Book Excerpt - What's so hard about Groupware? Networking computers is easy compared to networking people. By Mellanie Hills Reprinted from Intranets as Groupware.  

Before you start implementing groupware on your intranet, I suggest you to take a look at what makes it so hard to implement, and sometimes even causes it to fail. What's so hard about groupware? Very simply, it's people. They're not only the hardest part, they're also the most important part. It's these people issues that make IT folks very uncomfortable. We can deal with the technical stuff, but it's just so much harder to deal with the people issues. That's why most IT groups are unprepared to implement groupware, and why these projects are fraught with risk.  

We figure that if we build it, people will use it. That's just not the case. You have to understand people, and the dynamics of working in teams, to understand how to implement groupware. This article will help with that.  

People Issues 

Groupware projects fail when companies try to use them after downsizing to replace people and to improve productivity. That's a mistake, because groupware only works when employees feel secure. After downsizing, the survivors are the real victims. Employees feel threatened and insecure, wondering if they're next. To make matters worse, the treadmill speeds up and they just can't seem to keep up.  

This is when people most need to know that they have the organization's support. They don't need to get some technology shoved down their throats to cause them even more anxiety! Employees will believe that groupware is just another ploy by the organization to not only get more out of them, but to even siphon off their knowledge before the next wave of downsizings. They'll resist in every way they can. Then we'll chalk it up as another groupware failure and never really understand why.  

It's crucial for employees to know that the organization is implementing groupware to help them and support them. Groupware will only succeed if employees are willing to use it, and if they feel that they have the organization's support.  

Groupware depends upon sharing, an alien concept in many corporations today. Your employees may have forgotten how to share because of what they've been taught. Most of us learned to share when we were little. When we started to school, we were told that sharing was cheating, and we couldn't do that. All through school we competed for grades, and when we started to work we competed for raises and promotions, all based on our individual achievements. Now things are changing and we're being told to share.  

No wonder employees are confused. They haven't had to share since kindergarten, and may not even remember how to. To make matters worse, the system still rewards individual achievements, not sharing. The first step, long before you think about the technology, is to figure out how to get people to share all the things they've accumulated over the years and have become so good at hoarding. This is the basis for much of the resistance we see when companies try to introduce groupware. It's premised on the concept of sharing, which is the very antithesis of what we've trained people to do. So, we must first retrain people.  

People understand the concept of working together and collaborating, but many just aren't comfortable with it because of how they've been trained and managed. For years, an autocratic style of management has been predominant. Managers have told employees what to do, and they probably didn't tell them why. Today, managers must empower their employees and let them make their own decisions. Companies have finally started to realize that knowledgeable employees are good for business. They're even starting to share information with them. They're letting them make decisions and expecting them to work together to accomplish more than individuals can accomplish. It'll take time before people know what to do and how to perform now that we're empowering them.  

As companies start to implement groupware, they start seeing people resist, and even sabotage, the groupware project. Why would they do that? Those most likely to do that are those with something to lose, such as: 

  • Employees who value their autonomy and feel that groupware brings Big Brother down upon them. For them, their schedules become public knowledge and available for other people to manipulate. 
  • Employees and managers who hoard information and believe that it gives them power. When everyone has information, they lose that power and no longer have an edge over their competition.
  • Secretaries and clerks who have everything under control. Their efficiency gives them power, but when orderly files no longer matter, they risk losing their power base. 
When you consider implementing groupware, you'll need to figure out who the resisters may be. Try to get them involved early so they'll become your groupware evangelists.  

Groupware can be so hard that some organizations have simply opted to postpone implementing it until they've reengineered their processes, reorganized into teams, and solved their organizational issues.  

You'll need to address all these people issues, and more, before you even think about the technology. That's pretty scary for us techies, but the reward from a successful groupware project will make it worthwhile.  

Change Is Hard 

Part of the reason we see resistance to groupware is that change is hard on people. Even good change is hard for them. People are comfortable doing things as they've always done them, and it takes a lot of energy to disturb that equilibrium and get them into motion. It's not that people don't want to change, it's that they resist disruption. Anything that's disruptive is scary because of the fear that you'll be worse off, rather than better, after the change. If you've ever found yourself scared over a good change, such as a new job or a household move, then you can understand the disruption caused even by a good change.  

Stages of Change 

Regardless of whether change is positive or negative, there will be an emotional response of some kind. The emotional response for positively perceived change is different from negatively perceived change. It doesn't matter whether the actual change is good or bad--what matters is how it's perceived by the person affected by it. Let's look at the stages of change.  

There are five stages of emotional response in positively perceived changes.  

