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Over the last 15 years I’ve worked with quite a few startups and growth-oriented companies. During that time frame the way we have all worked has changed dramatically. Most importantly, small teams rely upon efficient collaboration to do more with less time and fewer resources.

When I’m working with clients I often find that they are not using some of the tools that I many of us have come to depend upon. Usually, this is because they are comfortable with the old tools like conventional email and instant messaging. So, thought it’d be a good idea to share some of my favorite apps – not all the ones that I’ve used – but the ones that are indispensable to me and my collaborators. Below is my list. Let me know if you have any tools that you can’t live without.

Campfire (with Propane) – from the big brains at 37signals, instant messaging on steroids. Forget about 1-to-1 IM. Campfire let’s you create chat rooms with groups, upload and store files and store transcripts. Create a new room for each of your working groups like Client X or Project Y.¬† Add Propane (a local app for OS X) so all of your rooms are available all of the time.

Pivotal Tracker – from the folks at Pivotal Labs, PT is a collaborative task management tool for Agile shops. Guess what? It works great as a task manager for any group. Create “stories” (or tasks), assign them to someone, build time estimates, pass tasks from one team member to the next and track progress/velocity of your sprints with burndown charts. Guess what else? It’s completely free – as in beer. Thank you Pivotal!

Dropbox – you still emailing documents or storing shared documents on (the oh so clumsy) Dropbox is a freemium web-based storage service with a twist. Download their app to your machine and a local folder on your machine looks and acts just like any other folder with one exception: it automatically syncs with the network and your collaborators. So your files are always local and always available on the network. Did one of your collaborators delete one your documents? No problem visit the Dropbox site and restore it. Want to keep separate repositories? Just create unique folders for each of your groups and invite each group to that folder.

Highrise – another great product from 37signals, Highrise is a simple, but powerful CRM app. Track client contacts, leads and deals with all or some of your team members. And it’s easy to keep Highrise up-to-date: just forward or cc emails to Highrise and the system will automatically attach it to the appropriate contact.

Gliffy – everyone needs a diagram some time. But it’s usually not just for yourself, but rather so you can share your plan/idea with others and get their feedback. Sound familiar? Then check out Gliffy, an online diagramming application that let’s you collaborate and share. Oh yea, it comes with plenty of templates and stock icons for just about every industry.

Google Calendar – coordinating meetings, blocking out “task time” and sharing your calendar with others is a huge pain. I’ve yet to see a calendar app (local or web-based) that’s great. But Google Calendar is probably the best. Create multiple calendars and share some or all of them with those that need to know. Gcal will keep your calendars in a single interface and it’s easy to create events and invite others.

Google Docs – also not the best office suite on the planet, but everyone has a Google account. Easily upload, share and collaborate on docs. Track changes so you can roll them back when you need to. And, Google has recently added Google Drawings a collaborative drawing tool to help groups illustrate things like org charts and visually markup other images.

Skitch – so you’re working on a design – a website, product, marketing piece, whatever. You receive a draft from your designer and want to share your thoughts. One way of commenting is writing text in an email. Another, perhaps better, way is to crack open Skitch and overlay text, arrows and other graphical clues on top of the image. Skitch also lets you grab a screenshot from any app on your computer. So you can easily grab anything on your screen, add comments and share it with your team.

Skype – everyone knows Skype, a simple, cross-platform text and video instant messenger app. It also does super-cheap international calls. If you have a virtual company or have lots of remote workers, using Skype helps to guarantee lots of face time with all your team members. Plus, you get to know your cohorts a lot better when you get to see them working in their pajamas.

Fluid Рlast but not least, if you use a lot of web apps, you really need Fluid (OS X only; one more reason to leave your Windoze machine). Fluid  is a little app that will make any web-based app feel like a desktop app. So if you use Gmail or Pivotal Tracker all the time, you can keep them available all the time without cluttering up your browser with more tabs.

Did I forget something? Got an app that you can’t live without? Please add a comment.