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Being part of an efficient team can be one of the most rewarding career experiences of your life. Working with a team means you have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and skills to draw from. Great collaboration depends on many factors, including leadership, trust, team spirit, compromise, and a unifying goal.
Unfortunately, collaborating doesn’t get easier if you have to work together remotely and only share the Internet as a common connection. Technology can help navigate the chaos, but it’s only the icing that possibly makes a flexible and effective team perfect. Let’s see what you can do to make the most of it.
Get To Know Your Team
At the onset of your collaboration, you should get to know your team. Even if you think you know them already, go over the following points again to make sure nothing is missed:
- What is their setup, i.e. which hardware, operating system, and tools do they use?
- How strong is their Internet connection?
What is the environment in which they will be working in? Do they work from an office, a coffee shop, or from home with kids around?
What are their preferred working hours?
Why are they on this team? What motivates them?
What do they consider their personal strengths and favorite tasks in regards to the project at hand?
Which tasks or responsibilities would they rather not accept?
What are their pet peeves or buttons in regards to the mode in which you will be working together?
You can collect initial data using email or survey tools and base your planning on that information. Ideally, you will follow up with a live online team meeting, so everyone has the chance to meet and get to know each other. To ensure a smooth experience during the live meeting, take information like working hours (time zone), working environment, and preferred tools from your initial survey into account for setting it up.
If your team is technologically challenged, try to get them into a Skype call. You could even reach someone on their phone. If you have a Skype Premium account, you will be able to use video with more than two people. With a team of tech aficionados, you’ll have no problem meeting in more advanced online environments like Google Hangouts, AnyMeeting, or Adobe Connect, where you’ll also be able to share screens and collaborate on documents.
Knowing your team members will help you organize the group in a much more efficient manner. Knowing each other is a key step to building team spirit, strengthening the work ethic, and increasing the willingness for compromise along the way.
Set Your Common & Individual Goals
Regardless of how you collaborate, there has to be clear purpose! It’s the fuel for anything we do in life and it enables us to cope with difficulties and make compromises. Your team should know exactly what their common goal is.
Split up the big goal into small, manageable steps and sub-goals. Visualizing the journey of your team will also allow each team member to see how they are contributing to the team’s success. Teams work best when everyone feels like they are making a key contribution — because they do.
Ideally, the final outline should be co-created by the entire team, which can be done with a number of tools, including email, online meetings, online documents, or collaborative editing of a vision board.
Choose Your Weapons
You cannot just start working together, you first have to lay the base, which you have largely done if you went through the steps above. Here is one important step that is often neglected: deciding on the tools everyone will use.
By now, everyone should know each other and understand the purpose of the project and their role in it. In the process of getting to this point, you should have tested a few tools with your team. Ideally, you now have a good idea which tools are a possibility.
Note that it doesn’t really matter which tools you choose. There are so many and none will be perfect. What matters more, is that everyone feels comfortable with the tools the team is using. In other words, your team must agree.
If someone has a strong preference for a specific tool that you or other team members are not familiar with, allow them to introduce it. If the team agrees to use it, make its proponent responsible for setting it up, helping others get started with it, and keeping it organized.
Here are some tool categories you should consider for your online collaboration :
asynchronous communication, e.g. email, mailing lists, forums
real-time communication, e.g. conference calls, audio/video chat, webinars
document sharing, e.g. cloud storage
real-time collaborative tools, e.g. collaborative writing
project management (see below)
For each category, you need to define responsibilities and discuss conventions. For example, how are you going to name documents? How will you organize them? And who will be in charge of the documents? Getting those things out of the way early on, will significantly reduce frustrations down the road.
Keep Your Team Organized
When you’re heading a team, you have to set goals, assign tasks, set deadlines, send reminders, encourage, support, and praise your colleagues. That’s called project management. The better you know your team members and their skills, the easier this will be (see above).
You’ll find many project management tools online, but depending on your project and partners, you might not need anything special. Sometimes, a collaborative list tool is enough. If your team needs a more comprehensive project management tool, I highly recommend Trello. If you guys enjoy micro managing, complex features, and an eyesore of an interface, however, you’ll have to go with Basecamp — it totally works and is absolutely no fun.
Remember that the tools can’t do any work for you. It’s up to you to accept your responsibility, keep your team organized, and keep things moving. Technology can just make this easier.
What are your favorite tools for collaborating online? And which strategies and tools have failed you in the past?