person pointing at map of the world with many pins in it
PHOTO: Kelsey Knight

Today’s workforces are increasingly distributed across geographic locations and time zones, which can cause management challenges for companies, as well as create confusion among team members who struggle to maintain cohesion.

One of the best ways to encourage team cohesion and improve effectiveness is by establishing clearly defined goals, garnering a commitment towards reaching these goals and making sure teams are equally invested in the process. A collaboration platform can help here. It encourages team alignment, keeps everyone up to date on time-sensitive projects and supports communication efforts across dispersed teams.

But your work only begins after you've chosen the platform that best meets your company’s needs. Before you role out this solution you should seriously consider what you want out of the experience and, even more important, how it will help your teams work better and smarter. Think to the future, what you want to accomplish, how the platform will influence interpersonal team communication and how you will use it to manage team members.

Consider the following 10 issues as you build a company policy and set rules of engagement for your new collaboration platform.



Related Article: The Different Modes of Collaboration (and Why They Matter to Your Business)

1. Make Sure Everyone Knows How to Use It

First things first: Don’t just drop the software in your team’s lap. Teach people how to use it. Announce in advance you’re planning to implement a real-time collaboration platform into your workflow. Send emails. Hold face-to-face meetings about it. Address questions and concerns that team members and stakeholders have about the process. Set aside a good portion of time for training everyone on its interface. Also, expect a period of transition before everyone fully embraces the new platform and is capable of using it without problems.

2. Make Sure You Have Technical Support

Customer support is a vital part of deploying and using any real-time collaboration platform. Make sure you have a support team that will help you with any issues you may encounter in an immediate or timely manner, whichever suits your business style the best.

3. Begin With a Nonjudgmental Environment

Successfully working together as a team involves more than just deploying a system that enables real-time collaboration. Technology won’t help at all unless you first create an environment where everyone feels safe to express their opinions and offer input and feedback. When you establish your team’s guidelines, make sure to build them on a foundation of nonjudgmental respect. In other words, create an air of acceptance to foster creativity and bring out the big ideas while at the same time motivating everyone to work hard.

Related Article: 3 Collaboration Skills You Need for Today and Tomorrow

4. Define Roles

Who’s in charge of what? Ill-defined roles that have nebulous responsibilities can lead to problems slipping under the radar. Example: “Oh, I thought you were going to take care of X!” or, “No, I thought that was your department.” Miscommunications will happen, but the problems will be bigger if the people involved aren’t sure what they’re accountable for. When you establish clearly defined roles that specifically state the duties and responsibilities of each team member or stakeholder, you leave less room for confusion and generate better results.

5. Set Goals

What will the end product be? When will we know it’s finished? What will the milestone schedule look like, and how many iterations can we expect? Setting goals to answer questions like those is part of determining your needs, but it’s also about structuring your team’s success, if not learning the fine art of how to pace a victory. Don’t expect your team to work straight through without recognizing their accomplishments along the way. Real-time collaboration platforms make it easier than ever to do this, and to give everyone a clear picture of what to expect from the road ahead. On that note ....

Related Article: A Holistic Approach to Successful Collaboration

6. Praise Individuals’ Contributions, Celebrate Team Successes

Don’t forget to acknowledge what each team member contributes to a project as you go along, but do save the big celebrations for when specific team milestones are completed. This is Morale Maintenance 101.

7. Get Out of Your Own Team’s Way

Just because you have an amazing tool that’s able to track and manage your team’s progress every second of every day doesn’t mean you should keep your nose in their business. In order to create an atmosphere of trust and autonomy, use your project management powers for good. Give people room to work the way they feel comfortable working. Save status update talks for the times when you sync up together. You’ll get better results that way.

Related Article: A Community-Driven Definition of Collaboration Success

8. Sometimes It’s OK to Overshare

As important as it is to give people space, it’s also important to always be transparent and make sure people have all the information they need. But I don’t mean talking about what you had for brunch; I mean letting people know where you stand with certain responsibilities. Don’t go out of your way to ping a team member every hour, but do share your progress with the team when appropriate — like during meetings or quick scrums, or if you are asked directly in a private chat.

9. Be Like the Avengers, Not the Justice League

Hear me out. The Avengers were assembled to save the world. The Justice League was formed to — do what, exactly? Resurrect Superman? (I’m talking about the film adaptations only here, not the comics.) What I’m trying to say is that you need to have a clearly defined, achievable goal in mind before you adopt a real-time collaboration platform. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and other people’s time — which is what real-time collaboration is designed to prevent.

Related Article: Let Your Social Collaboration Use Cases Lead the Way

10. Keep the Future in Mind

Finally, remember to think ahead: Where is your company or organization heading? When shopping for a collaboration platform, it is important to anticipate what your project management needs will be two to five years from now. Ideally, you’ll be using the system for that length of time, if not longer. The right platform will address your current needs and any issues that you anticipate encountering in the future, while helping you develop best practices that will ensure that you reap more ROI than expected as well as all of the benefits these platforms were developed for — creating stronger and more efficient teams.