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Collaboration is All About the Right Tool for the Right Job

If you’re at all like me, odds are you’ve been inundated with articles talking about “how to get the most out of your collaboration efforts”, or “how to maximize team collaboration”. But somehow the deeper you dive into these articles, the more confusing and garbled their message becomes. This is because collaboration can mean different things at different times. Much like how an artist instinctively knows which brush to select, the key to effective team collaboration boils down to having the skill of analyzing selecting the right tool for the right job.

A lot of talk today is spent discussion how to implement effective collaborative strategies in the workplace. While I’m not here to dispute the importance of a good strategy, I am here to argue that if you are not using the right tools it’s the equivalent of trying to accomplish something with one hand tied behind your back. So why make it harder on yourself?

Today, I wanted to share an interesting piece by Pan Tan that outlines several collaboration tools and their purposes to help you identify the right tool for the job:

  • Email – The grand-daddy of collaboration software, and still the most prevalent. Email’s basic purpose is communication, both internally and externally. According to Tan, “Its [email’s] structure allows it to be used for other collaborative tasks as well, but as many would say, sub optimally.” So if your goal is to communicate with other individuals then email is still your best bet.
  • Discussion Boards – Discussion boards are typically best situated for a many to many form of communication.  It’s great for the occasions where many different people will be contributing their ideas, suggestions etc… You can try to use email here, but beware! If you’re not careful you will end up with massive, messy email strings that will impede instead of help move your project along.
  • Document Management – If you like me, then most of your day is filled up with sharing, reading and editing documents. Documents, whether it is Word, Excel, PowerPoints, or something else make up the core of every business. Document management software allows businesses to store, organize, and access shared information. Typically, these tools offer features like version control and audit trails to manage the confusion that can arise when having multiple editors.
  • Project Management – I know I’ve said this before; almost all business effort can be broken down into tasks. These tasks and projects have dependencies and relationships that need to be managed. Project management tools, help individuals manage these. Their objective is to help individuals keep track of project status and make sure the assigned deliver date will be met.
  • Social Tools – Social tools, like networks, and task management are being herald as the new email. Their primary purpose is communication and sharing. According to Tan, “they [social tools] are designed in a unique dynamic, people centric way, which feels like a big improvement over email.” These are great whether its many to many or one to one collaboration, social tools help keep individuals informed without the dreaded email inbox overflow.

I realize that there are more tools than the five mentioned above. While these may be the most prevalent, the important take away is to learn how to properly analyze these tools. Being able to break down the range of collaboration tools out there to their core purpose will help you choose the best tool for the job. It’s only after you are able to successfully do this, that you and your team will start to see the collaborative results you’ve been anxiously looking for.

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