I just took a new job at a company with 4 offices and many cross-office teams. The company is very email-heavy and I am a huge advocate of using web based project management/collaboration tools.

I really like the projects I'm on and the people I'm working with, but I find myself spending a good deal of time copying discussions up onto the collaboration tool.

Any suggestions for getting your team to get into more of a habit of putting the discussions online? (note: this tool has email integration, so conversations can continue without leaving the email inbox)

  • Can you clarify your problem? Are you saying that people are just having discussions via email instead of the wiki, or discussion board or whatever tools is implemented via the web-based collaboration tool? Does the web tool have other functions built in, like a calendar, or library (i.e. is it just a discussion forum or something more akin to SharePoint)? I have some theories about how to answer your question but would like some additional info first. – Adam Wuerl Mar 6 '11 at 17:56
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    Part of the problem with email is that nobody wants to say too much in email precisely because its "on the record". You may get resistance to an even more persistent way of collaborating from people who share this attitude. – Doug T. Mar 6 '11 at 18:38

Sometimes it's easier to work as we were all the time so I understand why there's reluctance. One of ideas can be using the tool which automatically copes with email answers, e.g. you start the thread in the PM tool, it is send out to everyone who is interested and they answer to the thread via email but it gets as the answer in PM tool automatically since the app is dealing with such situations. I know Basecamp works that way. I know a person who wasn't even aware she's using it and we weren't losing anything in email archives.

Show them value of the tool. Show why it makes sense to use it. Show that other cool companies do it. Show them what they get from it.

Then you need to find a group of people who would support you. Let it be those who are going on holidays and need someone to play their role during absence or pretty much anyone who needs general project archive. The more proponents of a new tool the better are chances people would start noticing its value.

Ask them about test drive. One trick I often use in this kind of situations is asking why everyone assumes that [discussed thing] won't work. I ask for a chance and tell them it's not here forever and if it doesn't work we can change it. Surprisingly often people accept trial and then either see its value and stick with it or doesn't see a difference and it just stays.

You may consider getting some support from management. If you can convince someone high in pecking order to use the tool as standard it may be easier to introduce it in the team. Note: this strategy can be tricky as people may start considering you as someone who is playing politics card.

And of course I always assume I can be wrong as well. If I'm not able to convince anyone to my ideas, maybe they aren't that good and everyone around is right and I'm wrong. Sometimes it's better to pass it.

  • +1 on the idea to try it when someone's on vacation. This can also apply if a new person is filling a new position. They haven't yet formed opinions about what tools they will and will not use, so you could just treat the new tool as if it's something you've been using all along. – jmort253 Mar 6 '11 at 20:46

I see a lot of 'I' in your question. My suggestion is to talk to your team and find out why they don't see the same value as you so.

I suggest you discuss - why you think it's valuable after you as them why they don't see the usefulness of the tool. You might be surprised at the responses. Be ready to listen, and remember why you think it's valuable.

FYI - I love the online collaboration tools, but have faced the same issues with having my teams use them. One of the main issues - people like to have information pushed to them, rather than having to go looking. If you can find a way to combine some push to this, you will bring some people across the line.

  • +1 - The beauty of many of these tools is that -- with email integration -- they do push information. – jmort253 Mar 6 '11 at 20:44

I feel that your problem is becoming quite common among teams that have been operating in one particular way for long time. I really see myself represented in your question.

I have recently move roles and departments within the same company and have started to manage projects with a team that have been in the field for more than 5 years, hence they truly believe they know "everything". I have to agree that the knowledge they have in this field is excellent and this is helping me a lot to understand the problems and tips to liaise with other departments. They are lovely people and have supported my integration to the team in few weeks. However, after few months managing tasks I realised that there was a lack of communication which made me really uncomfortable. This could be one of the reasons for certain problems.

Every discussion is email based, even though we are sitting next to each other we tent to write a two pager email. No one has the time to read 200 emails of these characteristics and as a result we end up missing key information causing us losses.

In my previous roles I had quite a nice experience using SharePoint as the main mechanism to communicate issues, tracking project progress, managing meetings, log/store documents that can be accessed by anyone across the teams, setting RSS feeds and alerts, among many other benefits. So my intention ever since has been getting my team using this application, but they were not very eager.

It's difficult to change processes to people that have been there longer than you, but it isn't impossible. You will need to work hard to set up and build every site or library, and demonstrate the possible usage and benefits of them to the team. Try to develop friendly user guides (with plenty of screen shots), live demos, individual training sessions (focus on individual needs)... Ask you Senior Management to be involved, if this is a process improvement they will be more than 100% supportive.

It takes some time to move the foundations of their operational behaviour but if you work hard and constantly support them to understand the tool you would like to use they will move along :)

  • I decided against SharePoint2010 two months ago. To my amazement, there was no way to display the name of last contributor when scrolling through the list of discussions. I believe this subtly but perhaps fatally reduces the sense of communal ownership and participation. – Smandoli Mar 24 '11 at 18:51

I understand from your description of the situation that the problem you see is that discussions are not shared via a collaboration tool. I have a question for you:

Why are you transcribing the discussions to the collaboration tool?

Are any other persons besides you, using the information in the e-mails you are copying?

If the answer is no, then you are wasting your time and effort. No one uses a tool if the effort of using is offset by the benefits derived from its usage.

On the other hand, if this information is useful for the team members, then all you have to do is to tell them that you can no longer continue transcribing the texts, and that the only way of continue sharing those conversations is that all team members post their discussions to the collaboration tool.

When I was trying to promote using organisation wiki instead of emails I have just inserted links to initially created pages into emails and sent them to interested people. I usually asked them to answer me on the that page. Usually discussion were moving to the page.

This might sound a bit counterproductive, but my advice is to use the correct tools. Let me explain:

An overly complex tool that does not contribute to the actual project management tends to create an obstacle to actually use the tool. Frustration and irritation that is a direct result of this mismatch prevents users from wanting to dive into a tool.

Then, don't underestimate usability, look and feel and accessibility. Users want a tool that works, that is usable and accessible with their platform of choice.

My guess is, that if your colleagues and / or team members don't use the tools, then these are the wrong tools.

I find that the biggest impediment to the adaptation of any software is training. The more familiar a tool is to the user the more likely they are to use that tool not only when it is appropriate but also when it is inappropriate. I think the biggest demonstration of this is Excel. It is a powerful tool, with a robust set of features, that almost everyone knows how to use.

The best way to combat misuse, is by training using tools that are more appropriate to the task, followed by practical real world application of the tool. Getting people to try the tool to do their jobs is key to reinforcing that initial training, and for their ability to learn to productively utilize the tool.

So first, get the team involved in interactive, group training sessions. If the whole group is involved they will help reinforce the training through questions and applications of the tool. Second be prepared with one or more tasks that are designed to both test the tool in your environment, and get the entire team active with the tool. This will help build confidence in the tool for the team, and to reinforce the training.

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