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Leveraging Technology in Collaborative Work - Foundations


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Modern knowledge work, such as that done by Extension professionals, often calls for collaborative efforts to address complex issues from a variety of angles. Using technology to facilitate collaboration can allow teams to span geographical boundaries, work at different times, easily share information, foster frequent interaction, expand the team’s expertise, and reduce costs. However, collaboration within virtual spaces is different than traditional face-to-face work and requires consideration of a variety of factors: comfort with and access to the technology, leadership and coordination of the team, scheduling across time zones and institutions, etc.

In this webinar we will highlight published research about technology-facilitated collaboration and discuss its benefits, challenges, and factors that contribute to success. This foundational webinar will set the stage for subsequent webinars that will address specific tools and techniques that can be used to foster the success of collaborative work using technology.

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Leveraging Technology in Collaborative Work - Foundations

  1. 1. Leveraging Technology In Collaborative Work This material is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth, U.S. Department of Defense under Award No. 2010-48869-20685. Jerry Buchko - Network Literacy CoP, Minnesota Stephen Judd - University of New Hampshire Janyne Kizer - North Carolina State University Victor Villegas - Oregon State University
  2. 2. What is collaboration? “A mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties to achieve common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results. It is more than simply sharing knowledge and information (communication) and more than a relationship that helps each party achieve its own goals (cooperation and coordination). The purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party.” Source: Chrislip & Larson (1994)
  3. 3. Objectives • Collaboration versus Cooperation • Benefits - time & space flexibility, diversity, relatively inexpensive • Considerations - time difference, geographic dispersion, project planning, synchronous vs asynchronous, etc. • Principles - shared use, learning curve, cost, etc.
  4. 4. Collaboration versus Cooperation “My own definition of cooperation is that it is freely sharing, without any expectation of direct reciprocity.” - Harold Jarche Source: deeply-into-collaboration/ Source:
  5. 5. Collaboration versus Cooperation Collaboration requires cooperation among team members focused on a shared task or goal that leads to an agreed upon outcome. A collaborative team will generally have defined roles for team members who will work together until the goal is achieved or priorities change. Collaboration Cooperation Shared goal / outcome Free sharing of information Collaborative team Network Time-bound Ongoing / perpetual Structure / leadership Free-form complex Requires cooperation Not necessarily collaborative
  6. 6. Technology in collaborative work • Real-time communication (voice, video, text) » phone, Skype, Hangouts, Connect, WebEx, etc. • File sharing » email, Google, Dropbox, Sharepoint, etc. • Real-time document editing » Google Apps, Microsoft Office online, etc. • Asynchronous communication » email, social media, discussion group • Polling / scheduling » Doodle, Google Forms, Qualtrics, etc.
  7. 7. Question - respond in chat In your experience, what has been the greatest benefit of using technology in collaborative work?
  8. 8. Benefits • Greater time and space flexibility • Relatively inexpensive • Allows for more fluid interaction and information sharing Source:
  9. 9. Collaborative teams “Practices and structures that may have worked well with simple teams of people who were all in one location and knew one another are likely to lead to failure when teams grow more complex” Source: Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007).
  10. 10. Collaborative teams - Size Large teams can widen the stakeholder group and add diverse skills, but can also decrease effectiveness. Groups of more than 20 can result in lower level of natural cooperation. Source: Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007). Bigger isn’t always better! Source: 413795137
  11. 11. Collaborative teams - Diversity Diversity can spark insight and innovation. However, the higher the proportion of people who don't know anyone else on the team and the greater the diversity, the less likely the team members are to share knowledge. Source: Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007). Source:
  12. 12. Collaborative teams - High education levels Huge value in drawing on a variety of deeply specialized skills and knowledge to devise new solutions. Research shows that the greater the proportion of highly educated specialists on a team, the more likely the team is to disintegrate into unproductive conflicts. Source: Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007). Source:
  13. 13. Collaborative teams - Success factors • Sense of community - comfort reaching out and sharing • Task- and relationship-oriented - task orientation at the outset of a project and shifting toward a relationship orientation once the work is in full swing • Heritage relationships - reluctance to share knowledge if too many strangers. A few people who know one another on the team helps. • Role clarity and task ambiguity - defined roles with latitude on how to achieve the task. Source: Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007).
  14. 14. Skills Needed for Collaboration • Relationship building skills » Nurturing trust » Developing familiarity » Establishing a shared environment and context to build a sense of community • Establishing a norm of open and active communication, promoting clarity/understanding and conflict resolution » Appreciation for diversity Source: Roy, S. (2012).
