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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

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.

MileHighSoapbox's picture

Tried Basecamp, but just email and other stuff for my co-workers

I work for a Federal Government Agency and our public affairs office is split between Washington, D.C., Denver, and Louisiana. We work on a bunch of different projects and I thought we needed to use something to coordinate what we are doing because our infrastructure is horrid and our IT Department restricts everything that we try to do.

I was able to convince our boss to try out Basecamp and a couple of us used it, but I was soon fighting an uphill battle. We have some older people whose idea of technology is Groupwise email (which should just go away), Internet Explorer, faxes, and a shared network drive. They have not heard of Web 2.0, Twitter, Facebook, or other web services.

The problem is that the shared network drives are limited by office. Washington has their own, Denver has their own, and Louisiana is by them self.

Basecamp failed miserably because no one would use it and everyone thought it was a waste of time. I would have to agree with Durango who earlier posted that it is only as good as people who will use it.

We have been promised Sharepoint, but that promise has been told to us for several years and not delivered. Our organization has been spending 10's of thousands of dollars on dedicated web conferencing, four in our Denver Office and three in our DC office. These offices are not that big.

When we tried to get a couple of staff tied in with web cams at their desk, IT said no because of band width concerns, but these big systems persist and they aren't being used.

It is just frustrating when people I work with are just going through their jobs, don't want to do anything to bring our agency into the future and I am stuck using Groupwise that is several versions behind and paper.




An Oblique Strategy:
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