Sunday, November 20, 2005

Collaboration, Yeah!

The happiest moments in my work life have depended on communication, collaboration and cooperation. Even though I’ve been an independent consultant for twelve years, the sense of fulfillment I derive from my work is not exclusively about getting a job done. It is also about understanding what others need to improve their own work life and about cooperating with them to ensure my products and services help them and their coworkers.

That’s true, not only in my consulting work, but also in my work as an IT manager. Sure, getting things done and meeting the needs of clients is gratifying. But the greater kick is participating in a process in which the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s about working with other people collaboratively. Technology is really just the how-to. Still, once you understand the process, the technology is a very important ingredient.

Fortunately, my career has coincided with the personal computer age. From 1983 to the present, I have witnessed first-hand how PCs, graphical operating systems, networks, the Internet, and now software collaboration tools have made work life better for millions of people. Sure, there have been times of incredible frustration. Occasionally, I have even considered joining ranks with the neo-Luddites who bemoan the stranglehold technology has on our lives. But I’ve never gone over to the dark side. Instead, I’m convinced that computer technology has improved work in ways similar to the way medical science has improved quality of life for millions.

One example is a collaboration tool called SharePoint Services. I’ve been introducing this technology to our staff, hoping to lead them beyond simple file shares. The original impetus was to facilitate communication for and management of meetings. With SharePoint Services, we can move beyond the typical meeting process; namely, invite users to meetings from within Microsoft Outlook, take meeting minutes in a template or simply in another email, send them out and hope members remember the decisions, follow through with the action items, and wait for the next invitation. Now, we can still invite members to a meeting from with Microsoft Outlook, but also use the invitation to create a meeting workspace in SharePoint with a central location for members to read the agenda, know who’s attending the meeting, follow up with action items on an interactive list, allow those who were unable to attend to see the meeting notes, action items assigned to them, any documents that were part of the meeting process and alert themselves to any changes to lists and documents. And that’s just the start to what SharePoint will do.

In any case, the (share) point is that our tools and technology have improved dramatically over the years. That doesn’t mean that a team will automatically communicate, collaborate, and cooperate. But it does mean that if the will and skills are present, we can keep this process of continual improvement and job satisfaction alive using these tools.

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