Working collaboratively – lessons learnt

Lessons learnt

Assignment: Working as an international student team to produce a report using online collaborative tools.

  1. Set the team up in advance. Thinking ahead and establishing the team availability in advance is essential. The project team for this project was set up on the day the project began. Given the project was to run for 7 days and the team members were located in the USA, UK and Japan this presented a huge challenge. The capacity to know each other’s availability in advance would have enabled better initial communication and task allocation.
  2. Plan the working pattern ahead. It is important to plan as far ahead as possible especially if your team is internationally dispersed across a number of time zones. Our project team comprised time zone spans of -9 and +6 GMT. This presented a number of challenges, not least finding an appropriate time when we could all talk via OULive (a synchronous collaborative system)
  3. Early communication. Creating initial opportunities to discuss objectives and approach and to establish accountabilities is vital to project completion. No group finished the project within the week, though we completed within 10 days.
  4. Establish a clear deadline and stick to it. It was evident that teams lost energy as one week turned into two and the deadlines for completion shifted. Completion over longer (unplanned) timescale fell into the ‘too difficult’ box.
  5. Trusting your colleagues to make decisions on your behalf is essential. Given the challenges of working remotely it is important to develop a series of ‘ground rules’ as a framework against which decisions can be made. It is important, that as a team member, you feel comfortable with this frame work.
  6. Managing guilt. I experienced moments of guilt given I was unable to participate fully on two of the seven days the project ran for. The result of this was a foray into Google Docs at 3am in the morning to add papers and research. This had surprising benefits………
  7. Feelings of belonging. On visiting Google Docs at 3am I found both my colleagues from the USA (6pm) and Japan (9am) online and working in GoogleDocs. This resulted in a real feeling of international camaraderie and teamwork. Whilst I am not suggesting this is best practice by any stretch of the imagination! this feeling of developing something together across time zones and geographies was exhilarating.
  8. Finding the right medium for collaborative working. Google Docs offers the opportunity to work together synchronously or asynchronously, changes are tracked and reported and notes can be added. There is a chat function which was incredibly useful when working on the document at the same time. Additional people can be invited to comment on your work as it is developed and you can offer your work to be viewed by anyone. This is useful for getting feedback and progressing the thinking behind the work. OULive was essential in allowing virtual meetings and offered the opportunity to discuss and speeded up decision making.
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