  1. Uninformed optimism: When you first hear about the change, you presume that everything will be fine. 
  2. Informed pessimism: Once you know the details, and can see how it will impact you, you become pessimistic because it disrupts what you're used to. 
  3. Hopeful realism: Once you know that everything's going to be fine when you get through the change, you start to accept it. 
  4. Informed optimism: The farther you get into the change, the more sure you are that everything's going to be fine, so your optimism returns. 
  5. Completion: Once you've completed the change, this becomes the new normal state. 
There are eight stages of emotional response in negatively perceived changes.  
  1. Stability: At first, there's stability, before you actually find out the details of the change.
  2. Immobilization: The first emotional response is immobilization. At this stage, people are like deer frozen by the oncoming headlights, and are unable to respond in any way. 
  3. Denial: Once the impact of the change starts to sink in, there's a refusal to accept it and a desire to return to the way things were before the change. 
  4. Anger: Next comes anger, with its heightened emotional response. This happens when there's a recognition that the change has happened and there's no going back to the way things were before the change. 
  5. Bargaining: Anger leads to bargaining, which is an attempt to return to the way things were. 
  6. Depression: Once it's obvious that you can't change things back, depression sets in. 
  7. Testing: As you move out of the depression stage, you start testing to see what can be done and to determine how to adjust to the change. 
  8. Acceptance: Finally, you accept the change and move on from there. 
Not only do people go through these stages of change, but so do organizations. The dynamics of the marketplace may cause all of these emotional responses in organizations.  

How to Manage Change 

Managing change is an important part of any groupware project. Before you start implementation, you must be aware of the concerns of those who will take part in the project, and make sure to address their concerns. You should also be aware of any concerns the organization may have, and plan to address those as well. This should be part of any systems implementation, but is even more critical for groupware. Failure to do so may doom your project to certain death.  

As you get started, you should prepare people and the organization for the changes that groupware may bring. People need to be ready for the initial commitment of time that groupware may entail. Also, because of groupware, people will work differently. Those involved will become more reluctant to attend meetings held simply for communicating information. They'll prefer that you send them the information electronically rather than wasting their time.  

An important lesson from projects that have failed is that you can't just parachute in the groupware and manuals and expect people to use it. You must put energy into preparing people for the change, training them, and helping them through the rough spots. You have to help them understand why it's worth their time to learn to use groupware. You should involve them in planning so that they know what to expect and actively want to participate. Groupware can cause revolutionary changes for some individuals and departments. Participants must be willing to commit to experimentation to find what works best for them, and to revise their work styles.  

Factors That Contribute to a Successful Groupware Implementation 

Here are some of the things you can do to make your groupware implementation successful. 

First and foremost, start people to collaborating before you even think about adding the technology. Try to build teamwork and a collaborative culture, and then you can add the tools to assist them. It helps if people already know each other, like each other, respect each other, and even trust each other, before they ever start to collaborate. Team building is a useful prerequisite, and is certainly less expensive than the cost of a failed system. 

This may seem like heresy to IT folks, since we look at the technology as the solution to all problems. However, lack of collaboration doesn't come from a lack of collaborative tools. It comes from a lack of interest in collaborating, or a lack of knowledge of how to. You have to get people working together and cooperating before groupware will work. The purpose of groupware is to make it easier for people to do what they're already doing. 

Following is a list of other success factors to consider. 

  1. Change the culture to support collaboration. 
  2. Make sure employees feel secure and supported by the organization because groupware only works when employees feel secure. 
  3. Make it the users' project. Business users should own it and make the product decisions. 
  4. Ensure good communication among everyone participating in the project. Start the communication early and keep it up. 
  5. The role of IT is to support and coordinate, not to dictate and control. IT should create and support the network infrastructure, provide communications, and provide the resources necessary to make the project successful. 
  6. Don't dictate or decree anything. 
  7. Executive leadership and support can help to start the change process and can eliminate obstacles. You don't necessarily have to have executive leadership at the very beginning when you do pilots, but it can be helpful later to eliminate the inevitable resistance. If senior managers make it known that the best way to contact them is through a specific groupware tool, then others will start using it as well. 
  8. Enroll the thought leaders and influencers early. 
  9. Plan for helping people with change. 
  10. Help people to see why they should want groupware. 
  11. Have evangelists promote the idea at every opportunity. 
  12. Plan for any training and support that you need. Do you need more people or specialized training programs? If so, get them. You won't get the results you expect unless you anticipate and cover all the users needs. 
  13. Plan for growth and be prepared to ramp up quickly, just like with the intranet. 
  14. Groupware must provide benefits every day to users and should be so compelling that they want to use it because it improves their work life. 
  15. Apply the lessons learned at each stage to the next rollout or application. 
  16. Measure the results if you can, but don't rely upon results to sell the project. Many of the results are intangibles.