Why effective team collaboration requires more than email

31 January 2023 Consultancy.com.au 6 min. read

Email has been a mainstay of business life for years, however increasing numbers of organisations are realising it is not the most effective tool for efficient collaboration, writes James Harkin, Senior Director of Sales APAC at Lucid.

Overflowing inboxes and messages with long chains of replies have become tedious time wasters, and the problem has become more acute with the shift to remote and hybrid working.

Many staff today are faced with a seemingly-endless deluge of notifications that distract from their core work tasks. It’s clear that a more effective means of collaboration is urgently needed. To solve this challenge, businesses need to be looking for the tools that have the capabilities to support the next stage of collaboration.

James Harkin, Senior Director Sales for Asia Pacific, Lucid

These include: providing the ability to share knowledge and information from technical teams with non-technical workers; enabling a diverse team of workers with different collaboration styles and generational preferences to work together effectively; and ensuring that workers who contribute remotely are not disadvantaged compared to those who go into the office more regularly. For all of these, there is one clear answer: visual collaboration.

Communicating between silos

Even within teams, sharing work can be complicated. For example, a typical software engineering process might involve customer-focused teams sharing insight with developers who turn that information into code. Testers then verify the software before passing it to production teams, and finally, operations teams implement it.

Ensuring the next person in the chain knows what is happening, what needs to happen, and what they need to work on, is crucial if businesses want to avoid delays in projects.

Additionally, while the process might be well understood by software developers, people sitting outside the team can struggle to understand where a project stands in the development process or what they can do to help. They need to be able to share insight in a way that can be best understood by technical workers.

Over the last decade, teams have attempted to work through this trying to break silos down to solve these issues – creating teams with different strengths to deliver projects. However, in a world of hybrid work this can be incredibly hard to manage.

This sounds counterintuitive, but businesses should instead work within and across silos. Silos can actually help workers become more skilled in their areas by learning from senior managers, and they remain a proven method for developing products quickly.

What needs to happen instead is for managers to focus on how information is shared between teams and individuals–or across those silos– while letting their workers work at what they do best.

This is where visual collaboration tools can prove invaluable. Visuals allow technical workers to share progress on projects with non-technical workers without the need to use complicated technical language that could be misunderstood.

Likewise, by ensuring any status is automatically updated in real-time, anyone can see the status of individual projects, and what aspects still need to be worked on. This understanding is absolutely crucial to maintaining alignment with both technical and non-technical teams involved in the product development process.

Bringing personalities together

In addition to these needs, organisations need to keep in mind that very few people approach work in the same way – some may be extroverts who relish being vocal in a meeting, others are introverts who prefer to share thoughts in a more understated way. There are also generational differences.

Research from GoToMeeting found that 41% of baby boomers preferred working on their own, compared to 33% of millennials. Similarly, a study by Creative Strategies found that over 30s preferred email as their main form of communication, whereas those under 30 preferred Google Docs.

Businesses that are looking to make the most of their workforce, no matter if they are based in or outside the office, need to address these differences in any technology they use to enable greater collaboration.

To accommodate these preferences, businesses need to make collaboration a cornerstone of organisational culture and structure. By recognising that every team member has an important contribution to make, companies can position themselves to get the best out of all their employees.

For example, introverts might feel more comfortable working from home and sharing thoughts on a virtual whiteboard during a meeting instead of speaking up in a physical space. Likewise, employees who prefer working solo can still keep teams up to date on project status by updating documentation asynchronously.

Crucially, managers need to remember that ensuring effective workplace collaboration is not going to be a one-time fix. It is a constantly-ongoing process, and one that involves gathering feedback on how teams are finding the platform and tools they are using, as well as understanding what needs to be improved across a tech stack to help everyone work at their highest level. Ensuring that you have a platform that can adapt to these demands is crucial.

Hybrid or bust

Many businesses around the world are still debating what the future looks like for their offices. While 57% of employees are in favour of hybrid work, many managers are still unsure if they will be able to remain productive and innovative under this system.

This has been made extremely clear in a recent study from AT&T that found 72% of organisations still don’t have a plan for hybrid work, while 77% don’t even have the KPIs to measure its potential success.

Meanwhile, firms that have committed to getting workers back into the office full time are becoming victims of the ‘Great Resignation’ as talented employees either take time out or move to firms that are willing to give them the flexibility they want.

There has already been research that shows visual collaboration tools can enable much more effective collaboration in digital environments. For example, many employees say that drawing is one of their preferred methods to explain an idea, and is more often understood by the person they are speaking to.

On top of this, digital whiteboards keep better records than traditional formats, ensuring ideas are not lost. Their value is shown by how 83% of employees stated an idea they shared during a group discussion was not carried forward from a meeting, along with 70% feeling their idea didn’t even make it onto the notes after a meeting.

It is clear that companies need to upgrade their tech stacks if they want to remain competitive in the new world of work. While platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom have without a doubt helped during the pandemic, it is now the time for managers to look at new ways to support collaboration.

Visual collaboration tools can provide teams with a more flexible and powerful platform to support their collaboration activities. These tools are also better able to support staff across different ages and working styles, making collaboration more effective, productive and engaging.

Organisations that deploy and promote these kinds of tools will therefore become more attractive to potential hires while also being better positioned for growth in the months and years ahead.