Collaboration on group projects can be an absolute nightmare if you attempt to collaborate with the normal tools of email and meetings. Lack of communication is common, lack of direction occurs, deadlines are missed and a sub-standard product is delivered by the team. This is particularly true if you are working with a newly formed team that is ‘forming and storming’.
All teams cycle through the Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing stages. Within the workplace, I have found most teams will quickly achieve the Norming stage because of the professionalism and prior experience of the team members. However, regardless of the professionalism, even a workplace team can quickly deterioate to Storming and Norming phases for many reasons. Without strong leadership, it is too easy for the team to become quagmired in the Forming and Storming stages reducing the teams capacity to collaborate and achieve team goals.
I have found a different dynamic within teams of undergrad University students charged with completing a group assignment together. The motivations of students are very different to employees within the workplace and I believe this may be attributed to developing skills in leadership, facilitation and teamwork. As a result, a large majority of these teams do become quagmired in the Forming and Storming phases of team development, rarely moving towards the Norming phase. The lack of collaboration symptomatic of Forming and Storming stages usually leads to one or two people within the team completing the whole University assignment just to meet the due date.
Moving towards Norming phase with online collaboration tools.
Working full-time and completing a degree part-time with a family is extremely challenging. Particularly so when my expectations, motivations and work schedules differ considerably from full-time university students. Many of the university assessment pieces also require me to work collaboratively with teams of 2-3 students. I do not have the luxury of being available on-campus to work as a co-located team with students and this situation presented some difficulties with efficient, regular collaboration. However, online collaboration tools worked to alleviate this problem.
In the past, I have used the Universities internal collaboration system with little success. The tools were not intuitive and other students encountered significant difficulties with using the system also. As a result, I started using Google Docs and Groups for online collaboration, once again with mediocre success.
Recently, I started using Basecamp to collaborate with student team members. Basecamp is an online project management tool that focuses on collaboration and communication developed by 37Signals. The interface is very simple and easy to use which ensured quick uptake by other team members. Basecamp allowed our team to quickly move through the Forming & Storming stages of team development to achieve a Norming phase. Overall the progress on this assessment piece has been far more productive than other group assigments I have participated in to date at University.
Benefits of Basecamp for Team Collaboration.
Basecamp has offered the following benefits with relation to producing a co-authored assignment for University.
- Project Messages: Rather than using email to communicate, all project related discussions are kept within one section of the Project site and works very much like a Discussion Board. The centralised location of Project Messages andchronological discussion topic order provides the project with a sense of context and history. This allows any newcomer to the project to quickly catch up on previous conversations grouped by topic or category from by existing team members. The message boards also negate the requirement for constant face to face meetings. Our conversations about the project can happen over a period of hours, days, weeks or months. Project discussions assisted our team to quickly form strong working relationships and self organise
- Project Milestones: Project Milestones essentially kept our team on track with both time and high level activities. Team members could subscribe to Project Milestones and import key dates into their own personal calendars. Milestones could also be assigned to particular team members if required with reminder emails sent 48 hours before the assigned milestone was due.
- Project To-Dos: Project To-Do’s ensured each team member was aware of their individual tasks. Each To-do could be assigned to a particular team member and attached to a Milestone to provide a deadline for the task to be completed.
- Project WriteBoards: Writeboards are essentially a wiki, allowing each team member to contribute to authoring the entire assignment. To streamline co-authoring the document, we created WriteBoards for each section of the assignment. This focussed our discussions and activities. Team members could either directly contribute to each Writeboard or ask clarifying questions by making comments to each section. One significant advantage of the WriteBoards was the version control. Our team had the ability to compare different versions after each team member had edited the document with their contribution. Versioning also provided visibility of each team members contributions and the relative size of each contribution. Each Writeboard could also be shared with a lecturer or tutor if required
- Centralised File Storage The Basecamp project site also provided the facility to store word documents, PDF files, sound files, images or research files. All project artefacts are therefore shared in an easy to manage location that could be easily searched and accessed by all team members.
- Mobile Access Basecamp can easily be accessed via Smart Phone technology. This feature negated the requirement to take laptops to team meetings as we could efficiently update our tasks and milestones directly from our iPhones.
- Online Help Files & Training Basecamp offers superior online training, help files and quick start suggestions to get teams working together efficiently.
Overall, Basecamp was an excellent online collaboration tool that reduced the time spent Forming and Storming within a newly formed team of university students. The features within Basecamp efficiently worked to communicate important timelines and tasks to be conducted by each team member and the team quickly moved into a Norming and Performing phases with these tools.
Basecamp essentially consists of online tools like discussion boards, wikis and calendars efficiently bundled into an easy to use suite for efficient project management. I will continue to use Basecamp not only for university assignments but to also manage my personal projects where I need to collaborate with others to get the job done.
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