Social aspects of collaboration

As a sociologist (OK, my doctorate was in criminology, but I had to do all the sociological stuff first) now working in the construction industry, I have long been interested in team dynamics – an interest stimulated still further by the challenge of incorporating technology into the mix. Thanks to the guys at Cutting Through on two counts.

First, they link to an interesting recent paper by Dr Niki Panteli from Bath University School of Management, looking at how to develop trust within virtual teams.

Second, they expanded on some of the issues, highlighting three ways in which technology can play a part in the communication process. Their focus does not appear to be project extranets, but the ideas can certainly be applied to implementation of construction collaboration technologies:

  1. ensure that there’s at least one physical face-to-face meeting between team members during the course of the project. On most construction projects, this should not be a problem – face-to-face meetings have long been a regular feature of project teamwork, and most extranet implementation processes tend to include initial face-to-face workshops and training sessions with team members; on some projects, teams also hold periodic user group meetings too.
  2. put together a ‘biography page’ somewhere on the project intranet. They suggest each team member should contribute a mugshot, a potted biography and some social detail (eg: ‘three things no-one knows about me’). For intranet, read extranet also, I think – too many user profiles contain little more than name, company and contact details.
  3. build on the background by using a project blog as a means of communicating between team members so that an individual’s personal style comes through instead of being throttled by dry and impersonal project documentation. I like this idea too, but some traditional construction professionals might be nervous about how ‘chatty’ exchanges might be accommodated alongside the formal interactions – particularly when one output of the extranet will be a complete archive and audit trail of all individual project-related interactions. Running a separate project blog, however, runs the risk of creating a parallel route for communications, undermining the completeness of the project extranet.

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