Overcome the barriers to virtual collaboration

Dave Coriale, CAE | 07.06.12
Topics: Project Management, Tips - Trends - TechTalks

Are you tired of doing committee work by email? Do you wish committee members had more momentum in between calls and meetings?

You’re not alone. The good news is: many in the association community are discovering that virtual collaboration tools can help members get more work done and less painfully too. In my last post, I shared some myths about collaboration, gave some tips for successful projects, and provided factors to consider when selecting a virtual collaboration tool.

Even if you have your goals, process, communication, and leadership in place, you may still come up against the most common barrier to virtual collaboration – resistance to the tool.

Roots of resistance

Before you launch a virtual collaboration effort, learn more about your team (staff and/or members) and their comfort with technology adoption and change. If you sense resistance to change or discomfort with technology, you must build in time for training, coaching, and “change therapy.”

Resistance is rooted in assumptions, beliefs, and expectations.

  • People don’t see the benefit of using the new tool. “What’s in it for me?” They won’t care and won’t use it.
  • They don’t like change. They don’t understand the need to change. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” They fear losing the familiar and being uncomfortable. They don’t want to feel or look stupid.
  • They’re skeptics. “We tried something like that before. It didn’t work.”

You need to change these beliefs if you wish to change their behavior.

If they’re resistant because you’re asking them to add another platform and log-in to their existing online activity, that could be a technical issue – one to consider in your requirements for a virtual collaboration tool. Can you integrate the tool with your website and AMS, or with your online community?

Wooing the resisters

Do everything you can to build trust. Trust is the key. Trust that you won’t steer them wrong. Trust that they won’t be embarrassed or lose face. Trust that you’ll be there to help them. Trust that it will get better.

When you come up against the change-averse, technophobes, and skeptics, emphasize the outcome of collaboration. Paint a picture of that shared vision and goal. Make sure they understand your team’s dependence on the tool to accomplish your goal by the deadline.

Keep in mind that your initial goal is to get their willingness to try it out. Go for small victories.

Address their anxiety by providing support and training. Yes, this will take time at the front end and may require some one-on-one coaching, but remember, you’ll gain time in the long term if you can make this work. Be careful not to overwhelm them with too much information at once or technical lingo. Keep it basic.

Find peer evangelists who can help with coaching and talking up the benefits.

In the early days, some people will get frustrated if mastery of the tool doesn’t come easily. Keep an eye out for this and boost them up when necessary. Don’t abandon them after training. Check back in to see how they’re doing. Keep training aids readily accessible. You can always use a tool like Camtasia to record quick video tutorials to post so those using the tools can access them any time.

If a committee (or other working group) decides it will conduct business via the virtual collaboration tool, hold members accountable for participation. Don’t make exceptions for those who can participate but choose not to.

Always need to keep in mind it is critical that the value of using the tool has to outweigh any pain (real or perceived) of making the switch.

Associations have always been communities of collaboration, but now we have a multitude of new tools we can use to make working together even more productive and easier to fit into our busy lives.

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