whiteboard collaboration

One Secret for Top Collaboration Problems

October 18, 2019 by Milton Herman

6 min read

Collaboration ain’t easy. We all know communication is required, but there’s one powerful communication activity that is rarely discussed - the act of reading together.

Many experts and thought leaders express the importance of creating a writing culture. And this is a critical first step. But information becomes outdated and incorrect without a system of reading and reviewing what is written.

The DocOps workflow relies on team reading in the form of document reviews. A document review is a team reading session. The document is read by everyone together to begin the meeting. The group then provides feedback in a roundtable fashion where everyone takes their turn. The document’s author is responsible for revising the document and declaring it approved when all feedback has been implemented.

To explain a reading culture improves collaboration, we crawled more than 30 blog posts and 20,000 words on collaboration problems. Every reason was aggregated and grouped into one of six categories.

  1. Alignment issues
  2. Lack of decision-making process
  3. Lack of buy-in, uncooperative team members
  4. Time and workload management
  5. Tooling and software issues
  6. Virtual and cultural issues

1. Alignment Issues

  • Examples and variations:
  • Goal conflicts
  • Silo mentality
  • General inflexibility
  • Failure to process sync
  • Unclear or uncomfortable roles
  • Information control between teams
  • You’re not aware of other teams’ projects and initiatives
  • You don’t understand the roles, responsibilities, or jargon of coworkers

Collaboration requires cross-functional teamwork and the blending of different processes. Many organizations struggle to support this. Teams disagree on meeting frequency or format. They place different priority levels on tasks.

Roundtable document reviews create two alignment improvements.

Meeting control - Document review meetings are held when a document has been written and needs to be discussed as a team. This prevents unnecessary check-ins, prolonged and unproductive meetings. Every meeting is planned and has actionable takeaways.

Improves transparency - Reviewing documents together gives teams insights into each other’s roles, responsibilities, and expected interaction. For example, a team or project charter is reviewed before any work begins. Misunderstandings are addressed before they impact productivity.

2. Lack of Decision Making Process

  • Groupthink
  • “Too many cooks”
  • Difficulty in expressing opinions
  • Too much talking, not enough doing
  • Indecisiveness or decision bottleneck
  • Failure to create action from conversation
  • Lopsided conversations and contributions

Teams can have seemingly successful meetings only to come away with a lack of to-dos. There’s confusion about who should make the final decision or a general uneasiness within the group.

Document reviews make decision making easier with a clear process and role assignment. Post-meeting to-dos are the responsibility of the author. They’re in charge of implementing everyone’s feedback and deciding if another meeting is necessary or if a consensus has been reached.

Everyone has an equal opportunity to speak and provide input. Speaking from experience, this is helpful for introverts who might refrain from speaking out if not formally called upon.

3. Lack of Buy-in, Uncooperative Team Members

  • Absence of trust
  • Resistance to habit change
  • Reluctance to adopt new ways of working
  • Poor relationships, the wrong people together
  • Lack of cooperative interaction among team members
  • Fear of team chemistry problems - arguments, awkwardness, tension, etc

Sometimes collaboration is disrupted before it begins. For those accustomed to working a certain way, change is hard. When teams are instructed to work together, there can be a lack of trust. There’s no magic cure for someone if they’re truly disgruntled about working with others, but a reading culture system eases people into collaboration on several levels.

Trust through transparency - A lack of trust comes from ignorance toward someone’s effort and responsibilities. Reviewing documents together gives everyone insight into who should do what, when and why.

Facilitates productive conversation - Workers can feel collaboration means they’ll be bogged down by information overload and repetitive conversations. A document system prevents this by creating a designated time for conversation. Reviewing the document allows everyone to think critically about the issue and gathers all perspectives.

4. Time and Workload Management

  • More work
  • Less time for focused work
  • Taking on a new process is too time-consuming

Collaboration means more work for another set of detractors. It’s true that collaboration inherently requires more meetings and conversations that take away from deep, focused work.

This is one of the biggest benefits of the DocOps system. Unproductive conversations and meetings stem from unclear goals and priorities. A document review allows teams to get the required insight before the begin a project. There’s more time for focused work and shouldn’t be daily check-ins or impromptu meetings.

time and workload management

5. Tools & Software Issues

  • Too many tools
  • Tackling security challenges
  • New tools are complicated to use
  • Insufficient support mechanisms
  • Difficulty adapting to new systems
  • Difficulty finding the right information

While everything above is based on habits and behaviors, many collaboration problems stem from the tools that teams use. There might be a mix of tools that don’t integrate or frustration with software limitations.

Topple’s software is designed to enhance the reading culture experience and make it easier to implement. We do this by focusing on three workflow aspects.

Writing - The writing process should be distraction-free and made easier by technology. We implement AI assistance to automatically identify when information contradicts other aspects of the database.

Reading together - Teams need to be able to schedule document reviews with the right people and do it seamlessly with whatever calendar or project management tool they use.

Managing with documents - Managers need the ability to create, request and track documents. This information control can be leveraged to organize team projects and goals.

6. Virtual and Cultural Issues

  • Language barriers
  • Differences in time zones
  • Connecting dispersed teams
  • Misinterpretations due to virtual conversations
  • Communicating effectively without nonverbal and contextual cues

Lastly, virtual and cultural issues always emerge when researching collaboration hurdles. Challenges like language barriers and wacky time zone differences don’t have quick solutions. With that said, document reviews and the act of reading together doesn’t require in-person meetings. These reviews accomplish a few things for dispersed remote teams.

Formalizing communication - Virtual meetings can be painful when there’s a lack of structure or rhythm in the conversation. Roundtable reviews provide a consistent cadence for conversation.

Reading and writing skills - DocOps helps grow two essential skills for remote workers - reading and writing. Second language learners and native speakers both benefit from any system that encourages writing and reading together.

Create knowledge not excuses. Expect success with Topple.

Topple provides tools that help teams create and use documents to communicate, remember, and thrive.