above). If you keep your work posted, and your status updated on the tracking sheet, you will be valued as a collaborator, and your work will be appropriately communicated outside the team.

There will be future tips, but these three should get you started towards being an excellent collaborator, much valued by your team. If you are a collaboration leader, you can get better results with less heartache. Good luck!

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