As employees increasingly collaborate across time zones, geographic boundaries and cultures, collaboration tools are playing an important role in building teams and helping projects move forward. A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study found that many of today’s enterprise executives find current collaboration tools fall short of their needs. In part, companies struggle to get their teams using the programs – and McKinsey has noted that within companies, some groups will adopt collaboration tools and others will not. For business leaders, the key differentiator may be educating your teams on how collaborative tools can help them achieve their business objectives more quickly and efficiently.
Here’s a closer look at how investing in training your team to make the most of collaboration tools can ensure you’re maximizing your ROI on technology investments.
Establishing the Agenda for Collaboration
The first step to educating your team about collaboration tools starts with the value of collaboration itself. Within large companies, the ability to achieve specific goals in complex environments is critical. Often, this requires integrating with systems, locations, devices and other departments to get things done. If your company operates in the common model of silos, bridging the gaps between teams may be one of the biggest challenges.
Within the same company, individual departments often have diverse needs, key performance indicators and use different languages. What’s important to one group may be meaningless to another. As a result, managers and their teams scramble to meet their own individual priorities, and more often than not, collaboration just gets in the way because “those people just don’t get it.” Instead of making investments in collaboration tools that can help companies get more done across these silos, they invest in specific technologies that support the CMO or the CIO and don’t communicate across the organization. When systems are delivered across organizations without strategies or connections to business objectives, it’s harder to gain adoption and engagement.
Understanding the Roadblocks to Adoption
Companies invest in a range of collaboration tools, and then find adoption rates vary. When IT managers and executives look below the surface, low adoption rates can be attributed to a variety of different factors:
- Employees are busy and feel they don’t have time to learn a new system
- They don’t understand the value collaboration tools will bring
- Employees are unable to see how collaboration tools will fit into existing business processes
- Their jobs involve sensitive data and they are concerned about security risk
- The company does not have an established culture of collaboration
- Learning the new system seems difficult or technologically too advanced or complex
- Employees don’t want to create another channel they need to monitor, or one that can bring interruptions to their day
When you break down these different reasons, it’s easy to see they fall into a few different categories: lack of clarity on the use or value of collaboration tools; fear of changing processes or new technology; and lack of focus on the value of collaboration to the work environment. By pinpointing the issues affecting your team, it’s possible to develop customized solutions and the training to combat them – and increase adoption.
A Case Study: Why Collaboration Tools Fail to Catch On
During a recent conversation with an enterprise IT manager, a useful case study emerged to put some of these issues into context. A financial services company adopted a collaboration suite to help maximize communication while minimizing logistical hassles. Many of the new users were not tech savvy, however, and didn’t understand specific features. The collaboration tools were rolled out with great fanfare, and there were a couple of optional sessions users could attend. Few people attended, and a couple of months later the company found that only a handful of individuals were using the products and services.
On deeper investigation, it was discovered that most employees didn’t understand the features that were available to them because the company’s pitch for the new tools had lumped collaboration tools together with communications tools. One employee even said, “Why should I attend training to learn how to use a new phone?” IT went back to the drawing board and offered general training, as well as department-specific coaching sessions to help onboard users. The investment paid off. Communication increased, usage was up and employees were empowered enough to begin to find creative ways to integrate the tools into their own workflow.
Strategies for Rolling Out Training to Maximize ROI
Establish an internal point person: Employee training to adopt a new system isn’t a one-time event. Often, it’s a constellation of activities – from initial training sessions to providing an ongoing resource for questions. Establishing a point person for the system (an in-house expert) can help improve the onboarding process. A knowledgeable person can help point people to the right resource, whether it’s a specific video or a more detailed training.
Empower employees to learn: Mastering the technical basics of a new technology is the first step to capturing its full benefits. Empower your employees by making technical training on the new software mandatory. Demo the features, show people how to customize the interface for their needs and offer proactive ideas for different ways the new tools could be used. For example, a live demonstration of real-time file sharing over an instant messaging app or editing a document together from the convenience of your desk is often more compelling than sitting in a meeting room and watching a slideshow.
Recognize that people learn differently, and persistently provide different options: Some people learn by doing. Others prefer to read a manual. Embrace different styles of learning when you’re rolling out new collaboration tools, and ensure reference points exist for alternative learning approaches. Vendor partners will often provide core training materials to help with this process. It’s important to evaluate the quality and diversity of a vendor’s training and resources when investing in new technologies. Consider providing live demos, small group trainings, video resources and help tools, and have one-on-one coaching available for those with questions. Make it easy for your team to get the answers to their questions in the way that makes the most sense to them.
Customize your trainings by department: The McKinsey resource mentioned above highlighted the fact that different departments within an organization may adopt collaboration tools in different ways. While the best organizations foster cross-collaboration, the reality is that we often collaborate more with colleagues on specific teams. For example, members of the product development team may work together to launch a new product. Your IT and professional development teams can think through the steps needed to make the biggest impact in a specific group. Consider offering custom demos highlighting specific features for each group of users to help get them excited to jump in.
Evaluate your progress and adjust your strategy: Companies can keep a pulse on how collaboration tools are performing in their organization by measuring adoption. Keep track of who is using tools and how they’re using them. Conduct a survey to gather feedback on the software. Often, an ongoing engagement strategy can identify useful features that your team has overlooked or specific users who are maximizing value and can be used to demonstrate best practices.
Without the right training, the barriers to embracing collaboration tools can seem too high to overcome. As you evaluate collaboration tool providers, consider what training resources they can offer and how easy it is to get started on a specific platform. Build training time into your rollout timeline, and periodically revisit usage to explore how additional training can help you capture more value over the long term.