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SharePoint 2013 team sites shed their silos

Since its introduction 12 years ago, collaboration has been the centerpiece of SharePoint. With every release, the collaboration features of the platform have improved. SharePoint 2013 has introduced new collaboration capabilities that enhance teams even further.

SharePoint team sites roles

Team sites are the cornerstone of group collaboration. They are repositories for project- or group-specific documentation and discussion. Because they centralize team resources, they provide one-stop shopping for communication.

In SharePoint 2013 team sites, roles have been expanded. As a result, members are contributors to the enterprise as a whole, not just a single team or project. Organizations that optimize performance and expertise by softening the boundaries between groups perform faster and more effectively.

Teammates

Teammates used to be old-school project participants, sharing day-to-day tasks, updates and problem-solving within the context of project-specific objectives. But within SharePoint 2013, teams are more.

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SharePoint 2013's central philosophy is that the enterprise is stronger when silos are broken down.

SharePoint 2013's central philosophy is that the enterprise is stronger when silos are broken down. By creating cross-departmental communities, expertise and opinion are available across the board. There's a lot of new machinery built into the platform to put this philosophy into effect, and it makes use of the social media training that almost every user obtains today casually through Internet interaction. Bringing social media skills into the workplace, and into team dynamics in particular, enhances the contribution of all players.

But breaking down silos can be problematic. First, it forces SharePoint administrators to put greater thought into the architecture of team site access and into which members of the enterprise will have access to what. A holistic site architecture also requires additional effort to update and maintain as employees leave or enter the company.

Then there is user resistance. One of the biggest barriers to SharePoint implementation is persuading users to use it. On average, about 40% of any organization's employees resist the platform.

During a consulting stint in state government, user resistance to silo-busting became abundantly clear to me. Branch managers were reluctant to implement SharePoint to unify their branches, despite the obvious upside. They privately complained that their siloed applications and methodology were a "reward" of sorts for devoting themselves to lower-paying public service.

But I suggested that using SharePoint to build bridges wouldn't dismantle their legacy. Well-designed processes worked in their favor. Now they accrue more successes in less time, and with an enhanced team reputation into the bargain.

Working together

As with previous SharePoint iterations, the SharePoint 2013 team site template contains a newsfeed. A site administrator controls this newsfeed, which may be open to contributions from all team site members or simply be the team lead's way of passing along information.

Microblogging enhances the newsfeed; it has become far more powerful and fashions itself after Facebook, Twitter and other online social media platforms. SharePoint now offers hash-tagging of project content, and enables "following" -- in social media parlance -- of items in the newsfeed, conversations and other site objects worthy of tracking, and using "mentions" to direct information to the attention of other team members. There's even a Like button.

All this profoundly changes the day-to-day use of information. Social media has attuned users to sorting through a now-steady stream of content. All that now-pervasive skill comes into the service of the enterprise, making every user an active agent in pulling signal from noise. Every user becomes a smart filter in the system, operating with an awareness of institutional priorities, day-to-day shifts in tasking and agendas, and the strengths of other team members.

But even this is not the centerpiece of the game change for teams. While all these features are present in SharePoint 2013 team sites, a new kind of teaming - communities - is now at the forefront of team philosophy in the SharePoint environment.

With their emphasis on collaborative input and dialogue, team sites require active moderation. Community sites can be configured so that users beyond a single team can contribute to a project. This enables wider ranges of expertise with minimal effort, and the enterprise gets more useful contributions.

Note that this style of collaboration involves a time and resource cost. The time and expertise required to effectively moderate across domains are worthwhile, but they're not insignificant timewise. Even users with skills in this sort of intervention can't implement it arbitrarily when multiple teams are interacting; it requires diplomacy and awareness of priorities and resource considerations beyond one's own group.

This was first published in October 2013

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