Productivity Apps

5 Tools That Keep Team Communications Untangled

When my two co-founders and I first started out, syncing-up was this easy. I'd look to my left and ask my CTO, Emilio: “Dev, you good?”

Then, I'd look to my right and ask my CCO, Alfonso: “Design, you good?”

I'd respond: “Awesome. Business is clear too.”

It was October 2012 and we were a team of three. Our roles and responsibilities were pretty clear. To collaborate, we used a basic software to share tasks. When something went wrong, all we had to do was look up from our desks. “Team collaboration” didn't require a lot of thinking or planning.

Fast forward to today. Our team of three now stands at 14 very responsible members of the company. To balance this growth, we’ve tried various team collaboration tools. It feels like we've tried them all. Based on this experience, here are our top five tools for team collaboration.

1. Trello

Trello is the main app we use to collaborate across different departments of the team. We have specific boards for each department and project. It helps us to keep everything transparent.

In the center of our office, we have a main board that we keep displayed on a projector. This keeps our team in sync and gives everyone a top down overview of what’s going on at any particular time. It’s a really great way for any team member to get up to speed with what the rest of the team is up to, in an ultra convenient (and visually appealing) way.

Related: Keeping Staffers Without Email (Half the Workforce) In the Loop

Trello works as a board system that incorporates a lot of agile elements and work practices. The default layout for each board gives you three columns to place tasks in: To Do, Doing and Done. Team members then create tasks, which Trello calls "cards,'' that live inside each column. Clicking a card flips it over and opens up a ton of great features such as the ability to comment, mention/add other team members, insert attachments, add a checklist and more.

The beauty of Trello is its flexibility. You don’t have to use the board in any set way. For example, we use a Trello board to plan our blog posts and to collaborate on new content. Instead of the stock “To-Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”, we’ve made each column a step on getting a blog post done from start to finish. You can make multiple boards for different projects you’re working on, trips you’re planning as a team or even a board to discuss things that are needed for the office.

On Trello, the possibilities are endless.

2. Jira

We use Jira to track, plan and deploy software. It’s used primarily by the development and design team to track bugs, collaborate on technical issues and to plan sprints.

Jira is something of legend that has become the go-to application trusted by development teams at Square, eBay, LinkedIn, BMW and even NASA. Quick warning, though -- Jira is not for the faint of heart. It’s not particularly “beautiful,” or intuitive in the way that Trello is. You can tell this was software built by developers for developers, which is perfectly fine. Jira is meant to help teams ship outstanding software. What it lacks in design, it makes up for with it’s hyper-focused purpose.

However, you need to invest time into learning how to best use the software. Just this week, our dev team locked themselves in a room to go through our backlog, add new bugs to fix and plan out our next sprint. Jira is not an application you just spend a couple minutes in each day. This is software a development team can essentially live in and can rest assured the creators have their best interest at heart.

Related: 5 Ways to Communicate Better With Software Developers

3. Quip

Something just wasn’t clicking in our writing collaborations. There was too much back-and-forth between various draft versions. With Quip, we’re able to get the whole team involved in writing, while easily staying organized.

Quip is basically a super-charged, more user-friendly version of Google Documents. While Google Docs has it’s advantages, our team has been attracted to the simplicity of Quip and the emphasis on conversation.

Quip, another visual tool, welcomes users with color-coded folders similar to those on your Mac Finder. There, you can create different shared folders that everyone on your team can add to and edit. It has a clean layout that makes it look more like a chat thread than a document. Most importantly, it offers the ability to go back and view previous comments and versions of the document.

We now handle most of our document collaboration on Quip. We appreciate how easy it is to get new team members started on it.

4. Dropbox for Business

Dropbox for Business is an outstanding tool that makes file sharing easier for the team and allows each team member to have access to important documents at any particular time.

If a team member is out at a meeting, and a client wants marketing materials, they can open up the Dropbox app on their device and easily share files right then and there. There's no need to fumble through emails, search and confirm the file they are using is the most up-to-date version. All files update automatically once the team member uploads a newer file.

Everything from access to keynote presentations, videos, press kits, logos, team photos and contracts are all conveniently stored in one central location for team member to grab it.

Related: My Must-Have Apps: How a PR Exec Keeps Connected

5. Slack

I’ve saved the best for last. Slack is truly magnificent software. It is at the core of all our team communication. I like to think of Slack as the “Digital Grand Central Station” for our team’s communication and collaboration.

At first glance, you might think Slack is just another internal messaging system. When you dig a little deeper, you find how well it integrates with other collaboration tools your team is currently using. The folks at Slack realized it didn’t have to be the end-all-be-all of team communication apps. It just had to be an extension of all the other apps team members use.

Slack integrates seamlessly with Trello and Jira. We have created channels that allow us to receive updates happening within these tools. In our #content_marketing channel in Slack, we hooked up Trello so that the marketing team gets notified of progress in real time.

We also have dedicated channels and private groups to discuss new accounts, clients, projects, team trips, marketing, sales, design, development and so on.

Slack also makes it easy to share documents and attachments. When you want to share a file, just drag and drop it into Slack, set which channel or person you want it to go to and that’s it. Everything stays organized and highly searchable.

It’s important to note that when you’re choosing a particular tool or software, one-size-does-not-fit-all. There is no silver bullet task management application. We learned this the hard way after trying to shoe horn every single department into the same app.

Keep in mind that what one department/person might find intuitive, another might find complex or confusing. While our development team loves Jira, our marketing team can't stand it. That’s ok. Our marketing team prefers Trello and that’s what they're sticking to because it helps them do their job to the best of their ability.

When it comes to your team collaboration, your results may vary. It’s going to take some trial and error to find the right combination of tools to use across your organization. If you feel things aren’t flowing as well as they should, don’t be afraid to switch and try something new. At the end of the day, your team will thank you for it.

Related: 5 Ways to Communicate Better With Software Developers