Why We Slack

A guest response.

September 8, 2016

A guest response by Kes Schroer and Adam Nemeroff:

We have a response to Josh’s post Convince Me to Slack

The instructional design team at Dartmouth recently made the switch to Slack, and it’s definitely improved our team communications. 

While there was some resistance to adopting the platform (Kes), others (Adam) have shown us that Slack can be a great way to address our team’s needs.

Specifically, our team likes Slack because it:

  • Shows how small comments or requests can lead to big actions and final products.
  • Gives us just-in-time resources with easy access to Google Docs, files, or external websites.
  • Provides a more useful search tool than most email clients.
  • Skips the need to write long, cumbersome emails. Tweet-length comments like “I have a doctor’s appointment. Be back in 3 hours.” are entirely appropriate in Slack, take up less space in the online interface, and disappear in seconds if you have desktop notifications set up.

Although we like Slack, we didn’t join it because we drank any “Slack Kool-Aid.” Our adoption of Slack was organic. Two team members heard about the hype and tried Slack out, then another team member joined us from a university where it was already being used. A fourth team member heard about conversations happening on Slack, and soon we all joined. Even now, while Slack is working for us, some team members only use the tool rarely. Hardly anyone on the team actually loves Slack. We just see it as preferable to email.

But Slack did improve our team communications, and it did something more: it forced us to talk about how our team adopts new tools. The “better practices” we developed are part of a much larger conversation about tech, productivity, and workplace culture, and we wanted to share a few of the things we learned. What steps should a team take before deciding to use a new tool like Slack?

Here are four steps to get you started:

1. Talk to your colleagues and empathize with them. Teams fail when they don’t communicate. People have specific ways they approach their work. There are things they love and things they hate. The process of picking the right communication tool is a great time to listen to your colleagues, empathize with their concerns, and discuss options that address your team’s challenges. Those options might be a new tool, and they might also be tweaking methods and tools that are already in use.

2. Name the problem that the tool solves. After listening closely, define the problem your team wants to address and outline what acceptable solutions look like. Be clear and specific about your problem and solutions, because good definitions will allow you to assess whether a tool is working and measure it’s impact (can you tell we’re instructional designers?). Most importantly, start small and tackle your problem in focused ways. Once you have a concrete definition of the problem and a better idea of its potential solutions, you’re in a good place to assess whether a new tool might be appropriate for your team.

3. Prototype. Let’s imagine that a new tool (maybe Slack) seems like a good choice for your team. You’ll want and need to test it out. It’s important to understand how the tool works before interrupting your team’s existing workflow. In our case, two members of our team beta-tested Slack on their projects together, then showed their process to other team members. This simple, small, time-limited approach showed us how Slack could address some of our challenges, with greater efficiency. We realized that Slack could capitalize on our existing resources and habits - like frequent file-sharing and snappy conversation - to help us get projects completed faster and with more feedback.

4. Evaluate & iterate. Conduct a formative assessment. Get your prototype into your team’s hands and figure out if/how it’s working for them. Where the tool falls short, revisit step 1 and then revise. Be open to new challenges that might arise, or new insights the tool has created among your team members. When the tool ultimately stops working for your team (and it will), feel free to move on to new possibilities. Adopting a new tool isn’t perfect and isn’t forever, but it is part of a larger cycle of growth. Sometimes, it helps a team to flourish.

Have we convinced you to try Slack? 



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