Definition

team collaboration tools

Contributor(s): Kate Brush

Team collaboration tools -- also known as team collaboration software -- is a term used to define the different types of software and online services available to companies and individuals that enable them to feasibly work together on common projects, regardless of their physical location. The tools can be as simple as email or as complex as a sophisticated project management software. The primary goal of a team collaboration tool is to align workers by providing support to a group of two or more individuals and assisting them in the accomplishment of a common objective.

Team collaboration tools are a subset of collaboration platforms. They possess overlapping capabilities, but the primary difference is that team collaboration tools focus on providing real-time messaging and can act as a replacement for email among teams. Other capabilities of team collaboration software include video conferencing and voice calls. Overall, these tools enable a more coordinated workflow by establishing a unified platform for file sharing, online storage, team discussion, task assignments and real-time collaboration.

As the modern workplace moves further away from being a physical location, the necessity of team collaboration tools increases, making them a vital element to an enterprise's workflow. The right tool can strengthen the team through efficient communication among remote team members and increased productivity. Furthermore, work history can be archived through team collaboration tools, enabling users to learn from past experiences.

Features of team collaboration tools

Most current project management software offers various features to enhance collaboration, including task updates, progress visualization charts and file sharing capabilities. Tools that are designed specifically for collaboration incorporate even more specific features, such as video conferencing, client-facing portals and live sharing on collaborated documents. However, the primary features that team collaboration tools possess are the following:

  • task management
  • document management solutions
  • project management

Effective team collaboration software possesses task management capabilities that enable users to check the progress of tasks across multiple projects using one screen. This feature provides a quick look at due dates, conversations, files, checklists and time logs for each task, enabling users to save time and take control of the workflow. Users are also able to reassign work, reprioritize tasks and add resources when necessary. The task management feature provides updates on project tasks that the user is responsible for, as well as notifications of tasks that the user needs to accept or reject. A complete report of the task should be available in any file format.

The document management solutions feature enables users to store, organize, collaborate on and share any document or media file. This feature includes an option to automatically notify team members whenever someone approves, rejects, views, uploads, downloads or adds comments to a shared document. The document management solutions feature also includes the ability to quickly and securely drag and drop files into a folder within a user's personal hard drive, the network drive or a team folder.

Project management is the most important feature of any team collaboration tool. Provided abilities include sharing updates, asking questions, conducting a poll and recognizing team members. Customers and partners can join as guest users, thus providing transparency and visibility throughout the project. A task management module should be connected to this feature in order to ensure projects remain on track and that there are sufficient resources for the execution of each task.

Types of team collaboration tools

The primary types of team collaboration tools are file sharing tools, instant messaging (IM), cloud storage, online whiteboards, document synchronization, video conferencing and calendar sharing tools.

File sharing tools enable teams to quickly distribute and transfer files and provide access to other members. These tools remove the transfer process from email, relieving inboxes from the distracting flood of heavy files and notifications. Shared files can be anything from documents to videos or even software.

IM tools enable teams to exchange text messages and online files in real time. Video files, voice communication and video conferences are supported by most IM apps.

Cloud storage tools enable data to be stored remotely within a telecommunications network. This creates a centralized location for information that all team members can easily access.

Online whiteboards replace traditional, physical whiteboards and provide teams with a place to communicate visual information through graphics, drawings and text, all of which can then be quickly erased.

Document synchronization tools match two documents, making all edits in one version effective in the second version as well. This ensures that both documents are identical and that employees always have the most recent version of the information.

Video conferencing tools provide a way for various people across multiple locations to communicate in a live, visual conversation using video. Video conferencing enables teams to benefit from in-person meetings without having to commute to an office.

Finally, calendar sharing tools enable users to schedule appointments without consulting each person involved. All participants' schedules and conflicts will be visible on a central calendar, enabling the person organizing the meeting to quickly find a time that works for everyone and send an invitation, saving time and fostering teamwork.

Benefits of using team collaboration tools

Team collaboration tools are a beneficial addition to most business environments, improving work processes and their final outcomes. Specific benefits that come from using team collaboration tools include the following:

  • improved and faster communication, especially among remote teams;
  • a clearer exchange of information since all communications, files and progress updates are centralized;
  • faster file sharing, resulting in a more efficient feedback process;
  • a decrease in miscommunication since all communication is recorded;
  • improved insights into each team member's and the total project's progress;
  • improved team unity due to the ability of team members to connect with each other on a personal level; and
  • increased productivity resulting from improved teamwork and cohesion, as well as access to centralized information.

