By Reagan Nickl
Director of Professional Services

Collaboration tools are a simple concept to explain, but tricky to characterize. They help teams and groups work together toward a common goal. But what are collaboration tools themselves? Is a project management app a collaboration tool? Of course. What about a chat or messenger client? Sure. Is a wayfinding app a collaboration tool? That depends. Does it help a bunch of individuals work together in a meaningful way?

There’s plenty of grey area in defining collaboration tools. The simplest collaboration tools definition out there is actually as a catchall term for anything that two or more people use in conjunction with one another. These tools come in all manner of varieties and purposes, but ultimately foster interaction between people. Some examples include:

  • A chat app that lets multiple people brainstorm ideas
  • A project management app that defines tasks across a group
  • A video conferencing tool that lets people talk face-to-face
  • A file sharing program that gives many people access to collateral

This definition leaves the concept of collaboration itself wide open. For example, if you plan a meeting and use a wayfinding app to send directions to participants, it’s a collaborative tool. Gmail. Dropbox. Slack. Microsoft Word online. They’re all collaborative tools—part of a growing repertoire of thousands of apps and programs out there designed to facilitate group work.

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No matter the nature of the software or what it’s used for, each one makes working together easier in some way. Let’s take a look at some universal collaboration tool benefits.

Full team visibility and accountability

Expecting people to collaborate without full visibility over what, exactly, they’re working on together is a recipe for disaster. Every member of the team needs to see the bigger picture and how what they’re doing fits into it. Collaborative tools make this possible. Logging into a Google Doc and tracking changes alongside everyone else, for example. The ability to see task timelines in a project management app is another great example. Everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goal.

With this visibility also comes an element of accountability. If a task isn’t finished, team leaders know who to hold accountable. Or, from a proactive perspective, team members can see when others need help and collaborate to keep the project on-track.

Track progress in real time

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Just because you structure a group project one way doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll progress. Business changes rapidly—daily and sometimes even hourly. Teams need a way to adapt just as quickly; collaboration tools give it to them.

Modern collaboration tools help to create dynamic workflows and team agility. For example, Person A uploads client feedback on a logo to the #Logo Slack channel, where Person B can make changes, uploading a new iteration to Dropbox without changing the shared link. Everyone has the new logo in real time.

The ability to act, react, and reallocate resources as fast as projects change is an asset teams can’t function without. Collaboration tools help teams respond to changes as quickly as they’re expected to, to prevent setbacks and keep projects on-track.

Enable full group participation

Every member of a team is an asset. Teams are successful because they’re more than the sum of their parts—but that’s only true if each part contributes to the whole. If members of a group can’t collaborate properly, they’re limited in the assistance they can provide. If Person A works off-site and can’t access collateral for their portion of the project, they’re unable to work on it, which can stall the greater effort. Likewise, if details X, Y, and Z aren’t told to Person B, they might not do their work appropriately, which adversely affects what Person C does.

Collaborative tools enable full group participation and synergy, so everyone contributes meaningfully. Each person uses their skills and talents to drive the project forward in a show of true collaboration.

Collaborative tools help teams succeed

A team is only as good as the sum of its members and their ability to work together. Collaboration tools leverage the responsibilities and talents of each individual into the greater success of the team. Any piece of technology that helps one person work with others to contribute to a larger mission is a collaboration tool worth using.

Not every group needs the same type of tools for certain tasks, but all groups need diverse ways of functioning together. The easier it is to collaborate, the easier it is to succeed.

Keep Reading: 15 Best Business Collaboration Tools.

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