Technology Selection Guide

(See further explanation after table) 

Type of task Level of task interaction required and/or complexity involved Communication Media Characteristics Suggested Communication Technology
Information sharing that is fairly straightforward in nature; collaborative work product that does not require discussion Very low (Little interaction required and/or little uncertainty or need to reconcile differences among team members; one-way communication is adequate) Low richness; asynchronous Electronic Bulletin Board; Voicemail; Email; Collaborative writing tools
Idea generation in which various viewpoints can be collected; brainstorming about an issue Low Low richness; asynchronous or synchronous Chat; Discussion Board; Email
Making routine decisions/Solving routine problems, where solutions sets are known Low-moderate Moderate richness; synchronous Audio Teleconference
Making non-routine decisions; Solving non-routine problems, where standard solutions may not exist Moderate-high Moderate-high richness; synchronous Audio teleconference;

Electronic collaboration software with data/audio/video capability; Videoconference;

Collaborative work involving integrating team member expertise, and potentially negotiating interpersonal or complicated task-related differences between different members of the team High (High interactivity required and/or high level of uncertainty and potential for multiple, conflicting views) High richness; synchronous Electronic meeting system with audio/video/text/graphics/collaborative writing capability; Face-to-face


Technology Selection Guide Explanation

Selecting a communication technology to support different team tasks involves three steps:

  1. Determine the type of task
  2. Select communication technology based on the task
  3. Also recommended: take into account relevant non-task related factors

Each of these steps is described in detail below.

 

  1. Determine the type of task

Different tasks have different requirements that influence the choice of communication technology that is most appropriate. Two dimensions along which tasks vary are:

  1. Level of interaction – Extent to which communication must flow back and forth among team members in order to progress with the task
  2. Level of communication complexity – Extent to which (a) it is necessary to solve problems to which there are no clear solutions, and (b) it is necessary to reconcile differences in viewpoints and approaches among team members (when team members come from different cultures, organizations, functions, locations with different work processes, there is greater potential for differing viewpoints and lack of shared understanding about the task and approaches to solving problems)

The Technology Selection Guidance Table on the next page shows common team tasks in Column 1 and the level of interaction and communication complexity associated with them in Column 2. If you have a task that is not shown in Column 1, you can make an assessment of the level of task interaction required and the complexity involved to help you make a technology selection.

 

  1. Select communication technology based on the task

Column 4 on the Technology Selection Table above indicates the type of technology that is usually most appropriate for the type of task shown in Column 1 of the table

Column 3 describes the nature of the technology in Column 4. Communication technologies differ according to:

  1. Information richness – The extent to which a communication medium allows the transfer of different types of information that help the receiver to understand the meaning of the communication (including allowing for immediate feedback, transmitting non-verbal cues, etc. Face-to-face communication is the richest medium, while text-based media is the least rich. As task communications become more complex, richer media are required for effective communication.
  2. Synchronicity – The extent to which communication medium allows team members to interact at the same time. Synchronous media allow for real-time interaction; whereas asynchronous media involve delayed interaction. As tasks become more interactive and complex, the need for synchronous communication increases.

 

  1. Also take into account relevant non-task related factors

There are non-task related factors that may make what would otherwise seem like a good match between technology and task turn out to be an inappropriate choice for the team. The table below summarizes additional factors that are helpful to consider, and if appropriate, discussed with the team to reach the best compromise.

Factor Some considerations
Technology access and support ·      Which technologies do members of the team have in common?

·      If time zone differences will result in team members having to interact with the team outside of the office, to which technologies do team members have access outside the office?

·      What is the technical expertise of team members? Which technologies do team members feel comfortable using?

·      Is there adequate support for the technology in all team member locations?

Written record ·      Is there a need to create a written record trail of the team’s interaction or decisions for legal or other reasons? (e.g., a discussion by email may be an option because all communications can be easily saved)
Symbolic meaning ·      Would using a particular technology send an inappropriate signal to the team (e.g., using email to express concern about team performance sends a different message that scheduling a teleconference, a video conference, or even a face-to-face meeting)?
Language ·      What is the language proficiency of all team members?

·      How comfortable are team members writing or speaking in the chosen language for communication in the team? (e.g., some team members for whom the language of communication selected by the team is a second language may prefer text-based communication, where they have additional time to determine the meaning of the communication. Conversely, other team members may feel more comfortable speaking, than writing in the foreign language.)

Team member culture ·      Do team members prefer certain modes of communication due to culture differences (e.g., cultural norms against open displays of conflict might make some members uncomfortable with videoconferences for certain types of interaction)?
Time zone gap ·      Are there large time zone differences in the team that would make it difficult for team members to collaborate in real-time?
Team size ·      Is there a limit to the number of participants that can be accommodated by the chosen technology?
Team member’s familiarity with virtual teamwork ·      How experienced are team members with virtual teamwork? The more experienced individuals are at working virtually, the more they may be able to adapt to using less rich communication media.