How I Communicate and Collaborate with Groups Around Me

I have to admit that I’m a when zealous when it comes to collaboration and communication. I tend to write a ton, usually very detailed, and mostly with too many words. And if you would see the amount of information that I simply read all day, the writing and communication that comes from that is probably near-impossible to detail as well. In short, I take in and send out a ton of information. And therefore, I tend to have all kinds of slanted perceptions towards collaboration and communication.

For example, one of the consulting areas that I handle includes teaching companies and teams how to use Microsoft SharePoint. For all intents and purposes, lets just define SharePoint as a communication and collaboration facilitator for business processes (hey, I like that). What I’m usually asked to do is to come into a company, and with little understanding of their day-to-day business, teach them how to use a technology tool that requires them knowing the very ins-and-outs of their business processes and knowledge beyond their job descriptions.

Now, I usually start with asking people what their job functions are and what their familiarity is with SharePoint. There’s both a business and technological curve with this, and if you don’t know your job (role, rules, communication lines, workflows, organizational structure, etc.), then teaching the technology is usually not helpful. For the longer classes (2-3 days), I spend about 1/3 of a day talking through how to think about their job, their roles, and how it fits with what they want out of the technology. After that, talking about the technology (SharePoint and the MS Office pieces that talk to it) makes a lot more sense, and I’m left with a few less glossy eyes.

That’s one part of things. Another aspect of collaboration and communication that comes across my day-to-day interactions is the many meetings that I have as a result of other work created through Mobile Ministry Magazine. In a very real sense, I’m always dealing with people who have different levels of experience, knowledge, access to reliable computer technologies, and multiple time zones. And I’m not even the one usually calling these meetings to order. It is a very real and honest challenge to anyone in this kind of capacity to manage those streams of communication, while actually getting things done.

Being that I’m usually very mobile, and I don’t own a (conventional) PC (its Nokia N8 and iPad only for me), I’ve got to do things to make sure that I can stay in the loop at all times. This usually starts with using two applications, Evernote and Google Calendar. Google Calendar is where the meeting information goes. If its there, then its also on the iPad and on my N8. Bonus points for there being a meeting description that has an agenda and/or goals of the meeting. After that, I’m usually pulling content from emails and either putting them in Dropbox to read offline (via GoodReader) or placing them into Evernote where I add some additional media (pictures, attachments) and notes to the items. This allows me to be at least ready to discuss what will be going on in the meeting in a common (to me) area.

During the meeting, there’s usually one or more persons using Google Docs or to take meeting notes. Depending on my context, I’m usually not taking notes, but listening and making mental cues for specific items to check into later (I’m in transit during too many of those calls). If I am taking notes, I prefer to be in Evernote because of the instability of Google Docs in collaboration mode on the iPad, and just doesn’t work. After the meeting, I email myself the document or copy it into a new or existing Evernote document so that I’ve got a timestamp of what happened.

Now, here’s where things get fun. I don’t really care for attachments and loose data. I use these systems like this so that I can manage and get the most out of retrieving information from those events and documents as easy as possible (I remember a ton, and rely on search for the rest). So I try to drag others along with me in using things like Dropbox, Google Calendar and such, because I know that if we are using the same source, then it will be easier later on to make change, discuss, or even roll back a document to a previous version.

What I don’t do is use MS Office, and that actually tends to break things a bit. For example, while I do train in SharePoint, I actually hate using PowerPoint for anything. I prefer to speak from an outline (that I’ll share only on occasion with the class) and we work through the product and associated resources directly. Being locked to anything but an open Internet hinders my ability to collaborate and communicate without additional (and honestly, not needed) software or services.

What’s been the result of this? Well, pretty decent actually. Because I’m mobile and mostly-virtual, it tends to rub off on different people and clients. Some have moved to Dropbox for not just me, but all of their attachment needs. Some use a collaboration document now, and have that look or sound of disdain when email notes are the only option. I’m still working on getting a few folks to use the content management systems they have under their belt – but that takes time, and knowing what you can do. But its teaching by example how to collaborate and communicate differently. Its really something that will take time.

I don’t wonder how far I’ll stretch this. There was one time when I was looking at hosting a wiki on my mobile web server so that I could share a unified document in sections to whomever – never using Word, PowerPoint, or even email attachments ever again (everything would be hyperlinked).  I still want that, but have had to slow down in terms of how fast I’m pushing. Communiating efficiently takes time, and I’m working out my own wrinkles towards how to be mobile, accessible, and work with others while I also grab a handle of the tech and behaviors that I live best in.

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