Need better solution for keeping everyone on the team in the loop...
November 15, 2010 5:53 AM   Subscribe

How to share time-sensitive information and decision-making with a fast-moving, cellphone-toting, virtually and asynchronously connected team? Team of university student leaders needs a better way of staying connected between meetings with each other and faculty advisors.

Typical situations that illustrate some of our problems:

-Two students from the leadership attend a networking event and meet potential donors to fund student projects. Currently, they might wait (and sometimes forget) to send an email to everyone on the leadership team re: this opportunity with Donor X. Optimally, they would alert faculty advisors and folks from the development office that they've met this person because the university already has a relationship with Donor X which could influence conversations about funding.

-Small subgroup of student leaders attends a meeting at a design firm with a prospective client for a student project. Some dates that were previously agreed upon change. Currently, they would wait until the weekly team meeting to update everyone about the change in dates. Optimally, they would be able to check a group calendar before committing in the meeting.

-Various topic categories are discussed, questions are raised, and decisions are made in unscheduled interactions between weekly meetings. Some of these topics are of more interest to group members than others (for example, student recruitment event or website development). Right now, information is passed along haphazardly, or blasted to everyone in a series of emails (which results in a lot of emails from all over). Optimally, "tags" or "labels" would be used to filter certain topics to the group members who are interested in those topics.

-Often relationships are established with other faculty members, outside professionals, potential donors, etc. Those people see members of the team as almost interchangeable. It isn't unusual for a faculty member to meet 2-3 members of the team and establish a relationship and assume that all of the other group leaders know who they are and what they care about. Right now, the info about these people is shared by chance at team meetings or in emails. Optimally, there would be a universally accessible profile about the person that the initial contact would fill out and others could add to it.

The students have determined these elements in the situation that affect communication:

* A relatively flat organization of student leaders and faculty advisors needs an efficient way to keep each other in the loop on events, decisions and information sharing.
* Not all members of this leadership/advisory group meet often or regularly in person (though some do).
* Often roles and responsibilities are shared, which means that sharing information that affects the people in these roles is critical.
* All students have cell phones. Most students have text messaging capability. Not all students find it easy to sit at a laptop or computer to enter information.
* Speed of information sharing is important as this group tends to move very quickly.
* Everyone doesn't need to know EVERYTHING, however, certain individuals have specific requirements for knowing certain things. (Such as a faculty member needing to know when a group member has a discussion with the Dean, or a student leader needing to know if another student leader has a conversation with a potential DFA client at a networking event.)
* Have the ability to create email addresses for group members with a common, non-university domain if needed.


* A system for sharing information quickly, have it "parked" somewhere in a historical archive, and also for certain information to be "pushed" to individuals via email or text.
* Supports asynchronous communication.
* Tracking of:
o Events and dates
o Recaps of events
o Decisions needing to be made and decisions that are made
o Profiles of people in specific roles (potential clients, potential design professional volunteers, potential students to recruit for membership, etc.)
o Sub-committee tasks and activities (To Do lists, project management related items)
* Low barrier to putting information into the system. Ideal if it can be accomplished via a cell phone device. Either Smart Phone, Texting, Audio Message that is transcribed, or Blackberry.
* Some kind of acknowledgment from the system to the information provider that the information was received, responded to, or shared. (Examples would include how Facebook can notify you via email or through an iPhone app if someone has commented in a discussion you've participated in on Facebook.)
* Private, via invitation only.
* Prefer to use familiar interfaces and software, such as email/Google Apps/Google Calendar/Yammer/etc.
* Not dependent on University-software (such as Blackboard) and can be used without a university domain email.
* Can be searched.


* A solution that allows members to input "tags" for the type of information that they want to stay aware of. For example, I could identify "Coaching", "Summer Studio", "Funding", and "Clients" as something I need to be in the loop on. If anyone sends information to the system tagged with "Coaching", the information would be pushed to me via email.
* A universal calendar of dates and events that anyone in the group could update and access.
* A form to fill out for completing client profiles, funding opportunities, partnership opportunities, and recaps of events with prompts that provide a common template for all group members to input a complete set of information.
* Create norms around decision-making ("Don't say Yes to anyone right away," "Check the calendar before setting up meetings/events", etc.)
* Creating a private daily shared blog where group members could post via emails sent to the blog software (such as Posterous or Wordpress)
* Creating a central repository of profiles for people who are prospective funders, professional volunteers, potential coaches, potential bootcamp presenters, potential client contacts, etc.
* An online forum accessible via cell phone? (however, not everyone has iPhones or Androids)
* ReQal?
* Yammer account attached to the group's domain? Google calendar? Google Docs (though Google Docs doesn't involve the "push" features that we need)...

Hive mind, what say you?
posted by jeanmari to Technology (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're looking for a wiki. PBWorks offers really robust, dang easy ones. They've been vital in reducing my clients' emails and coordinating huge projects.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:53 AM on November 15, 2010

The private wiki idea coupled with topical mailing lists and a shared google calendar (or your preference) would work pretty well.
posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 9:15 AM on November 15, 2010

It sounds to me like you should structure the organization better first and then find technology to match it.

For instance, you described the organization as "relatively flat." From my perspective, it seems extremely and maybe artificially flat. It seems like the goal is for every person to be equally abreast of every new development, or to at least be as abreast as they want to be.

What struck me is that you have weekly meetings, but want to email the entire leadership team and faculty advisers if you meet a potential donor (to take your first example). What is each of those people supposed to do with that information during the 1-6 days until the next meeting? Things that are just informational should wait until you have meetings. Things that can or should be acted on between meetings get assigned to committees. If you and another person meet a potential donor, you tell the donor committee and everyone else waits til the meeting to learn. If you are on the donor committee already, you don't tell everyone else until the meeting. All donor-meeting information goes to the donor committee to centralize and coordinate. The committee reports at the meeting. Make more committees. The organization still remains flat if you treat the committee chairs as coordinators of information rather than decision-makers, and I can tell you value flatness in your organization.

This is the simple way to talk about your first Initial Idea. Rather than inventing the software to do this, you get a seat on the Funding or Coaching or Clients Committee. When the chair/coordinator of that area learns something, he or she shares it with the committee. I don't know how big your organization is, but maybe everyone can be on every committee that's interesting. Maybe you want to limit that--it's going to lose its effectiveness at the same time that you can't remember every member's email address off the top of your head anyway.

Now you're talking about coordinating the 2-5 people who have the most interest in caring about a topic. This is a lot easier. A private wiki and shared Google Calendar (or several, since they're free) can handle those. Committee reports can be standardized and stored forever if that's something you value. Anyone can access it. They just have to wait the 1-6 days until the weekly meeting when it's filed.
posted by oreofuchi at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2010

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