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Your Story: Throwing new tools at a communication problem?

I'm working on a (likely non-43 Folders) piece about a topic that seems to keep coming up whenever I talk with people about how their team plans, collaborates, and generally communicates with one another. I'd love to hear from you in comments if you have a contribution to make.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story about a time when your team or company tried to solve a human communication problem by adding a new tool? In your estimation, how did things turn out?


Yours doesn't need to be a horror story to be included here -- there are certainly ample examples in which a thorny problem disappeared by introducing a bit of high (or low) technology to the mix.

But, the anecdotes I hear from worker bees often focus on the frustration they felt when a wiki, a new CMS, a mailing list, or some other tool was introduced into an ecosystem that was suffering from a more fundamental communication problem. A lot of people tell me that this makes matters much worse all around, often amplifying the complexity of the original problem, in addition to piling on burnt cycles that were committed on getting everyone up to speed on the new "silver bullet."

If you have a minute over the next week or so, please share your story here. Redact details that you think need redacting, but please consider telling me how things went for you and your group. And, if you feel like a whole or partial solution to the core problem ever did come along, that would be great to know, as well. Already documented this someplace else? Know of someone else who did? Links to relevant stories are also greatly appreciated.

If things pan out, I may be contacting a few of you offline for more details, and conceivably, an interview or two. Thanks in advance.

michaeleherman's picture

If the process is broken no amount of technology will fix it

Having worked in the IT department for the same company for 15 years as we have grown from 100 people to 65,000, I have seen and participated in many attempts to improve communication and workflow across the company. In the end there have been many failures due to lack of interest, poor management and overall lack of understanding of the value. However, the biggest problem is the unclear expectations and the belief that a new tool will cure all ills.

The reality is that technology in and of itself will never fix communication issues. If the process for communication is flawed then the technology will only exacerbate the flaws and make the communication problems more profound. In other words, if the process sucks, technology solutions will only make it suck faster.

Without agreement on the problem being solved, tools such as SharePoint, are useless and just lead to further confusion about how things work and where documents are stored. Also, many times, people try to make new solutions work like the old solutions being replaced - another major issue. As an example, many years ago we were upgrading a scheduling package from a second tier inexpensive solution to one of the members of Gartner's 'magic quadrant'. As we worked on the project, various members of the team pushed very hard to replicate customizations that we had developed due to shortcomings in the current product. It took a significant effort to get them to step back and realize that the new, and vastly superior, product had much better ways of achieving the same ends for which they had developed kludgy solutions. While this is not a n example directly of communications issues, it is an example of how difficult it is to change culture.

In more recent times, I have tried to use SharePoint as a repository for documents generated and referenced by my teams. Again, changing culture and process are much more important than the change of the tool.

David Allen writes (and says) that if you don't trust your system, you won't use it. The same goes for corporate and team communication solutions. If the entire team does not work together to identify their needs, create the solution and, most importantly, buy into the philosophy and approach, the solution will fail. Some people try to adopt and others work as hard as possible to sabotage them.




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