10 Signs You’re Not Using Your Collaborative Technology Effectively

By Dummies Press

Part of Virtual Teams For Dummies Cheat Sheet

You did extensive research. You weighed the pros and cons. You interviewed current users at other companies. You considered your budget and current IT infrastructure. You vetted all the options and a completed your due diligence. Then you finally decided on the best collaborative technology tool for your virtual team. So why aren’t you realizing the promised efficiency, increased productivity, faster client response time, and streamlined project management that virtual teams have experienced?

Here are ten important signs that indicate your team isn’t using your collaboration technology effectively:

  • Team members aren’t in contact with each other. If you can’t remember the last time you connected with your team members, your team is constantly too busy or distracted, and daily or weekly team meetings continue to fall off the calendar. If so, you have a problem — and aren’t utilizing your collaborative technology effectively. Isolation and disengagement are the death knells for virtual teams, but the good news is that you have the solution at your fingertips.

The best collaboration tools include project management tracking, file sharing, videoconferencing, and instant messaging. Time to regroup and recommit your team to using the programs you have in place. Team members will want to be using these tools to connect with each other every day.

  • Team leaders don’t have a pulse on the project. If you expect your team members to spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting updating you on the status of their projects, chances are you’re not using collaborative technology. Being clear about exactly where a project stands, the next steps to be completed, who is responsible for completing them, and by when can all be kept up-to-date using technology.

Providing verbal updates on project status in every virtual team meeting is a waste of time and energy. Your meetings should be spent connecting on solutions, removing roadblocks, and celebrating success — not getting everyone up to speed on where projects stand. Consider getting retrained on how to access, ask questions, and assess updates on projects and get everyone figuratively, and digitally, on the same page.

  • Team members haven’t received formal training on technology. Unless you wrote the code for the software, then you can benefit from formal training on virtual technology and how to use it. Any collaborative technology worth your time has robust training tools that accompany it. Although most are designed to be user friendly, you and your team should still complete the training and then decide the best way to use the many different features and functionality.

Use your team members who may be skilled at a particular technology as the subject matter expert who trains the rest of the team. Planning virtual labs where the team works out any kinks on using the technology can be fun and a way to connect. As soon as everyone understands the capabilities of your technology and what’s possible, be sure to discuss and decide collaboratively the most effective way to use it. Check in periodically to see if more training or a refresher course is needed.

  • Virtual teams haven’t assessed technology effectiveness. Perhaps you haven’t put a lot of time, money, and energy into researching what collaborative technology to use. Part of that due diligence is to create measurements of effectiveness for each function on your team, deliverables, and goals. Those measurements need to tell you if you’re meeting your service level agreements, your customer support ratings have changed, or your response time has improved — whatever goals your team determines. If it feels like you and your team members are just scratching the surface of the potential of your collaboration, then you probably are.
  • Adoption of technology isn’t widespread. Rogue software being used by various team members can indicate several things: the chosen program wasn’t effective at doing what was promised, people aren’t trained properly in using it, or people are unwilling to give up the program or method they were using.

If you start to notice team members using workaround solutions, for example texting a question to a team member instead of using the chat or direct messaging function, then you need to circle up and refocus efforts to abide by your communication strategy for your team.

  • The team doesn’t use a consistent communication strategy. This requirement is basic for virtual teams. To skip it is to do so at your own peril. All virtual teams must have a communication strategy, and that strategy must include the rules for which technology to use for each purpose. For example, your team decides to use daily video huddles to provide quick status updates, use chat or instant message for urgent, time-sensitive issues, assign and schedule tasks in your project management tool, and so on. A lack of a communication strategy is a leadership failure, and one that you should address immediately.
  • Virtual meetings are boring. Take an honest look at your virtual meetings. If open questions posed to the team are met with awkward silence, team members seem distracted and aren’t actively engaged in the topic at hand, deadlines and deliverables are slipping, or the general mood at both your audio-only and video meetings is listless and uninspired, then you definitely have an engagement issue. You can easily solve this issue with the collaboration tools you already have in place and with great leadership.

Fire up the virtual water cooler, encourage nonwork chatter via IM and the use of social media tools, launch daily online polls to check in on project status and general mood, and refocus everyone on their roles and responsibilities.

  • Team members feel disconnected. A feeling of disconnection can evolve when engagement levels plummet and stay there, which can lead to a complete lack of rapport among team members where everyone is working in their own virtual silos. Because trust has never been built, if problems or conflict arise, the mood is generally defensive and all team members seem intent on positioning themselves in the best light and protecting their turf.

Getting team members together in person as frequently as possible is a way to break down silos that have formed. Team members are more likely to reach out, follow through on assigned tasks and deadlines, ask questions, and invite solutions when they care about the people they work with and know they’re counting on them to get the work done. Helping your team members get to know each other on a personal level is an important part of building a sense of team.

  • Team members don’t work on solutions together. Collaborative technology exists to create efficiencies and improve communications on teams. If you have taken the time to schedule a meeting, then you likely are seeking collaboration and input with team members, where solutions are brainstormed and decisions are made with inclusion from all.

Use your collaborative tools to document the items that need to be reported but not necessarily discussed. Use your meetings to create an open dialog. If your meetings aren’t hotbeds of discussion and spirited exchange of ideas, you can change that. Create an agenda and distribute it to all attendees in advance of the meeting. Assign topics and team members will come prepared to share ideas and work on solutions.

  • How decisions are made on the team is unclear. If team members aren’t certain how decisions are made on your team, more than likely the team leader is failing to adhere to the team agreements and workflow process. Having in place and enforcing team agreements and workflow processes are critical success factors for virtual teams. Agree on and stick to a road map that you design together for how things get done on your team. Make it part of your team culture.

Collaborative technology comes into play for outlining deliverables, responsibilities, handoffs, and more. Be sure that team members make it a habit of doing business to include time tracking, assigning, and completing of tasks, contingencies, and approvals — all things that keep a virtual team humming along. Great workflow processes keep everyone on the same page, reduce confusion, eliminate bottlenecks, and create efficiency.