Conference Notes

Dan Randow on Online Collaboration for NZKM Christchurch, Sep 1

The presenter at today’s NZKM meeting in Christchurch was Dan Randow, Projects Director at OnlineGroups.Net speaking on the topic of Online Collaboration.

Prior to Dan starting his session, one of the gentlemen sitting in the audience asked “So what do you know about Foldera?” to everyone else, not realizing that he was sitting next to me! It was very funny. We had a good chat about Foldera for a few minutes.

Opening Remarks
Dan started by saying … “I spend a lot of time online, and it’s very possible to have rich relationships with the people you meet. However, nothing beats meeting face-to-face in the same room, so let’s make the most of this time together.” After 15 minutes or so getting to know each other through a variety of facilitated exercises, Dan shifted into presentation mode (albeit interactive presentation mode!)

Dan’s Presentation
Here’s the slidesDan on Online Collaboration (PowerPoint, 240KB)

OnlineGroups.Net does three things. Firstly, it offers server software to enable email groups and collaborative web sites. Secondly, it provides a hosted edition for people to deploy behind the firewall; this edition which is coming. Finally, it offers a set of services for the implementation and adoption of OnlineGroups.Net technology.

Numerous people collaborate online, with the main focus for OnlineGroups.Net being eDemocracy, eLearning and Organizations. Second level interest comes from societies, associations, communities of interest, customers, work teams, project teams and clubs. There’s a third level too, getting down to the very small groups, such as students, schools, scientists, families and couples.

There are two general patterns of collaboration who are co-laboring to achieve a single purpose. In the first, the process is well known and understood so that sub-components can be delegated out to individuals with coordination held at the center. The second model is many-to-many, whereby everyone in the group seeks to work with everyone else in the group. Dan (and by implication, OnlineGroups.Net) is much more interested in this second form of collaboration.

Collaboration works with two key drivers … A motivation to collaborate, and an opportunity to collaborate. When both of these conditions are present, collaboration happens. This feeds back to reinforce the first two key factors.

Dan asked “What do you do if people don’t want to collaborate?” Answers (and then more broadly discussion) forthcoming from the floor included:

  • Don’t pay them
  • Tell them about the value that they’ll get from collaborating. This has to be articulated to the whole group, with a particular focus on the early adopters to drive collaboration and bring other people into the collaboration.
  • People need to see a need for collaborating. We don’t want to make collaboration an ends in and of itself.
  • One of the complexities is that different people are motivated in different ways. Have to align the external motivation with what motivates the individual.
  • There’s a difference between value from participation and value from collaboration. Some people just want participation with their friends. A second type is where people want an answer to a question; the people who give answers get an increase in status as the reward.
  • Our fearless chairman chimed in and talked about the case of a project team, whereby collaboration happens toward a single outcome and where people come from a diverse background. Another example is the community of practice, whereby people want to share ideas and discuss with people of like backgrounds.
  • If it is true that people want to collaborate, we also need to determine what is stopping people from collaborating. An internal barrier to collaboration is shyness or a lack of trust in others. External barriers are the lack of opportunities, pressure of work, lack of potential answers, it’s too hard to get a failed outcome. Internal competition within large enterprises can inhibit collaboration too.

Within a group, there are cohesive drivers that pull people together. There has to be sufficient mutual attractive forces to be strong enough to pull people together. These have to be strong enough to overcome the external forces that seek to pull people away from collaborating.

Different benefits of collaboration flow to difficult constituencies. Participants get more done with more fun, along with success, learning, less frustration and less isolation. Owners get efficiency and effectiveness, along with wheels not being reinvented, things not falling through the graps, more integration and more innovation.

One of the challenges for participants is deferred benefits. One person has to be willing to collaboratet first, and then wait for another to collaborate back … And then a benefit flows.

What’s the technology for collaboration? Email wins in the business context, text wins in the teenager segment. Other tools are interesting, but have much less adoption than email … Blogs, chat rooms, etc. Email is used for collaboration, even though it’s very bad at doing so.

The incumbent status of email is why OnlineGroups.Net built it’s technology around email, with an intention of trying to add better many-to-many capabilities.

However, don’t get too hung up on the technology, as there is much more to collaboration than just technology. Need to start with “design”, an assessment of the value of collaboration … What’s the purpose of the group, who can be a member of the group, what are the values and principles that govern what we do? Secondly, “support” to enable online collaboration. This means a good launch, someone in the group who encourages others to participate. The participation coach does not have to be the leader, who may not even be in the group.

Dan finished his session by giving a demonstration of the capabilities of OnlineGroups.Net.

(Quicktime, 15.5MB, 4m40s)

Categories: Conference Notes