9 Rules for Better Real Time Team Document Collaboration
Today, file sharing, screen sharing, and other collaborative tools enable teams to work together – in real time – on content, regardless of where in the world everyone is that day. The productivity advantages for real time editing are significant: no more endless iterations as files get sent to the whole team over and over; no more miscommunications or asynchronous, slow rolling arguments over what changes should or shouldn't be made; no more risking people investing time working on obsolete versions.
Even with all of these advantages, real-time editing as a team also has its share of challenges. When everyone has the ability to provide input on every document, it’s easy for projects to get stuck in editing purgatory. But with a few simple ground rules, it’s easy to get teams to edit together productively.
- Make one person the file's owner. Someone on the team needs to have the responsibility of managing the flow of collaboration, marking specific changes as final, and locking down portions as the team agrees they’re finished. The file owner also acts as the facilitator when discussions go on too long, go off point, or need to get tabled.
- Don't over share. This one is easy. Don’t invite anyone that doesn’t need to be involved to the document. Too many eyes and hands makes things chaotic. If the file is massive or has distinct areas owned by separate teams or departments, make sure you divide ownership so each team can focus on their section without getting in the way of other teams.
- Have a live chat going. Lots of questions come up while working on documents together, and having a live chat side-by-side helps you resolve those questions with your team in the moment. And in certain tools that chat is saved and presented right alongside that document, so you never have to guess at “why, how, who, what, or when” revisions were made.
- Don't start with line-by-line editing. Make sure that your team separates drafting and editing into two disctinct steps. Good editing requires context. Be sure you’ve read an entire section before doing any editing – and let’s face it, it’s really annoying to write a sentence and immediately have someone re-write it. Instead, work the document section by section. As one team member is reading through the selected portion, team members can note their thoughts via comments and highlights, creating a real time issue list. When it’s time to edit the document, the team can address those comments and highlights while editing line-by-line.
- Nothing gets deleted until a final decision is made. I'm not talking about deleting an extra comma or correcting a spelling error. Delete away in those cases. But no one should unilaterally delete content due to stylistic preference or substance disagreement. Use the highlight and comment tools instead of deleting the section to mark the area and share your thoughts, so the team can discuss the section before deletions are made.
- Don't overwrite other people's changes. A lot of apps let people edit the same document in real-time, simultaneously. Ideally, people working in the same area of the file should be working together. But that's not always the case. If you see someone who has made (or is making) a change you disagree with, don’t just overwrite their work. If you really have an issue with the section, make a note to pick up in the editing phase.
- Designate someone as the grammar/typo czar. There’s always one in every group. Just let them have it. These errors are usually obvious enough that they don't warrant discussion with the whole team. If anyone disagrees with a change the grammar czar is making (darn those collective nouns!), highlight it for the issue list.
- Use comments functions appropriately. Don't be that person who inserts comments in-line with the text itself. The commenting function is there for a reason.
- Have a plan going in how conflicts will be resolved. Are there subject matter experts who should have the final say for issues under their jurisdiction? Does majority rule – under what circumstances does it not? Does your company have a style guide that's the final authority for any issue it addresses? Lay out some clear guidelines so team members understand how decisions will get made. For each individual team member, choose your battles. It's a group document, not every word may be what you'd have chosen. Decide if a disagreement is where you want to plant your flag or if you can let it go. The team can't edit forever.
With these tips in mind your next team editing session should go much more smoothly. Does your team have its own code of conduct for these sessions? What tools and techniques work well for you?