  15. 15. Skills Needed for Collaboration • Communication skills » Developing language that is simple and easy to understand (limiting professional jargon) » Limiting ambiguity, including lack of nonverbal communications » Knowledge sharing to encourage/nurture learning, efficacy, and innovation Source: Roy, S. (2012). Source:
  16. 16. Skills Needed for Collaboration • Collaboration skills » Working autonomously » Delegating tasks » Motivating others » Adapting to changing contexts » Innovating Source: Roy, S. (2012). Source:!.jpg
  17. 17. Question - respond in chat In your experience, what has been the greatest challenge when using technology in collaborative work?
  18. 18. Considerations / Challenges • Scheduling / time zones • Selecting technologies suited to the task • Technical support and technical glitches • Project planning • Learning the technologies Source:
  19. 19. Scheduling / Time Zones • Scheduling (Doodle polls) • Frequency • Find times that work across time zones • Don’t meet for the sake of meeting • Synchronous and asynchronous interaction Source:
  20. 20. Institutional Considerations • What’s allowed / available? • Access to external partners • Licensing costs • Privacy and security • Technical support / capacity
  21. 21. Technical support / learning • Options (e.g., phone in to video conference) • Gauge team comfort with different tools • Adopt new tools when needed, but not for the sake of the shiny new tool • Opportunity to learn and apply new tools Source:
  22. 22. Technical support • Formal and informal technology mentoring such as technology stewards • Address potential technical glitches by using the same platform for all team collaboration whenever possible Sources: Witthaus, G. (2008). and Roy, S. (2012).
  23. 23. Project planning • Objectives • Deliverables • Timebound • Define roles • Work teams • Define processes • Embed learning and evaluation
  24. 24. Changing routines “Much research has shown that the use of collaboration technology can improve group performance, yet groups and organizations are often slow to adopt it. Part of the reason for this may be an inherent resistance to changing established routines; part may be because it can be challenging to learn new collaboration technology-based routines.” Source: Garfield, et al. (2012) Source:
  25. 25. Selecting technologies • Select tools that will optimally allow the team to function, tools that all team members can access • When possible, choose tools people already know how to use or do not have a steep learning curve • Consider each tool’s strengths and weaknesses in supporting the team’s ability to function Source: Tate, et al. (2014).
  26. 26. Coordination Communication Activity Awareness Explicit Communication Information Gathering Shared Access Transfer Video & Audio Conferencing, Synchronous Text & Image Based, Near-Synchronous Text & Image Based, Asynchronous Collaborative Values and Priorities Interactions Tools The Technology Selection S’more... Derived from Figure 2: Cognitive Work Analysis Phase 1 - Work Domain Analysis by Tate, et al. (2014). Source:
  27. 27. Source: Tate, et al. (2014).
  28. 28. Takeaways Leveraging technology can: • Allow teams to span geographical boundaries • Work at different times • Easily share and store information • Foster frequent interaction - not just meetings • Expand the team’s expertise • Reduce costs
  29. 29. Takeaways You should consider: • Team leadership needs task- and relationship- orientation • Different levels of comfort with technologies • Access to technologies differs across institutions • Opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous communication • Defined roles and flexible methods • Time zones and working hours of team members • Loss of traditional face- to-face cues • Avoiding “mission creep” • Need to build trust among team (esp. if unfamiliar)
  30. 30. Question - respond in chat What topics related to leveraging technology in collaborative work would you like to learn more about?
  31. 31. Questions, comments, challenges? Share your experiences in chat! Please let us know what we could do better:
  32. 32. References Chrislip, David and Larson, Chip. Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference. Jossey-Bass. 1994. p. 5. Garfield, M. & Dennis, A. (2012). Toward an Integrated Model of Group Development: Disruption of Routines by Technology-Induced Change. Journal of Management Information Systems. Winter 2012, Vol. 29, Issue 3, p. 43-86. Gratton, L. & Erickson, T. (2007). Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams. Harvard Business Review, 00178012, November (2007), Vol. 85, Issue 11. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015]. Jarche, H. (2011). Technologies for collaboration and cooperation. seek > sense > share, [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015].
  33. 33. References Jarche, H. (2014). Peering deeply into collaboration. seek > sense > share, [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015]. Ogden, C. (2014). Networks for Change: Collaboration & Cooperation. [online] Available at: cooperation/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015]. Roy, S. (2012). Virtual Collaboration: The Skills Needed to Collaborate in a Virtual Environment. Journal of Internet Social Networking & Virtual Communities, Vol. 2012 (2012), Article ID 629512, p.1-8. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015]. Tate, A., Hansberger, J., Potter, S. & Wickler, G. (2014). Virtual Collaboration Spaces: Bringing Presence to Distributed Collaboration. Journal For Virtual Worlds Research, [online] Vol. 7, No. 2. Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015].
  34. 34. References Witthaus, G. (2008). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Virtual and Offshore Project Teams: Guidelines for Best Practice. Communications of the IBIMA, Vol. 6, 2008, p. 57-61. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015].