Quick start to team projects

School is starting, employees are coming back from vacations, and projects are about to hit high gear.Picture of team at workSchool is starting, employees are coming back from vacations, and projects are about to hit high gear. Many of these projects cross organizational boundaries so the specific tools and practices to use may not be mandated. You know one of the first tasks is to stop emailing everyone in the group about days to meet, agendas, and quick questions. You know you need a team/project site but where do you start? In a prior post I provided my lightweight collaboration design:

  • Shared folder in the “cloud” space of your choice — helps if your teammates already have accounts on whatever space you choose.  My favorites are Google Docs and Dropbox (Dropbox link uses my referral code, thanks) — thoughts on both below.  We use a folder so we don’t have to individually share each file.
  • Main working document – the report, academic paper, presentation, whatever.
  • Editing notes document — I think of this as a lab notebook for the working document. Most recent entries go at the top of the document (if we have a to-do list, it stays at the very top of the document and then the dated entries follow).  First entry (eventually ends up on the bottom) can be contact info/LinkedIn profile links for each team member.  Additional entries can be notes from conference calls (including time/date/contact info for next meeting), decisions made about the working document, links to additional material, etc.
  • Consider whether you should create a Google “site” for the project (how-to available here)

If this is a short term team that may be enough. However, if you think the team is going to last more than a quarter and or you think team members will come and go, you may want to step it up a notch. In my role as a contributing writer for GigaOM WebWorkerDaily,  I’ve had the opportunity to see a variety of team collaboration and project management tools. (List of my articles linked here.) Some, like Teambox, offer a freemium model where you can run a few projects for free. Teambox also allows you to integrate Google Docs with the benefits of real-time editing and tying the Google Docs comments into to-do items. Before you make your decision I urge you to follow the three practices of a plugged-in manager:

  • Stop-Look-Listen: Do a team audit before you begin. Do not start with the tools first. Take an even-handed view of the team and project needs, then move on to the next step.
  • Mix: Mix the work, your expectations for participation, your team goals, the tools you have available, and the possibilities to renegotiate.  You must manage the tools, the practices, and the people — the tool will not write the report for you, nor will it motivate your teammates to participate in the process.
  • Share: Think aloud with your team mates. Think aloud about how the project design process is a full system, don’t just focus on the tools. As people hear your approach they will come to understand and be able to model plugged-in management on their own. When everyone is moving in this same direction you can focus on the work and less on the tools and process.

You just met your new team mates. How do you open the conversation about taking a plugged-in approach? Would love to hear in the comments strategies that have worked and those that have not.

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