Better Questions

While I’ll admit it’s understandable that people ask which collaboration tool to use when, there are better questions to ask when deciding how you’re going to work together. There are two primary downfalls that arise from asking the “which tool when” question.

ONE: It focuses on technology instead of people. Most collaboration tools are now benefiting from decades of lessons in usability and are pretty easy to use. Training is rarely the issue that keeps your team members from effectively using collaboration tools. Most of the barriers now are cultural or arise from a lack of clear objectives. You’ll see this in comments like, “Why can’t we just stick to email?”

TWO: Team members get blinkered. When a tool is chosen from this tech-focused angle, teams will get stuck on it even when adopting another tool in their repertoire would be more efficient for an aspect of the work. We saw this most recently with a swarming to Slack, accompanied by claims that the One Ring had been found, that Slack (and maybe a code source library) were all any team should need. This phase was followed by several public admissions that they were leaving Slack because it didn’t ultimately suit that team’s work style.*

Better questions to ask about collaboration tools are:

  • HOW are you going to work together? What are the characteristics of your work? Are you spread across time zones? Are you all in the same company, which is now rare, or does your team include members from many companies?
  • WHY will you choose a tool? What are the principles that need to guide your collaboration? What is the relative importance of security? Transparency? Engagement?

* Note: I’m a fan of Slack. I’m not picking on any tool. It’s just a recent visible example.

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