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

Technology Requirements

Technology requirements must be simple, powerful, integrated, and possess digital group memory (DGM). Teams, whether the members are co-located or dispersed, can benefit from a DGM. In order to capture critical communication, the team needs a DGM that integrates information and communication structures and aligns them to the team's functional processes. For example, a research team requires a structure that facilitates idea generation and evaluation. Communication that would otherwise be conducted via Email and scattered about each member's inbox, is now organized around the ideas. Team members can review the list of ideas at any time and add comments to them.

A digital group memory is described here as one that provides:

  • Organization of information related to the specific work of the team, such as a sales opportunity, legal matter, application enhancement request
  • Schedule of what work is to be done, by whom and by when
  • A vehicle that facilitates communication among team members on the progress of the team's work, including sharing of interim work products
  • A repository of the team's work products
  • A facility for generating, building upon, and evaluating ideas
  • A facility for managing meeting information, such as agendas, minutes, action items, decisions

Digital group memory needs vary by team as well as throughout the life of a team; therefore, the technology must be easily adaptable to suit team members. A sales team needs to manage its opportunity pipeline while a new product development team evaluates new features to incorporate into a prototype. A management team is likely to engage in a series of brainstorming sessions to develop a business plan and then shift to a project-oriented focus in order to execute on the plan.

Digital Group Memory Constructs

The following are five core digital group memory constructs:

  1. Work object - container to hold information related to the team's primary unit of work, such as a service request, opportunity, deal, matter, case, idea, mini project, plan, etc.
  2. Library - digital files that are the team's work products, such as, documentation, reference materials, final deliverables, etc.
  3. Discussion/forum - threaded discussion organized around topics.
  4. Meeting management - meeting tools that assist the team in formulating an agenda, capturing key points and action items, posting pre-reading material, tracking issues, and documenting decisions.
  5. Idea generation and evaluation - idea description with evaluation feature, such as ranking.

Dispersed Team Members

While all team members use the digital group memory daily to communicate about relevant information regarding the team's work, there are additional technology needs when team members cannot meet together in the same room. In conjunction with audio-conferencing, real-time collaborative technology provides for screen and application sharing, which facilitates the display of a presentation, for example. The digital group memory is also used to capture action items and notes during the meeting.

Instant messaging is another beneficial real-time collaborative technology for team members when team members who are not physically located together need quick exchanges as well as for social purposes.

Another important feature of a DGM is a team member availability indicator that is different than the presence indicator typically used with instant messaging that includes status, such as "online", "busy", and "appear offline". Team member status indicators are more detailed, longer term, and not associated with the underlying technology medium. A few examples are "in morning client meeting", "travel day", and "in training class in Houston".

These brief messages are extremely helpful in setting expectations or providing a prompt for follow-up. If one team member posts a question with the expectation that another member should respond in a certain timeframe, it is helpful to know whether the other member is even available to read the message! Should a member indicate that he or she is in a meeting with a particular client, it may prompt another member with follow-up questions.

Extended Team Members and External Parties

In addition to the core team members, teams draw upon resources from outside the team and even outside the company. The team must decide what information or what level of access to the digital group memory, if any, these extended team members and external parties should have. In some cases, they may have full access to the digital group memory, access only to specific areas or content, or no access at all.

It may be that a separate but linked digital group memory is appropriate. For example, it may be that a consulting firm has a digital group memory that only its consultants delivering a project can access because they will be sharing analysis among themselves that is in process and not complete. They may choose to set up a digital group memory for managing meetings, issues, and actions with the client that is linked to the consultant's digital group memory.

Why Collaborative Technologies Haven't Worked  Why Collaborative Technologies Haven't Worked

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