Collaboration tools are a simple concept to explain but tricky to characterize. They help teams and groups work together toward a common goal. But what are collaboration tools themselves? Is a project management app a collaboration tool? Of course. What about a chat or messenger client? Sure. Is a wayfinding app a collaboration tool? That depends. Does it help a bunch of individuals work together in a meaningful way?
Defining collaborative tools
There’s plenty of grey area in defining collaboration tools when evaluating new workplace collaboration trends. The simplest collaboration tools definition is a catchall term for anything that two or more people use in conjunction with one another. These tools come in all manner of varieties and purposes but ultimately foster interaction between people.
Some examples include:
- A chat app that lets multiple people brainstorm ideas
- A project management app that defines tasks across a group
- A video conferencing tool that lets people talk face-to-face
- A file-sharing program that gives many people access to collateral
This definition leaves the concept of collaboration itself wide open. For example, if you plan a meeting and use a wayfinding app to send directions to participants, it’s a collaborative tool. Gmail. Dropbox. Slack. Microsoft Word online. They’re all collaborative tools — part of a growing repertoire of thousands of apps and programs designed to facilitate group work.
No matter the nature of the software or what it’s used for, each one makes working together easier in some way. Let’s take a look at some universal collaboration tool benefits.
Full team visibility and accountability
Expecting people to collaborate without full visibility over what they’re working on together is a recipe for disaster. Every member of the team needs to see the bigger picture and how what they’re doing fits into it. Collaborative tools make this possible.
Logging into a Google Doc and tracking changes alongside everyone else, for example. The ability to see task timelines in a project management app is another excellent instance. Everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goal.
With this visibility also comes an element of accountability. Team leaders know who to hold accountable if a task isn’t completed. Or, from a proactive perspective, team members can see when others need help and collaborate to keep the project on track
Track progress in real life
No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong. Just because you structure a group project one way doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll progress. Business changes rapidly — daily and sometimes even hourly. Teams need a way to adapt just as quickly; collaboration tools give it to them.
Modern collaboration tools help to create dynamic workflows and team agility. For example, Person A in facility management uploads client feedback on a logo to the #Logo Slack channel, where Person B can make changes, uploading a new iteration to Dropbox without changing the shared link. Everyone has the new logo in real-time.
The ability to act, react, and reallocate resources as fast as projects change is an asset teams can’t function without. Collaboration tools help teams respond to changes as quickly as they’re expected to, prevent setbacks, and keep projects on track
Enable full group participation
Every member of a team is an asset. Teams are successful because they’re more than the sum of their parts—but that’s only true if each piece contributes to the whole. If group members can’t collaborate properly, they’re limited in the assistance they can provide.
If Person A works off-site and can’t access collateral for their portion of the project, they cannot work on it, which can stall the greater effort. Likewise, if details X, Y, and Z aren’t told to Person B, they might not do their work appropriately, adversely affecting what Person C does.
Collaborative tools enable full group participation and synergy so everyone contributes meaningfully. Each person uses their skills and talents to drive the project forward in a show of true collaboration.
Collaborative tools help teams succeed
A team is only as good as the sum of its members and their ability to work together. Collaboration tools leverage each individual’s responsibilities and talents into the team’s greater success.
Any technology that helps one person work with others to contribute to a larger mission is a collaboration tool worth using.
Not every group needs the same tools for specific tasks, but all groups need diverse ways of functioning together. The easier it is to collaborate, the easier it is to succeed.