How shared space influences shared understanding

Product managers often claim that “getting team-shared understanding” is one of the biggest challenges they face at work. It’s hard enough getting everyone in a team on board when you’re working in the same office. It becomes even more difficult when you’re dealing with people on the other side of the country. Several university studies prove that managing remote teams is critical elements of the future work environment. 

Remote teams make it easier to get the skills you need on your team, but ensuring a shared understanding is something else completely. Thanks to the internet, collaboration is easier than ever. But have we lost something, not being in the same room as the people we’re working with? Are we still able to convey our thoughts in an effective manner, or should we be doing more to improve understanding?

What is shared understanding

When a team is working together, they all need to be on the same page. Each person on a team can believe they understand how their work contributes to the final goal. But when you bring everything together, it can become clear that people did not have a shared understanding.

A shared understanding means that everyone understands the project as a whole. The project as a whole includes:

  • the problem, as defined by the user or initiator;
  • the proposed solution and the intended route to this goal;
  • each person’s contribution to the project;
  • the understanding of how an individual’s contribution impacts others.

More than that though, a shared understanding includes each member’s acceptance of these factors. As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone understands the project, and also that they’re on board with the ideas. A person’s performance improves when they do something they believe in, as opposed to doing it because they have to.

Most meetings end with a confirmation of everyone’s understanding. Most people nod yes, and it takes a couple days or weeks for it to come to light that they had only developed a personal understanding. In this context people may think they understand, but have missed some crucial concept. As a project is running, people also tend to forget what the original goal was. This is both frustrating for managers and causes delays to the project.

If we can identify ways to quickly build a shared understanding and maintain it, we can cut down on the total time a project takes, and also improve the quality of the final solution.

Shared Work Space Helps to Get Shared Understanding

How shared spaces help

The best way to create a shared understanding is to get your team together and communicating. For people who are working remotely, bringing everyone together in a physical place is not feasible, but there are many tools you can use to unite a team in a virtual environment.

Having one robust shared space can help create a collaborative environment that builds shared understanding faster and aids communications. Shared spaces like instant messaging, chat rooms and video conferencing all aim to do this. They do a great job of providing an interactive environment for teams, but they lack a crucial aspect, and that is a way to convey nonverbal information.

In a 2008 study on how visualizations improve collaboration in paired groups, a team from Carnegie Mellon University concluded that collaboration performance improved when the pairs had a visualization that both could manipulate, and when they were able to discuss that visualization.*

If you’re doing any kind of work, you need to be able to show it to your team. Timelines, concepts, discussion notes — all of these are important to a project, and all of them need to be visualized to get people to properly understand fast.

Adding on to that is the ability for all members to interact with the data. Presenting is one thing, but if someone has a question or suggestion, having them able to manipulate the visualization allows for better communication and a greater understanding.

Take a look at an ultimate shared space online whiteboard. This tool is far more than just a blank surface on which to write and draw. It allows all team members to collaborate in a visual space in real-time, just as if they were in one room. Users are able to share project files, leave comments on files, refer to team members, use emoji, text and video chats. The work can be seen by all participants, helping them develop a shared understanding more quickly, and ensuring they are all on the same page at the end of the session and during a project.

Ideation in a virtual room

With the right tools, the time it takes to come up with ideas, being remote, can be reduced, and at the same time a better solution can be developed.

As we discussed above an online whiteboard such as Miro can be this virtual room for your remote team to gather and run your ideation session.

To make your sessions as effective as possible, start with choosing one of the pre-made templates. Options include mind maps, brainwriting, fishbone diagrams, and many more to help structure ideas and solutions in a fast and systematic way. Use of digital sticky notes can help you list all the ideas in one place.

To get things going faster, the tool integrates with many major software packages such as Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, OneDrive to add files with ease when you need them. Search for inspirational images and upload them on the board with integrated IconFinder or Google image search.

With video included, you can go around the room person by person to get ideas. Each person is able to display their suggestions in a manner very similar to how we’d expect the process to take place in real life.

To make the most of your time, use Miro as a presentational board to get a green light for your ideas. And it doesn’t matter where you are. The online environment can be accessed from any device, desktop or mobile, anywhere in the world.

Start my brainstorming now

Conclusion

Online shared spaces provide the bridge that remote teams need to reproduce the benefits of a team working in the same physical location. Team members that are able to collaborate, visualize and share their thoughts with each other are most capable of achieving shared understanding. Online whiteboards are one of the best tools to help achieve this.

If you’re interested in learning the best online brainstorming practices, read real business cases and get great advice in the next chapter.

*D. Balakrishnan, S. R. Fussell and S. Kiesler (2008) “Do Visualizations improve synchronous remote collaboration?” 

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