4 ways to foster collaboration

Deborah Holstein

February 13, 2017

Teamwork is the cornerstone of most businesses, especially those that create content (and isn’t every company in the content game these days?). After all, engaged, talented professionals contributing their diverse talents, skills and points of view reap rewards for the business.

But teamwork can be hard. A survey by talent management agency, Cornerstone, found that more than a third of employees say there was not enough collaboration happening in their workplace.

The benefits of collaboration are clear. Teams that collaborate well are more profitable, says management consultant firm, McKinsey, reasoning that an executive team with different backgrounds and experience working together effectively “broadens a company’s strategic perspective”.

They’re also better problem-solvers. The former head of Nissan’s design arm, Jerry Hirshberg, believed in “creative abrasion” – putting two people with different mindsets together. He instituted a policy of hiring pairs of designers to reap the benefits.

The problem is that collaboration, especially on creative content, is often studded with pitfalls, causing teams to retreat to their own corners.  Bad collaboration can be fraught and leads to ineffective content, missed deadlines, or no content at all.

Here’s how to make creative content without conflict:

1. Build sharing into your company culture:

When the goal is to produce content that sells, lots of balls need to be juggled. Teams are on the front line, running towards the explosion of marketing channels and technologies now available to reach prospects and make them customers. Teams set up to share ideas and responsibilities will remain calm in the face of this ever-changing environment, enabling them to prioritize tactics, resources and investment more effectively. But while this opens the door for inspired creative thinking and breakthrough solutions, many employees are accustomed to receiving accolades for individual performance. Companies must encourage more sharing and emphasize the importance of effective teams over individual performance. Put in place knowledge sharing systems and workflow tools that will naturally help them transition to a sharing mentality and foster greater collaboration.

2. Respect right and left brain ideas

Collaboration should include creative, right brain folks like photographers, videographers, designers, illustrators and copywriters as well as left-brain folks like SEO’s, data scientists, analysts and technologists. Learning to mediate between blue-sky creative ideas and nuts and bolts constraints is the foundation of great collaboration.

Metrics are important for social media agency, Social Envi. “We use them to challenge both our client’s and our own creative thinking. A restaurant client of ours was targeting an older demographic so a lot of the social media content we created for them was relatively safe. But when we checked the metrics, we found that the demographic engaged with the content was a lot younger. So we switched our strategy to create edgier content for this audience and were able to expand their in-store demographic, resulting in more sales.”

3. Look for answers in all the “wrong” places

Effective marketing strategy and execution requires alignment and input across all company departments. In any given week, marketers engage and collaborate with team members in finance, product, engineering, IT, strategy, sales, operations and customer support. Working cross-functionally allows informal networks and processes to thrive, which spurs collaboration and extracts additional value from everyone in the organization.

Orlando-based marketing agency BIGEYE once had an account manager coin the tagline for a client’s new multi-family apartment development. “We bring all members of the team into our creative discussions. Everyone at BIGEYE has a voice and is encouraged to share ideas openly, whether you’re in marketing, accounts or operations.”

4. Keep customers front and center

The most pressing problems your company faces (the ones that need the best minds collaborating) require an understanding of your customers and your company’s position in the marketplace. A hearing aid startup operates an in-house clinic where customers try out new products. The firm’s Senior Marketing Manager spends a lot of time there. “Having an in-house clinic is fantastic. We get real-time feedback from customers which I can share with our marketing, sales and product teams.”

Using the needs of your customers as a touchstone for the team to evaluate potential courses of action is a great way to avoid politics or other common dysfunctions that tend to creep into the team’s outcomes.

If collaboration has become that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then put these four methods to work and see how the results will change.