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Why People Don't Collaborate

While many organizations use collaborative tools on a daily basis, many people haven’t found the value or are clueless how to begin.  Why is that?  Here are my thoughts on what’s holding us back.

Reliance on the familiar.  First and foremost, I find most people have too much work to do and are already trying to use too many work tools (i.e. office phone, computer, cell phone, PDA). Consequently, they have no time or interest to learn anything new.  So when faced with the choice of learning a new tool or communicating with colleagues via email or instant messaging, people default to the communication tools they already understand.  Compounding this problem, many collaborative applications are unintuitive, so getting someone to understand them, let along use them effectively, can prove difficult. 

Collaboration needs are not always regular and predictable. Many workers don't need to collaborate on a regular basis, yet collaboration works best as a regular process.  Additionally, collaboration works best when the collaborators are equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable about collaborating -- yet I feel we haven’t reached the time when that is a true statement for most workers. 

Collaborative applications are not always introduced when/where they're needed. I have tried many collaboration packages, and many have been easy to use.  But I don’t have an immediate need to collaborate. By the time I do, will I still remember how to use that application you gave me months ago?  It's like driving a rental car – each looks different, buttons and controls are in different places, and the ride isn’t the same.  Just send me to a URL when it's necessary, and let’s share information that way. 

Reveal application functionality as it's needed. While I appreciate a robust collaboration package, I don’t need to be trained on all the bells and whistles it offers unless I need them.  Most people know how to use the telephone and send emails.  When someone wants to track changes in a document, that's the time to teach that person how to do it.  In other words, introduce collaboration tools where and when they are needed.

I applaud the companies who offer collaboration packages and have made them user friendly and application specific.  I think there are many instances where people do need to collaborate, and while some have found the right tool to use, others haven’t figured out the best way to collaborate.  I also believe it will take time to get people who don’t already collaborate to understand its value and be willing to try.  I encourage the vendors to keep pushing, but be sure when you push there is a reason the user needs what you are offering.

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