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How to make users collaborate

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Kathy Gibson at Gartner Symposium, Cape Town – Technology has opened up a variety of ways to collaborate – but there’s not that much collaboration going on.

Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann points out that there are more choices available now than ever before from general-purpose, specialised tools. “There is so much that is now possible; things that weren’t possible before.”

However, it is still difficult to get users away from their email and on to these new tools.

“Email can be a very efficient tool in many cases,” Mann points out. “But there are some things it is very bad at.”

Because it is so universal, however, and because you can be sure people will check it, makes it difficult to get users on to other systems.

The key issues for organisations are how to make better choices to encourage collaboration – and how to get users to make the change.

One issue, says Mann, is that choice is good. Until you have to choose. Giving users too much choice can end up bewildering them rather than helping.

“While it may seem that providing choices is the right way to go, it can end up the opposite,” he says.

A lack of guidance can make users freeze up, Mann says. While the solution might seem to be training, there is still going to be hesitation when there are too many choices.

“When users don’t know what to do, or it’s unclear what the implications of a particular product are, they go back to what they know.”

Surveys reinforce this message: email and Office 365 dominate in usage, while the usage of other tools diminishes very quickly.

The solution is largely a change management issue, Mann says. “And it’s a user change, not a software change. You need to figure out an adoption programme, because people are not going to do it on their own.”

A programme needs to include applied research, user experience design, early adopter outreach, seeding tactics, media literacy and community engagement.

The adoption should be supported by governance and change management.

Gartner has a programme, dubbed ACME, to drive effective collaboration.

Activities – refers to collaboration activities that are not the same, so the experience design, user education, change management and choice of tools all need to be tailored accordingly.

Context – effective collaboration depends on a common view of what is being done, a common language to speak about, and a culture that encourages it

Motivation – to the extent that individuals can choose not to participate, contribute and collaborate – they need to be motivated to do so.

Enabling technology – the technology to support collaboration needs to fit the requirements of each activity, while working across activities.

“Usually IT wants to jump straight into the technology,” Mann says. “If something doesn’t work, they tend to want to change it for another tool.”