Collaboration tools: a guide to better knowledge sharing

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With the benefits of knowledge sharing in the workplace well-documented and collaboration tools becoming quite sophisticated, is it time to review your collaboration practices?

Many business leaders are aware that information and data will be the drivers of their company’s success in coming years, helping better inform them about client needs.

This information overload, however, is also causing headaches. Where do employees keep it all? And which information is actually useful? The truth is that when it comes to storing information, most employees resort to saving it in email inboxes or keeping it hidden away in personal desktop folders.

“This is fine in most circumstances,” says workplace productivity expert Dermot Crowley, the author of Smart Teams: How to Work Better Together.

“But it can be frustrating for your colleagues when they need information relevant to their work. So smart organisations are trying to move to a more cohesive and collaborative system.”

Spoilt for choice

While popular online platforms, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Drive, offer a suite of excellent tools for storing, editing and sharing documents, Crowley says when they are deployed alongside a range of other independent tools the abundance of choice can be perplexing.

“In many cases, nobody quite knows what tool they should be using and when,” he comments.

Should they send an email to a colleague? Should they post something in, for example, Microsoft Teams, a platform that combines workplace chat, meetings, notes and attachments? Should they communicate through an internal social networking service such as Yammer or Slack? Or should they turn to other project management applications such as Trello or Asana?

As Crowley explains: “There’s confusion and what also happens is that different departments are using different tools, so there’s no consistency across the business. Collaboration becomes hard as a result.”

4 tips for using collaboration tools

So how can teams share knowledge more effectively? Here’s four pieces of advice:

  1. Management must provide guidance as to what tools it favours and why, and how they should be used for best results (remembering that some flexibility may be required if particular teams have differing needs). “They all have their strengths and weaknesses. But make a decision,” says Crowley.
  2. Training should not be ignored. Too often, employees are given great software or cloud tools, but they don’t have the skills to use them to their full capacity. “If they don’t have training, people are just feeling their way in the dark.”
  3. Discourage employees from opting in or out of using the programs or tools. For example, online calendars are a great way to coordinate meetings, but their impact is diluted if some employees insist on using paper diaries. “Tools are only truly powerful if everyone’s using them.”
  4. Do not jump constantly from one tool to another as new ones hit the market. This just leads to a hotchpotch of solutions.

Boost employee productivity

Using the right digital tools, in the right way, will deliver significant productivity gains, according to Crowley, who adds that proper sharing of information makes work – and possible solutions and strategies – more visible across an organisation.

“Too often our work is buried in our heads or our inboxes. That may be okay when you’re working by yourself, but if you want to collaborate on more complex projects it’s really critical that we make the work visible, so we can see what needs to be done, see who's doing what and see the progress in relation to a deadline.”

Ultimately, Crowley believes, senior management must make a case for embracing knowledge sharing tools. “This is a real leadership issue.”

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Important: This article has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. Before acting on the information, you should consider its appropriateness to your circumstances and if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Any information used in this article is for illustrative purposes only. Dermot Crowley is external and not a member of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Group of Companies (the Group) and the content or any view expressed by Dermot Crowley does not represent an endorsement, recommendation, guarantee or advice in regard to any matter. CBA, nor members of the Group accept any liability for losses or damage arising from any reliance on external parties their products, services and material. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.