Analyst’s corner
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Analyst’s corner

The Gentle Art of Spinning Plates with Collaborative Tech

15 spinning plates. Yep, you have 15 topics to find a sensible narrative to-without the luxury of time. Your project team have some of the answers, and each power their answers will evolve. The downside is that your project team are busy and has minimal concentration span. You might have to bribe, cajole and charm your way into achieving the 10 minutes you need to get each answer. In my case, I am lucky. It’s a great thing my project team are likeable; my job would be ten times harder otherwise!

Photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash

How about another situation you might face? A leader is seeking to transform her vision of better customer service into concrete reality. Her leadership team aim to help with this. Yet is it an efficient way to put ideas on paper and begin this transformation?

What about meetings that never reach their full potential? Your meeting participants sit at the desk, waiting for their turn to speak. Unfortunately, one or two more active and passionate participants hog vital meeting time. Quieter participants mentally check out despite having a wealth of potential contributions.

Finding or transforming ideas through in-person meetings has a special place in organisations. Yet in the midst of a pandemic, collaborative technology has come to the fore. We move from synchronous meetings to the joys of asynchronous meetings.

Inspiration can strike at odd times too. Asynchronous meetings are a way to capture these ideas and contribute to the team — even at 6 AM when you have a “eureka!” moment. Collaboration tools provide this asynchronous space. I don’t multi-task well — and research supports my experience. Yet I can concentrate on one thing very well, especially undistracted, after-hours. My concentration is a tool. So is the space to share ideas outside of boring 9 am-5 pm meeting times. While these tools are no secret, are you getting the most from them?

Workplace research undertaken suggests how our working lives are evolving. Yet this research (undertaken over several years) does not replace your real-world experience. My colleagues and I joke that COVID is an excellent organisational change manager. Pre-pandemic workplace research findings of teamwork and collaboration technology? Are the findings now irrelevant given the incredible worldwide change we have seen?

In our world of working from home or hybrid working, we have adapted to new ways of working. My “notepad” for capturing last-minute changes, evolving ideas and planning my way forward is digital. I record important meetings (with audience permission). Later, I edit recorded meetings into webinar and training content. I tend to use collaboration tools like Mural to capture evolving changes in my organisation. Transforming concepts into reality is becoming far easier.

What is Collaboration Software?

Collaboration software is a tool that helps people work together on projects and tasks. Collaborative tools provide shared access to the same documents and data. Real-time sharing provides a sense of progress and a different way to collaborate.

Some examples of collaboration software include:

  • Dropbox
  • Google Suite (yep, I use Google Docs to collaborate on draft organisational communications)
  • Evernote
  • Slack
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Trello

Collaboration software such as Mural can be useful when you need to capture or track evolving or changing information. No, I’m not receiving any benefits from Mural in writing this article. Nor am I in any way affiliated with Mural or other collaborative tech companies. I’m still a bit of a dag when it comes to technology. For instance, I’m still a fan of using Notepad to take quick notes when at work. I also keep a PowerPoint file as a “concept store” for evolving plans, images and outstanding questions. Yet over time, I am broadening my use of various tools.

Why are collaboration tools like Mural useful?

Collaboration tools can be useful when you need to capture or track rapidly evolving or changing information. For example, a group of people may have come up with a bunch of ideas for a project and now need to capture them all in one place so they can be evaluated. Or, you may want to capture questions people have about something.

If you have a Mural license, you can share with others who don’t necessarily have this license. When mural displays you have a blank canvas and can break this canvas into components if you wish. Just like a whiteboard you can draw or write concepts, create Post-it notes and move items around as you see fit. This free-form landscape is easy to learn and use.

Using Mural to facilitate remote meetings and workshops.

One of the advantages of using Mural is that you can access it via a browser on any device. This means you don’t have to be confined to your usual meeting space when using it. You can instead conduct a meeting or workshop with remote participants.

My boss and I recently facilitated a remote workshop. My boss had set up the canvas structure. This structure was broken into several components. These components were in order, starting with our audience's goals.

My boss added several Post-it notes to each component on the canvas. There was also a time set up so that participants had several minutes to add to and move around Post-it notes. Having a decent sense of humour, my boss also had reggae music ready to go. I learned that reggae music is a wonderful interlude for our audience. I enjoyed the odd chuckle from participants as they moved their post-it notes around the board.

We were able to reflect on the comments and imagery shared by our audience. We used this opportunity for each participant to talk about their respective Post-it notes. Every person felt heard. We avoided the problem where louder, more passionate people dominated the conversation.

After our workshop, my boss created a .pdf of our Mural board and with one email had neatly summarised the discussion for our audience.

I argue that there are four feelings about tasks at work. Have to, ought to, want to — and love to. Or HOWL. I also argue that emails fall under either the “have to” or “ought to” category. How do we get the most out of collaborative technology? Yet also how do we move our audience into “wanting to” or “loving” the use of collaborative methods?

Using a collaboration tool to support your organisational change

  • Tools like Mural serves as an excellent backdrop to facilitated conversations.
  • The more fun the meeting, the likelihood that your collaboration tool may associate with this sense of fun.
  • Take advantage of the visual nature of Mural boards — including the image library in Mural. People adding their images then have the opportunity to tell an interesting story about why they chose their images.
  • Capture and track evolving or changing information. Kanban boards may help you stay on top of tasks. Other tools may help you maintain risks and issues for your project. Yet tools like Mural may serve as a way to organise and keep just-in-time information on “spinning plates”.
  • You can also use Mural to keep track of all those ideas, questions and concerns around a change project.

Using Mural to keep track of ideas, questions and concerns around a change.

When you start to use these tools, it may take some time for your team to get used to them, but they’ll soon become second nature. Remember that they’re a critical part of working out loud because they allow your team to share ideas and information in an open, collaborative way.

If you work on projects, the amount of change i.e. spinning plates is often intense. The volume and complexity of changes your team grapples with can vary. Where are you in your project lifecycle? How much noise and surprises does your team face? Project life requires a high level of intellectual agility and processing speed. I see collaboration tools serving as my “second brain”.

While throughout parts of the day I am super-alert after a strong ice coffee. Yet I am not always completely on top of things. My second brain helps keep me organised, especially when I use it every day. As my second brain is often stored in the same location, I Create an intentional habit for my team. This habit? Sending them the same link to the same “second brain” location. This way team members get used to checking my “second brain”. They see the latest outstanding questions and latest plan of plan evolutions.

Your previous habits and preferences influence your tool choice. The social norms in your organisation play an important role. I have had many occasions where I have reluctantly had to use a tool and ended up loving using it over time. Mural is one of those tools, and it has made a difference in how I run workshops.

Remember — have to, ought to, want to, love to. How do you use clever collaboration tools to delight your audience? How can you move their motivation into “want to” or “love to” when it comes to working with you?

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Allan Owens

Allan Owens

Australian Change Lead: 8 years experience. Author of The Change Manager’s Companion. https://www.humanfactorsadvisory.com.au/the-change-managers-companion