More Collaboration Tools - Worse Collaboration?

May 10, 2020

We’ve never had more options and freedom, but there is a dark side too. And it grows with both the size of the organization and number of teamwork tools being used.

Not too long ago, teams would collaborate using a limited set of software tools, if any at all. Most of these tools would come under the label of Microsoft, IBM, or SAP. With the rise of the Internet and Software as a Service model, the portfolio of options grew across all collaboration and communication use cases.

Bring Your Own SaaS

Companies like Dropbox pioneered “bottom up market adoption”, first winning the hearts and minds of individuals who would then bring these tools into their workplaces. Expensive salespeople could be partially replaced by the enthusiastic adopters themselves, something unimaginable for the traditional players. Companies like Slack were able to capitalize on this trend exceptionally well and created an image that both individuals and managers liked to be associated with: modern, cool, quick, transparent, integrated.

There are undeniably many positives for both companies and individuals as a result of this trend. Employees can bring to work tools they master and enjoy using, which gives them a sense of freedom and control, and all that contributes to better productivity. Companies have visibility into cost with often zero upfront investment and don’t need to worry about support and maintenance. Most tools have pretty good sharing capabilities and new team members can have their accounts seamlessly auto-created.

The Cost of Freedom

There’s a downside. It’s not immediately visible, but it grows with both the size of the organization and number of teamwork tools being used. During a recent work fire drill I found myself having three parallel, identical conversations: on a team chat, in a comment thread on a shared doc, and on a task in a project management tool. Different people started these isolated pockets of collaboration that quickly started heading into different directions due to their slightly different sets of collaborators. While this may sound more as a problem of the specific organization or an urgent situation, the underlying problem is that with many tools offering similar capabilities it’s not always clear which one to use for what. And this certainly make collaboration much worse, or at least more costly.

Specialized content usually escapes this problem, like centralized code in Github, but general written content, with the widest audiences, often doesn’t have a well defined “home base”. Let’s take project or work status updates, for example. I have received them over Slack, as part of Asana and Jira workflows, in shared docs, in a presentation, on a calendar invite, and of course — the worst of all options — through the dark black hole of email. To be clear: These were different projects but the same company.

Imagine someone wants to quickly see what everyone is doing and where things are, or just to stay casually in the loop on a subject. There is no search that would span across all these separate tools run by separate providers. And although this may sound like a case for a project management tool, most organizations are not run as a portfolio of defined projects. Most work and collaboration still happens organically, outside of defined boundaries. Where? Go check these 10 great tools to find out.