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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.

Lagomorph's picture

RE; Your Story

I guess I'm going to buck the trend and actually state that we had a successful use of new technology to solve a communication problem.

I'm a member of a livestock organization that had a very politically charged issue arise last year regarding standardization of the breed. A draft document was created as the result of a series of conferences that the organization held over the period of a year. Once the draft was created, the organization at large was offered an additional opportunity to submit suggested changes via email, and snail mail. Please realize the membership generally has a low usage rate of computer communication (email can be a stretch).

An ad hoc committee was created to review the suggested changes BUT there was no money for the committee to travel from the far reaches of the US for the many face to face meetings that incorporating the memberships comments/suggestion required.


A Wiki was created to house the breed standards. All ad hoc committee members would join in regular conference calls and while on the call would review the document live on the wiki's website. A committee member served as editor and used the ability to color text to serve as a way of marking up the document. The "editor" did all of the writing and marking up and the others on the committee only had to be competent enough to refresh their browser page.

Being able to see the changes live discharged a lot of the finger point and claiming that changes were being made to the document without committee input and discussion. Further, because of the Wiki format, adding pictures to graphically show certain undesirable genetic traits, and thus making the text more understandable was easily done. In addition, when people were unclear what someone's suggest phrasing really was, the editor could easily type in the suggested change, the committee could review, and then discuss and wordsmith from the suggested change.

Also, when the combining of the materials was completed, the membership was allowed to see the wiki (but not comment) and could see how the comments were being incorporated into the document.


I argued strongly that we should add comments sections to the Wiki so that the membership could just post their comments rather than just email. In retrospect, I realize doing the email and snail mail helped to diffuse a possible flame war occurring.

I also had argued that we'd be better served by a webmeeting or netmeeting format would be superior. Unfortunately, either of these options required greater bandwidth for the committee members (some of whom were still on dial-up) and/or $ spent to secure the meeting time.

So while from my tech perspective the solution was a kluge, in the long run it was the right combination of a new technology (Wiki) and old (email), low bandwidth requirement, visual ease of seeing the changes, and the real-time ability to read the revised document.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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