Digital Teamwork: 5 Steps to Collaborative Working on the Net


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TeamWorking on the Internet can be great if it promotes community and leads to better solutions with team-created insights - keyword swarm intelligence. But how do you organize digital collaboration?

Digital economy

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisher, German Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.

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Digital, networked communication: curse or blessing?

No question, digital, networked work can be great. However, using the wrong means of communication can be a nuisance. What conditions must be met for collaborative work to function on the web?

In many jobs, employees no longer sit in one place, but are freelancers or permanent employees scattered all over the globe. Communication is mostly via eMailbut also via social networks or collocation and project management tools.

New means of communication trigger fears

The Internet also promotes the opportunities of networked cooperation over large distances in order to jointly manage a project. The Internet thus favors innovations more than any other medium before it, thus creating one of the basic conditions for successful ones Company.

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But where there is light is also shadow: During my work as a consultant, I notice time and again how great are the fears of the new means of communication - and how much accordingly the need for information is.

Permanent accessibility requires new skills

Constant accessibility and alleged permanent compulsion to communicate, teamwork in the case of spatial separation or frequent distractions are stress factors that directly influence the productivity and social competence of team members and that we have to face.

Creating networked collaboration and innovation can require the development of new skills. One example is our handling of errors: Services and products must supposedly be perfect. However, since every statement is verifiable directly by the Internet, this is hardly possible today.

Trial and Error as a model of a digital corporate culture

Google, one of the world's most successful companies, is therefore taking a different approach: new services will be launched as unfinished beta versions and improved by users. Google stands for mistakes, tries out publicly in the trial-and-error process - and therefore develops innovative products.

This principle could become the model of a digitized corporate culture that uses failed innovation for improvement instead of denouncing it. How such processes can actually look in the company, we also have in ours Book publishing implemented.

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How can you organize team processes?

But how exactly does such a team process work out exactly? As a project leader for a large, international conference that took place simultaneously in 13 cities around the world, several years ago I coordinated various events across national borders.

Although asynchronous communication may be very convenient, I have found it time and time again, especially through eMails misunderstandings occur, which can only be clarified in a personal conversation or by telephone or video conference.

Clear communication rules are necessary

This effect is even stronger when the team members are at home in different languages ​​and cultures. A recurrent problem was that individual team members considered decisions urgent, which on closer inspection were not so urgent. The Eisenhower window sends its regards. In this way, several comparatively unimportant problems were dealt with eMails that led to misunderstandings and cost all those involved unnecessary time.

We have therefore introduced clear communication rules and communicated to all team members: pending topics and decisions were collected in a project management tool, accessible to all. Once a week, the team met for a video conference and discussed the topics.

Avoid conflicts, save resources

By setting communication methods, conflicts were avoided or solutions for conflicts were found. Resources could be prioritized, decisions were more thoughtful, the team was less distracted by constant communicating-needs and worked more efficiently.

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And the quality of the decisions also improved significantly: in cooperative decision-making processes, much better solutions could now be found together than would have been possible on their own.

Digital Teamwork: The will makes the success

In summary, therefore, I can say from my experience: Whether or not collaborative work succeeds, apart from the will of all team members to pull together, depends on the choice of means of communication.

Synchronous means of communication such as telephone, videoconferencing or, ideally, face-to-face meetings are always asynchronous as communication eMail preferable to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible.


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