7 Deadly Sins That Block Team Collaboration


Business is all about team collaboration

Companies exist for the sole purpose of coordinating the efforts of their employees.  Yet even though team collaboration is at the heart of nearly everything we do on the job, sometimes it seems like it's nearly impossible to make it work.


Here are the seven deadly sins that tend to block team collaboration in our organizations, and what you can do about them.


7. Data Silos

How often does it happen that the information you're desperately trying to find is common knowledge to the members of another team?  Even in small organizations, it's hard to find out what other people are working on.  People are team players, but it's just too much work to constantly ask, "what are you working on?"


Data is often siloed by team, by department, or even by office location.  Breaking down those silos makes team collaboration much more effective.


PBworks takes your team's information and organizes it.  Whether it's workspace pages, documents and files, or tasks and milestones, PBworks gives your work electronic form.  Everything is searchable—even the content of your uploaded files--and everything is accessible from anywhere on the Internet or via iPhone and BlackBerry.


6. Meeting-itis

Far too often, the default technique we use for team collaboration is the team meeting.  But while meetings can work for small teams, larger ones rapidly run into the meeting paradox: The more people you need to coordinate, the more time you need to spend in meetings.


If you need to coordinate the efforts of two people, you can spend 10 minutes on Person A's work, and 10 minutes on Person B's work.  But when you expand that to 10 people, each person is essentially wasting their time for 90% of the 100 minute meeting.


The cure for meeting-itis is to have fewer meetings.  That means you need alternate means of coordinating activities.


That's where project management tools like PBworks come in.  By giving everyone on the team a means of seeing what their teammates are working on, it keeps everyone up to date without requiring multi-hour meetings.  That way, when you do have meetings, you can focus less on updates and reports, and more on actually solving problems and reaching decisions.


5. Project Unmanagement

Work is a series of projects, and the sad truth is that most of those projects are unmanaged.  Or if they are managed, the only tools being used are your memory and the seat of your pants.


Traditional project management tools like Microsoft Project are simply too heavy and cumbersome for managing the largely informal projects that fill our daily work.  But a Post-It note on the side of your computer, while quick and easy, doesn't really provide any project management.


PBworks tries to give you a happy medium.  You can create tasks and milestones, so you know exactly what you need to do, and you can check off each task as you complete it.  But you don't need to fill in resource allocations or dependencies, and you don't need any special software—st your web browser.  And because tasks and milestones are visible to the other members of your team, who can comment and add to them, PBworks makes projects truly a product of team collaboration.


4. Decision Amnesia

When you hold a team meeting, or a meeting with your clients, how often do misunderstandings arise because the various parties took away different conclusions from the conversation?  Do you end up playing Perry Mason and whipping out printouts of old emails to prove your point?


We work so hard as a team to make a decision, why take the chances of having to remake it next week, simply because people's memories are fuzzy and imperfect?  Your team should document the decisions that arise from its collaboration, and make sure everyone can find those decisions (and the thinking that led to them) whenever the issue re-emerges.


Here at PBworks, our rule is that you need to create a workspace page for every meeting that you hold, and that before the meeting ends, everyone has to agree on the decisions and action items.  We then record those decisions on that page (and if there are action to be taken, create tasks to assign that work to the appropriate team members) so that we can refer back to them in the future.


3. Information Opacity

In most organizations, 90% of the knowledge in the company is stored in the heads of its employees.  Of the 10% of knowledge that actually makes it into electronic form 90% of that is locked away on individual hard drives, which are only accessible to a single person.  In other words, 99% of the information your team needs to collaborate is accessible to a single person.  Hardly a recipe for teamwork.


Collaboration tools like PBworks can help you capture more of that knowledge going forward, but what about all the knowledge that's still stuck on those hard drives?  PBworks gives you two different ways to wipe away that information opacity.


Uploading documents to a shared online workspace takes those hidden files and makes them accessible to all.  Even more important, it makes them searchable to all. (In most cases, given the poor quality of desktop search, it even makes them more searchable for the original person who had them on his or her computer!)


But if you want to turn those into living documents, you can actually import those documents as workspace pages, which the other members of your team can then edit and update for you.


2. The Tower of Babel

Does it seem like the different teams within your company speak different languages?  Small wonder, considering how few tools they actually have in common.  Sales teams have Salesforce.com.  Engineering teams have CVS and Git.  Accountants have Quickbooks and Netsuite.


As a result, each team ends up looking at a different set of data and drawing a different set of conclusions.  And when they do want to work together, the only shared tool they usually have is email. (And we all know just how well that's worked out!)


Team collaboration environments like PBworks provide a balance--individual teams can set up workspaces for their particular projects and use cases, but everyone can share in certain common workspaces (like an intranet) and connect with each other using social tools like integrated chat, social networking, and activity streams.  They may still use different vocabulary lists, but at least they'll be speaking the same language.


1. Reinventing the Wheel

For most teams, the work they do is neither assembly-line or completely original.  Most work falls somewhere in between.  Like history, it doesn't necessarily repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.


The problem is, teams have few tools to help them bridge the gap between clockwork processes and the great wide open.  Most single-purpose applications fall into the clockwork category, leaving people to try to express their processes in things like Excel spreadsheet checklists.


PBworks tries to reduce the need to reinvent the wheel by providing a variety of templating options.  You can template workspace pages, so that you can use the same format every time you take meeting notes, for example.  Or at a larger scale, you can set up a template workspace for your team projects.  This template can provide a skeleton or outline for the project, but leaves enough flexibility so that you can customize it for the specific need.

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