When I got my first office job, I had no business working in an office. I didn’t want to pay attention long enough to do any meaningful work, and I certainly have never been able to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day. I have a standing desk now, and thank goodness. Basic office technology now accommodates for people like me. And so does age, and the newer kinds of management. With the advent of management styles like agile, and lean, gone are the days when I feel like my boss only exists to discipline me. So when I think about getting my team organized at work, I am always wary of bringing up those old feelings of negative discipline. Of course there are still managers out there that terrorize their workers, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to pretend the world has moved on from that.
Knowledge Management is a relatively new industry in business, and it relies on collaboration between workers, as well as a hands-off approach from the senior management staff. A knowledge manager has the responsibility of keeping everyone in an organization informed, organized, and self-sufficient. For example, a knowledge management system might hold all the processes and procedures which employees need to reference when they are completing an irregular task. If these procedures are kept in a central knowledge management repository, the employee need not ask anyone where to find the desired document. If I burrow another layer down and make sure, as the technical writer and knowledge manager, that the document has an owner and a contact person listed on it, should the employee need to ask a question about the procedure, she need only email the person listed in the document.
It is this kind of employee efficiency that makes team organization possible. There are plenty of task organizers of all varieties online right now (MS Planner, Asana, or Trello are just a few), where people can keep track of their tasks, while paying attention to due dates, measuring smaller parts of the task, or checking in to see what colleagues are doing. It is this last bit that can cause some internal strife for some. For some people, having a task manager that anyone on the team can access feels a bit like negative surveillance. This is where transparency can come into play to correct that.
When I set up my team’s MS Planner app, I thought about what it might mean to display everyone’s major tasks in a shared space. Some might feel as though they are being watched. They might feel as though their overdue projects could get them into trouble. But we’re a team, and anyone who has ever served on any kind of team knows that not everything goes the way we plan. In sports, there are always going to be kicks that never quite reach the goal, or players that can’t make the play without assistance. The same happens in the office. There are workers who might need help to get a project finished on time – or at all. There are workers who miss the idea that the team is trying to generate, and so on. When I display all the tasks for my team to see, it is not a question of being able to check up, but a question of team responsibility. I set all the tasks to the same page so that when the change coordinator has had the same presentation to write, and the deadline is hard and fast approaching, then I (the tech writer) can jump in and say, “would you like me to set your presentation up for you so you can just jump in and fill in the content?” That way, when the change coordinator’s presentation reflects my team as a whole, I can feel confident that his work will be finished and the whole team can be proud.
When I taught composition courses and tried to introduce team elements, my students often acted like they might die of frustration. But imagine an environment where team members watched out for each other and supported one another. These environments do exist in business. They also occasionally exist in our classrooms. As with anything, it is not the tool that organizes the team, but the team that agrees to be organized. The same goes for transparency, coordination, and pride in the work we all do together. And even though I feel kind of sappy saying it, I have a lot of hope that this kind of team work will be increasingly normal.