Challenges of working with team collaboration tools

Unfortunately, there are still challenges associated with team collaboration tools. For example, the ease of providing feedback could become a bad thing if too many people get involved with different opinions, causing the original worker to lose sight of her initial objective.

Small mistakes are also common when using email, such as hitting reply instead of reply all or forgetting to send an attachment. These minor mistakes can build up and disrupt work processes and delay the project timeline.

Other challenges that may arise include the following:

  • A lack of team management or the ability to define key performance indicators (KPIs) and clear objectives can cause roadblocks.
  • Competition among employees prevents knowledge sharing and collaboration.
  • A lack of transparency among team members can negatively impact members whose work depends on others.
  • Pessimistic members can have a negative effect on the rest of the team, impairing the morale of the team, decreasing productivity and creating conflicts and frustration.
  • A lack of engagement among team members can decrease their ability to identify problems or obstacles and work together to find solutions.
  • Indecisiveness among leaders can create unclear expectations and delay deadlines. This is frequently found in projects with multiple stakeholders who are not in agreement.

Furthermore, it's possible that each department uses a different process. Therefore, when trying to collaborate across departments, it can be challenging to define a consistent process that matches each team's style, especially if the departments are using different tools.

Examples of team collaboration tools

Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool that provides IM and a complete collaboration environment. Its key features include private channels for invite-only conversations; file sharing and information searching; the ability to customize Slack based on solution requirements; and channels to help users sort messages and discussions by topic, department or purpose.

Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are popular online video conferencing tools. Google Hangouts and Skype for Business enable users to make voice or video calls and share computer screens, resulting in enhanced and improved communication.

Monday.com is a team collaboration tool that enables users to communicate business processes through multiple metrics. Its key features include assistance managing project timelines; the ability to rank tasks based on priority; and the ability to easily share feedback with other users.

Asana is a popular project management tool that combines team communication and project management to improve collaboration in small or large projects and in projects with recurring tasks. Key features of Asana include premade templates that can be used to add workflows; live team progress tracking; the ability to customize views to check on the progress of prioritized projects; and the ability to attach documents to any conversation.

Dropbox is a tool that provides cloud storage, document synchronization, a personal cloud and client software. Dropbox can be used individually or to share files among teams.

Jira is a team collaboration tool that assists users with defining, assigning and setting work priorities. It fosters effective collaboration and enables a team to manage the application development process by guaranteeing that every task and feature is taken care of. Key features of Jira include a project estimation feature that enables teams to understand their timeline and capacity; Scrum boards that can be customized by Agile teams to provide iterative and incremental value; reports that show the progress of both Scrum and kanban teams; and flexible Kanban boards that provide visibility into continuous delivery (CD).

Trello is a project management tool that makes using project management frameworks -- such as Lean or Scrum -- more feasible. It enables users to easily monitor the progress of projects and assign tasks to different team members.

Popular team collaboration tool vendors

Microsoft and Google both offer various team collaboration tools and software, such as Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Hangouts and Google Drive. However, other vendors have also emerged, providing a wide range of team collaboration tools. Some examples include the following:

  • Smartsheet. An online work execution platform that provides file sharing, automation features and Gantt charts and facilitates collaboration.
  • GoToMeeting by LogMeIn. An online video conferencing tool that enables users to schedule and attend online meetings, trainings and presentations, as well as share screens with other users.
  • Workfront. The first modern work management platform that enables users to control all their work in one place. Workfront incorporates tools, teams and entire enterprises in order to enable teams to successfully collaborate and achieve visibility into every aspect of the workflow.
  • Backlog by Nulab. A project management tool that aids task management, version control and bug The Backlog tool combines the benefits of project management and code management to improve collaboration across organizations of all sizes. Work plans can be made, progress can be tracked and code updates can be released through Backlog.

There are various other vendors and team collaboration tools available. In order to choose the most beneficial tools for its workplace, a company should consider the size of its teams, the types of projects they are working on, and the various team and project requirements.

This was last updated in November 2019

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