All Together Now: How to Facilitate Your Group's Collaboration
written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 8/20/2011
As more and more people get online or work online, the idea of getting everyone together at the same place and time when they aren't in the same place or time zone is actually getting easier.The hard part is trying to convince people that collaboration is the key to getting projects completed.
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The Rise of Technology
Unless you've been living in a cave for the last ten years, you're aware that technology has risen in leaps and bounds. This is especially true in the business world, where professionals get their work done not in an office, but sometimes on a plane or in a hotel or even at the local coffee shop. Telecommuting and freelancing have both risen, as society becomes more mobile and less hindered by the restrictions of cords or cubicles.
While being able to work from anywhere at any time is an ideal situation for most, it can have disadvantages, especially when you need to collaborate with another person or a group. Though the tools for collaboration are many, it's the mindset of individuals that sometimes need to be pushed to give online grouping a try. But how do you facilitate collaboration between members who are weary of it?
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Why would you want to facilitate collaboration between two people or a group of people? Collaboration in itself allows for different view points and ideas to come together in order to solve a problem or to create something new. Many businesses today are focusing more and more on getting employees to work together in teams, which can help cut down the time and stress involved when working on projects.
Groups don't always get along however; personalities will clash, ideas, opinions, even morals and beliefs will clash dramatically, causing a complete breakdown within the group. This can lead to either the project not being completed or a sense of groupthink, in which members go along with an idea even if they disagree with it or it's harmful to them, the project, or the company's image.
Team or group leaders can have a hard time with getting the group together when in physical proximity; getting people to collaborate through cyber space can be even harder.
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Just because your group is separated by miles, states, or even oceans doesn't mean you can't help get the collaborative ball rolling. But how? The first thing is to learn the personalities and behavior of your team members. This can actually be difficult, especially if you're working with people you don't know. In the real world, it can be easy to tell if someone is a natural leader or someone is a note-taker, but online, it can be difficult. The hope, of course, is that a normally shy person will take to onilne collaboration and will speak up more, but then you might have someone who would normally be a leader in the real world hanging back online or not talking at all.
This could be for a number of reasons--perhaps the shy person enjoys technology and now has a reason to utilize it; maybe the natural leader hasn't used technology that much as he is a bit distrustful of it. How do you combat this?
First, make sure that everyone knows that their opinions and views are important. Different people can create ideas, but these people may also dismiss an idea if it goes against what they believe. Allow people to express their views, while also allowing people to add to that viewpoint or to offer up a difference of opinion. It's very important that group members know that everyone is to be respected, even if their idea or method differs from theirs.
Secondly, make sure that all involved know their roles and what the end goal is for those roles and the project at hand. If possible, allow each member to have a day or week in which everyone is focused on that person's role or part of the project. This allows for everyone to be in the spotlight, without feeling as though their ideas aren't being heard.
Third, make sure everyone knows that, should they need help, help is available for them. Let group members know they can get help from each other and that they are also willing to give help. For instance, let's say that the natural leader is a bit afraid of using online collaboration tools or the computer itself. This could allow the shy guy or gal to offer up their assistance to help them learn. The natural leader could then provide suggestions for the shy guy to feel more confident when not behind a computer screen.
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Now that you have some ways on facilitating collaboration, you'll need the tools to help the group. Most of these tools are free for use, though others are paid. However, if you are working within a business environment, these tools may already be in use for you.
Google - Google has a wide variety of different tools that can be used for collaboration when your group isn't in the same place; most notable among these are Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and the new Google+ social network with Hangout. Signing up for Google is free, as are their products and if your group members have Android cell phones, they can still be connected while on the go.
Microsoft Office - Most business environments use some version of Microsoft Office and may require their out-of-office workers to use the same, usually offering the software at a lower retail price or for free as long as they are an employee. Office comes with a variety of different and popular programs like Outlook, Sharepoint, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel and, as of 2010, there are online versions that allow you to share with others through web apps.
Third Party - Because of the vast rise of the mobile market, many people are turning to third-party apps for their tablets and smartphones due to the fact that they are easily synced in the cloud. Popular apps like Evernote allow for sharing, so that when a note is updated, it's immediately updated to all apps--web, desktop, and phone. This allows for a member to update while on a plane from their smartphone and their fellow members can get it at home on their desktop.
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The collaboration tools above are popular, but don't be afraid to use traditional tools, like email or IM. Even social networking can be used for quick messaging to ask or confirm a question. And if you really want to get traditional, the standard phone call also be used; programs like Skype and Magic Jack allow for free phone calls via the Internet, so you don't have to worry about long distance or international calling charges.