My son is taking guitar lessons, which cost me about $90 a month. I pay an additional $10 a month to rent an electric guitar. We started with an old acoustic guitar that had belonged to Dad, but switched when his instructor suggested it was easier to learn to play an electric guitar and he would be more motivated due to the higher "cool factor." Yet no matter what we try -- entreaties, threats, incentives -- he doesn't want to practice. I don't think we'll continue with the lessons or the rental much longer.
Switching from one type of tool to another didn't help because his underlying motivation and willingness to alter his routine -- by practicing every day -- just isn't there. I was guilty of the same thing I see at many companies, thinking that getting the right tool would somehow magically solve all the underlying problems.
Companies expend lots of effort vetting technical tools and yet too often end up disappointed in their performance. Just like me, they might keep putting additional time and money into the tools, assuming that eventually they will derive some value from them.
Yet many companies continue to focus on the tools. A recent survey by IT services provider Avanade did so, with those results finding companies planning to increase their investments in collaboration technologies despite concerns over possible negative effects on productivity. That isn't as counterintuitive as it seems, since companies are faced with what seems like a classic "chicken or egg" question: Does organizational change come before or after investing in tools?
In writing about the Avanade study, I speculated the dominance of e-mail as the most common collaboration tool of choice might be limiting respondents' overall views of collaboration. While there's a sense e-mail is broken, there isn't enough collective experience with e-mail alternatives for companies to feel good about them, either.
David Coleman, author of a post discussing the Elearning study, expressed surprise at respondents' reliance on e-mail. Members of project teams found e-mail, data sharing or conferencing (including file sharing) and audio conferencing among the most effective tools for project management and implementation. Wikis or collaborative writing, instant messaging and discussion forums were seen as the least helpful, according to the study.
I wonder if this isn't because e-mail, data sharing and audio conferencing for many folks still seem to better support what Elearning found were the four most dominant factors for successful collaboration: focusing on the right issue or problem; shared understanding of roles, goals, timelines and deliverables; good and persistent leadership; and processes worked out for optimal team interactions and communication.
Just putting a subject line in an e-mail suggests some thought has gone into identifying the issues at hand. The originator of an e-mail message or audio conference is usually the project leader. Is the same true for instant messaging, forums or document sharing? Such tools often make it difficult to determine who is leading a collaborative effort. And as mentioned in a prior post on promoting use of wikis, several companies have found wiki users are reluctant to jump in and edit others' work. Most of us are more comfortable making "suggestions" by e-mail.
Speaking of that post, while it offers a list of suggestions geared toward boosting wiki use, many of the tips would apply just as well to other types of tools such as discussion forums, document sharing or software like Cisco's Quad that supports numerous collaboration tools. Among those hints: