My Personal Collaboration Rules

Posted by Brett Young | Friday, February 27, 2009 | | 0 comments »

Recently, I started keeping track of my personal collaboration rules. Although I hadn't written them down previously, these are principles that I try to live by. This list is probably not inclusive of all the rules I subconsciously and consciously live by as I try to be good collaboration citizen. However, they are the ones that came to mind:

  1. Capture once - There's nothing more wasteful than capturing the same information multiple times. Copy and paste makes that easy within the electronic world. However, what about when you're in a meeting and collaborating on a whiteboard or flip chart? Someone has to recapture that content electronically. This is wasteful. What about taking meeting notes on a paper notebook prior to distributing them electronically? This wastes time too. While there are some situations when you have to capture information more than once, you can eliminate most of them by making some minor changes to the way you work. Instead of using a physical whiteboard in a meeting, use an electronic tool on a laptop that can be projected. Or ask everyone to bring a laptop to the meeting and collaborate over a web conference, even though everyone is in the same physical conference room. Instead of carrying around a paper notebook, take your laptop to your meetings. Store meeting minutes and other sharable content in a blog or wiki, and then email the link.

  2. Process once - How many times have I looked at an email just to defer action a little longer. Each time I have to reread it, I'm wasting time. If an e-mail requires action, and you do not have time to complete it immediately, copy the e-mail to a calendar entry, and schedule an appropriate amount of time in the future. Include some brief notes at the top of the calendar entry to quickly remind you of exactly what is needed, so that you don't have to reread the entire email.

  3. Resist printing - Okay, we all know that printing kills trees. Paper documents tend to accumulate, take up space, and increase the amount of refuse for which we're responsible. Paper cannot be easily secured. It can fall into the wrong hands. There is no log to know who else may have seen the paper. There are really very few instances when printing to paper is a good idea. Resist printing an agenda or other meeting materials that end up in the trash within minutes of being created. Ask yourself whether this document, if printed, will remain useful and relevent for more than a week. If the answer is no, then figure out a way to meet your need without printing.

  4. Don't use email to collaborate, use it to communicate - Email is a terrible collaboration tool, but an excellent communication tool. When it comes to collaboration, email tends to create more work, and lacks critical context. Take this scenario: We are working as a team to write a proposal. Someone writes a first draft and emails it to the rest of the team. Each member of the team marks up their copy and emails it back to the original sender. That person is now responsible for integrating the individual input from each person on the team. This is inefficient on multiple levels. Obviously it is for the person who compiling the feedback. However, it is also inefficient for the other people who are providing feedback without knowing how their team members are responding. It's very possible that they are coming to the same or similar conclusions. It is much more effective and efficient to work as a team on a single, shared copy of the content. Wikis are perfect for this use case. So, next time your about to send an email, ask yourself whether this is a simple, isolated commnication, or a collaborative effort that would benefit from having a dedicated virtual workspace.

  5. Send links, not attachments - Nothing eats up disk space on email servers faster than attachments, especially if you're not sharing a single-copy message store. Think about it, everyone person on the distribution received their own copy of the attachment. What a waste! Instead, store your attachments in a place accessible by others and send a link. An additional benefit is that you can update the document and ensure that anyone who later follows the link from an email is getting the most up-to-date version.

  6. Store in a searchable, linkable repository - Unfortunately, most people use email as their personal content store. The problem is that I may have some content that someone else could really use. However, if they don't know me, they will never find it. We simply don't allow other people, especially people we don't know, to search our email. A better approach is to store content that has value to more than just yourself, in a location that is accessible and searchable by others. A good solution for this is the public area of your SharePoint MySite.

  7. Be a sharer, not a hoarder - Times are certainly changing. We used to value people because they knew stuff that no one else knew. They were the experts. Now, the more we share, the more we are valued. As we share what we know, others can become co-contributers. This results in a product that is better than any individual could have accomplished on their own.

  8. Use real-time communication, instead of email and voice mail, to reduce cycle time - Voice mail and e-mail are slow. It usually takes at least 24 hours to hear back from someone. If you end up going back and forth for several cycles, you could waste days or weeks. Instead, leverage presence to see if the person you need is available right now. If so, use instant messaging, or ask if you can call her on the phone, if that is more appropriate. You can even setup an instant web or audio conference if there are multiple people that need to suddenly work together. Be the one to stop the email/voice mail tag game.

I'm sure there are other rules I'm forgetting. Do you disagree with any on this list? Do you have other rules of your own you would like to share? Let me know.

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