Ever failed at getting your team engaged with new technology? We have.
Like many other people, we started off naively thinking that just exposing the team to new technology was enough – that once they saw it, they’d get excited to use it. Since then, we’ve worked with hundreds of groups and learned a lot about how to effectively introduce new online tools.
We have encountered a series of key questions that arise when introducing new online collaboration tools. Many people focus only on the outputs of technology. But the process of addressing these critical questions is deeply valuable in and of itself. If you engage with these questions and discover you don’t need new technology after all, you will still experience some profound benefits and learnings.
People, place, practice – and then technology
Technology is not just technology. It is about shifting habits and culture around the way things are done. People come first. You are asking them to adapt or change their work practices, and for some this will be hard. In the case of a collaborative tool like Loomio, you might be a new way of thinking about engagement entirely. People tend to raise a lot of understandable concerns, and addressing them will be an important process for your group, allowing you to develop a shared understanding of the problem the new technology is trying to solve.
- How will management treat my contributions?
- How secure is the information?
- Will I need to spend much more time online?
- Will this really improve communications and decision making?
- What is the nature of the relationship between the people involved?
- How well do communications and connections work now?
- How will this new tools fit with existing practices?
- What is the problem with the current methods the group is using, and what are the costs? ￼
Consider how place and identity work in your group right now. We have found that people who are used to meeting face-to-face have a lot of concern when using online tools about losing relationships, the group dynamic, and the energy between people. We can learn from the practices of offline collaboration to make our online experiences richer and more effective.
If the group feels closest when they are together physically, then considering how to create a sense of familiar space together will be key. If there are important rituals of welcoming and checking in at the beginning of meetings, then creating new ways of arriving and acknowledging members in the online community will be important. In groups where not everyone knows each other coming in, we have found great value in creating space for people to introduce themselves.
- How does place influence the way the group acts?
- How important is identity to this group?
- How important is neutrality?
- In what ways does the group create identity now?
- Where is the group’s ‘place’? Is it physical or online?
- How does the place make online community easier or harder in the context of new technology?
Getting clear on current work practice supports success in new work practice. If people are unclear on the terms on engagement, they might not engage at all. Hosting discussions on these questions as a starting place can be a powerful step toward meaningful collaboration, and reveal the group’s true dynamics in a new way.
If the group meets face to face, having an agenda item to discuss how the new technology will be used in the next week will build the new habit. Once people understand the problem being solved by the new technology and how it relates to the current sense of people, place and process, you are much more likely to get great engagement. Consider introducing new technology as a change in work practice rather than just a new tool.
- How does the group communicate now?
- What tools are in use?
- How does the group make decisions?
- Is it clear how agreement is reached?
- Does the group understand how work is delegated?
- What decision-making or collaboration processes are already in place?
- Who are the people who need to understand the current problem?
- What about your current ways of doing things and group identity are important to uphold and continue?
- How can you use current processes to support the introduction of new work practice?
Introducing the Technology
Once you’ve thought through People, Place, and Practice, then begin thinking about introducing the tool. Give people a great first experience, and provide training and resources to encourage uptake. Continue to engage with the deeper questions as the tool is rolled out. Introducing a new process often highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing processes, and reveals understanding of the dynamics in a group.
People beginning Loomio groups are often amazed to discover they actually don’t know how decisions are currently made in their organisation. The answers you arrive at will be different for every group, but engagement with the deeper questions is the key to genuine and successful collaboration, online and offline.