This Guest paper was submitted for publication and is Copyright B.M. Jackson (2005).
Published here September 2005.

Abstract | Introduction | Why Email Won't Work
Why Collaborative Technologies Haven't Worked | Technology Requirements
The New Team Heart Beat | Meeting Process Redesign | Creative Work Redesign and Prototyping
Changes, New Behaviors | Training | The Virtual Organization | Conclusion

Why Collaborative Technologies Haven't Worked

To date, collaborative technologies have not worked due to a lack of integration and alignment to team and business processes. And because collaborative technologies have not been well integrated, aligned to support team and business processes, nor made simple to use, teams have continued to rely on Email as the primary communication tool.

In contrast, collaborative technologies have one or more of the following seven core capabilities:

  1. Document management - facility for team members to work on documents jointly; features include: ability for a team member to check-out/check-in of a document; versioning; and ability to retrieve back versions.
  2. Threaded discussion - facility for organizing related communication, or conversation threads; typically displayed in a hierarchical fashion with replies being indented.
  3. Group idea generation and evaluation - facility for documenting and organizing ideas that team members can build upon and evaluate.
  4. Group calendar - facility for displaying team events and milestones in a calendar format (e.g., day, week, month, year).
  5. Group contacts - facility for team members to add and retrieve information such as Email address, postal address or phone number, for contacting other team members.
  6. Real-time chat - facility for real-time text-based discussion when team members are present at the same time; team members enter messages which are displayed simultaneously on each member's screen.
  7. Real-time application sharing and screen sharing - facility for displaying and operating applications of one team member on other team members' screens. For example, one team member displays and reviews a presentation file. All team members will see each presentation slide displayed on his or her screen at the same time but controlled by one team member.

Individually, these capabilities have been used successfully to support certain aspects of teamwork. Since much of the output produced by business teams is a document, it's not surprising that one of the most prevalent technologies used is a document management system. The document is stored in a file folder hierarchy structure. Team members will check the document out to work on it, and then check it back in when finished. This process allows only one person to manipulate the file at a time. Unfortunately, the conversations about the work objective to which the document is related are carried out in Email.

So, if a team member needs to review the information related to a legal matter, sales opportunity, or product idea, they will need to comb through the Emails in order to find and make the appropriate associations. This is assuming they were even on the distribution list in the first place. The team's document management system is like a fragmented disk drive, that is, information with no pointers to it. The file names are not sufficient context in determining the value of the file.

Threaded discussion is useful for posting questions to a group where one is seeking answers or suggestions. Another useful application is for exploring ideas where a team member is looking for wide ranging feedback. It is far easier to read in a central spot than the fragmented threads that result in Email.

Group idea generation and evaluation systems have proven successful in face-to-face sessions using a facilitator. Unfortunately, they have been too complicated for non-facilitator trained team members to use on a regular basis.

Why Email Won't Work  Why Email Won't Work

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