Image by Velo Steve via FlickrNetsquared's question this month is: Tactics for using online tools for internal communication. Though the deadline has passed, I am now typing hard to make sure I can make a contribution.
My take is that there are so many tools, for lists of tools see for instance the web2.0 awards. The tools are like the hammer. It is not so hard to buy a hammer. What matters though is the way we use the hammer: to build a house or to nail a painting on the wall. Ofcourse the tool choice is important too, after all you may need a screwdriver instead of a hammer when your wall is so hard you need to drill a hole. But what is more important is the art of using the tools; the art of the carpenter. Here come's the difficulty in organisations: more and more we will work in organisations where preferences differ. There will be a huge diversity in communication habits. Some may enjoy twittering (and their pitfall may be to forget to have real face-to-face dialogues), others prefer to use the phone and may not like an email overload. Some will be perfect carpenters, while others haven't even heard about hammers and fear their impact. This makes using online tools for internal communication so complex.
How to avoid mis-communication and tools that make collaboration worse? Together with Sibrenne Wagenaar I wrote a Dutch article called "So you wanna be a virtual team?" In the article we give our tips to pay sufficient attention to the choice of tools and the effect of the tools on the communication within the team (that may be an organisation too):
- Start with an exchange of experiences with tools for collaboration; start with familiarity Every tool has a learning curve (though the curve may be lower for people who have worked with many different tools). If you start with familiar tools you can leap forward.
- Choose a starting toolset together with the team and discuss the particular way it is going to be used. Discuss whether the toolset is simply email, or includes a yammer group, skype, chat etc. How often are we going to mail? Discussing this allows the team to understand the preferences of its members.
- Stimulate an experimental culture within the team. Though it is good to start with a familiar toolset, there may be other ways to support communication. If nobody twitters, nobody may think of creating a yammer group. It therefore helps to identify the people who know quite some tools or to simply experiment.
- You can introduce new tools but don't overdo it. If the experimental culture is there already within a team, the pitfall may be to try and test a lot of tools or to devote a lot of attention to the tools. Be aware of this too. After all, it's the communication that matters. If a team is happy to mail to and fro, and doesn't need a discussion forum, this is fine.
- Monitor individual feelings of ease and unease. Various tools may put people at an advantageous or disadvantageous position. Monitor this and use it to support so that everybody contribute his/her ideas and talents to the best of the task at hand.