Group work online has many of the pitfalls of group projects in traditional business or classroom settings. It is entirely possible for group members to disagree, for tasks to be undefined, the process to be disorganized, for several people to drop the ball, and for one person to wind up doing all or most of the work.
Sometimes, an online setting can make these problems worse, and sometimes it can make them less likely to occur.
Some groups never get off the ground because of lack of leadership. When one person is more driven than others in the group, that person may wind up doing all the work. Perhaps, that person has the skills needed to make an excellent contribution, but does not have the leadership abilities needed to get others involved.
If there is value to group projects, it’s not simply that the work is completed. Getting participants to work with others in the class or on the project team is also an important objective. In a business situation, this objective may actually be of greater importance if the team is to continue working collaboratively in the future.
One common problem with group work is that it can be difficult to pin down a group vision for the project. This problem is often exacerbated in an online platform. When the team does not meet face to face, you may be communicating via email or forums instead, which can cause communication lags. That makes it crucial to define the vision and group objectives early on.
Once you have agreement on what the project will be, break the tasks up and delegate them to each person. In a group, all must agree on the final vision—but each person can (and probably should) have autonomy in completing their own section. Make sure each person understands what they’ll be responsible for and when to have it finished.
If the team is working online asynchronously, it's important that all members have access to an area online where group members can upload files and communicate privately about their projects.
Whenever possible, try to arrange a time when all group members can also communicate synchronously. Many tools have emerged from the early phone-conferencing hardware, instant message programs, text/audio/video chat to real-time communication in virtual worlds. However, all synchronous communication has limitations of scheduling and availability.
Online collaboration services and web collaboration tools allow employees to meet online in order to integrate their work, develop ideas, set goals, send messages, build systems and manage projects. Using collaborative software, this process can occur both in real time and asynchronously.
The sight of a project team around a conference table brainstorming is less and less common. The business world's adoption of Web 2.0 isn’t just blogs and social networks, but also enterprise groupware.
In most settings, online collaboration best supports three fundamental types of online interactions:
1. Online collaboration software supports conversational interactions via web collaboration tools, such as e-mail and instant messaging.
2. Online collaboration services support transactional interactions via web collaboration tools, such as application sharing platforms.
3. Groupware software supports collaborative interactions via web collaboration tools, such as project management systems.
Setting aside technology issues and the problems which occur in traditional project team work, many groups experience the problem of simply convincing employees to use them.
In order to be effective, collaborative software must be implemented within a collaborative culture. Turning your company from a competitive business into a collaborative one may take more than online tools. It will also take offline teambuilding and training.
Finally, administration must be cautious of what it known as "virtual distance." When collaborative teams rely too heavily on online collaboration, it can actually disengage employees from one another, when the goal is to engage them.