Wikipedia defines “collaboration” as follows:

“Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people work together toward an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature — by sharing knowledge, learning, and building consensus.”
 

Back in the 1980s, IBM may well have dubbed their revolutionary new machines “Personal Computers,” but these days, if you use your PC in an office or at school, you probably already spend at least as much of your time collaborating with others as you do on your personal projects.

At first glance, collaboration seems like a no-brainer. Each day, we meet people face to face, talk with them on the phone, and exchange all the free e-mail we want. Instant messaging is another great way to chat or exchange files, especially if you and your teammates share similar hours near a computer. And yet, things quickly get a lot more complicated when you’re trying to keep more than a few people on the same page.

Work hours and locations are more diverse than ever. Information overload is everywhere. Our inboxes are full of “Look at me now!” requests and unscheduled tasks that are becoming increasingly difficult to process, let alone manage. How are we supposed to update each other on news and status without adding to the existing e-mail hell? Nobody wants more meetings just to talk about all of the work that has to get done.

We want our computers and tools to help us, but choosing the right tools for collaboration can be tricky. Most people will admit that they tend to gravitate towards what they know (or what’s been set up for them), and not necessarily what will help them collaborate in the smartest, most efficient ways. So, how do you try a better way when you don’t know that there is one waiting in the wings? First, assess honestly how well your tried-and-true methods and tools have served you in the past and then keep an open mind while you do some research on your own.

In my newest Office Hours column, I'm outlining how OneNote 2007 offers smarter ways to share information with a team or workgroup. Even if you already know how indispensible OneNote can be for management of your personal information, you might not yet have discovered its built-in collaboration features. Aside from the “how to” steps in the article, I’m offering some best practices that you may find useful — such as adding a hyperlinked Table of Contents that points to the pages and sections in your shared notebook, or including a reference section to keep important information at everyone’s fingertips.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback. Please tell me if you find such articles useful or if you’d rather see this type of information covered in a different way (the more specific your feedback, the better!). You can leave feedback by submitting comments directly at the end of the column (or any other Office Online article), or by commenting here on my blog. If you prefer, feel free to drop me a line directly.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are my previous Office Hours columns about Office and OneNote:

You can view all articles (including those by my fellow Office columnists) by checking out the Office Hours home page!