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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.

MrVideo's picture

Must be tied to money, email, and the big dogs

I worked for a large non profit (80 remote locations) as director of media. We tried 3 times to implement an intranet and each time we failed. We did eventually launch two applications that had 100% buy in. Here are the three things I believe a successful collaborative system must have.

1) Used by big dogs - it will never gain traction from bottom up. Adoption of any new tech must be top down. Field workers, and regular staff were too busy to be bothered. If email was working they stuck with that.

2) Tied to email - ANY system MUST have reporting and updates sent via email. And preferably an email client. Most forums have this simple feature (sending alerts) but you'd be surprised how many intranets of just 3 years ago did not.

3) Tied to money - our most successful launches were applications where money was concerned. Time cards - The government (and then management) made these mandatory for grant activity reporting. You didn't get paid if you didn't log on and fill out your time card. Second was the Reimbursements - EVERYONE logged on to fill out their expense reports! No report, no money.

As much as I hate Lotus Notes, these three issues were met my our Notes platform even though we we still client based (vs browser based) up until 2 years ago. So imagine this - we got 100% buy in from around the globe on a client based system that had to be manually installed in every 3rd world location we were in.




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