Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boost collaboration with a culture of respect for expertise

Want to build collaboration across departments, disciplines or business units? The first step is to raise the visibility of the work being done and the expertise of the people doing the work. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Providing visibility is the catalyst. Employees can’t respect each other’s expertise if they don’t know about each other. One of the most important elements of collaboration is awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company.

Develop a channel or two that provide windows into other silos. There are numerous ways you can do this, including your intranet. One of the tactics Tribe often recommends is an employee culture magazine that features the work of individuals and teams across the range of functional divisions or business units or geographical locations.

A magazine can turn employees into celebrities. A feature article can explore a project or initiative in some depth, quoting several of the employees involved and sharing their successes and solutions. A spread of employee spotlights can showcase the work of three or four or even more employees in various functional areas. A roundtable article that includes management from several different silos can share their perspectives on topics like innovation or team building or leadership.

Shining the limelight on employees supports a culture of respect. A magazine or another channel with the same intention of showcasing the talent in your company communicates to all employees the value that each individual can bring to the company’s success. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Interested in increasing collaboration in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Support Collaboration with Visibility Across Silos

If collaboration is a priority at your company, start by building respect across functional silos. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Providing visibility is the catalyst. Employees can’t respect each other’s expertise if they don’t know about each other. One of the most important elements of collaboration is awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company.

Develop a channel a two that provide windows into other silos. There are numerous ways you can do this, including your intranet. One of the tactics Tribe often recommends is an employee culture magazine that features the work of individuals and teams across the range of functional divisions or business units or geographical locations.

A magazine can turn employees into celebrities. A feature article can explore a project or initiative in some depth, quoting several of the employees involved and sharing their successes and solutions. A spread of employee spotlights can showcase the work of three or four or even more employees in various functional areas. A roundtable article that includes management from several different silos can share their perspectives on topics like innovation or team building or leadership.

Shining the limelight on employees supports a culture of respect. A magazine or another channel with the same intention of showcasing the talent in your company communicates to all employees the value that each individual can bring to the company’s success. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Interested in increasing collaboration in your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Collaboration Quandary: Who Gets to Make the Decisions?

Why is collaboration getting so much attention in large companies? As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical to successful business results.

But collaboration slows things down. It requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. In most cases, it’s not going to happen next week, or even next month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

However, the collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Everybody gets a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in fostering more collaboration in your company? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Four Tips to Launch an Effective Ambassador Program

You’ve got an important initiative, big organizational change or great new communications channel. Now what? In most cases the next step is to start producing news and information to keep employees informed. Establishing a successful internal communications platform like a well-rounded intranet, newsletter or digital signage is great, but having internal resources throughout the company will keep you on track for success.

Tribe recommends an ambassador program. From gathering and editing content, to providing a face-to-face internal voice and guidance among employees, a team of ambassadors can take your communications efforts to the next level. Here are four of our suggested tips for a successful ambassador program launch.

  1. Recruit the right team. A program of ambassadors positioned throughout the company can be a natural source of support across functional silos, business units or geographically locations. However, the right employee is key. A successful ambassador is often a more junior employee eager to make a name for themselves. Energy level can be more important than experience.
  1. Spread the word. Tribe usually recommends an announcement from management to reveal their team’s new ambassadors. Communicating the news of the new ambassadors will have two purposes: letting employees know who they should go to with their questions, concerns and relevant content, while also giving the ambassador the recognition they deserve.
  1. Provide the tools they need to be successful. Before ambassadors can become successful representatives, they will need some guidance. Introducing training tools like FAQs, conversation starters, and resources for connecting with each other to share best practices will go a long way in the successful launch and longevity of your program.
  1. Emphasize the WIIFM factor. The role of ambassador often adds to the workload, so clearly outlining what’s in it for them is important. Good news for you, becoming an ambassador is a great opportunity for employees. Not only will they have the chance to stretch beyond their current job descriptions, they will be able to connect and learn from some of the people doing the most important work in the company.

Need help getting your ambassador program off the ground? Tribe would love to help.

 

Nick Miller

Internal Communications: How to encourage your workforce to have more productive meetings

The late John Kenneth Galbraith, an acclaimed economist, wrote in 1969, “Meetings are a great trap. …they are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

While we at Tribe are not quite that anti-meeting, we find that a handful of tips can reform these hour long escapes from doing actual work into sessions of decision and progress. Here are a couple pieces of advice for communicating good meeting habits to your employees:

  1. Communicate the importance of an agenda

Conducting a meeting without a list of points to cover can equate to herding cats. Simply by spelling out what will be covered during the meeting significantly increases the likelihood that attendees of a meeting will walk away with a clear plan of action. We suggest one is sent out before the meeting so that all involved have an understanding of the objective and are prepared with their input.

But telling your employees to use an agenda won’t change their bad habits overnight, so use subtle clues to encourage them. By installing an “Agenda” and “Desired Objective” section on your meeting room whiteboards or leaving blank agenda sheets on meeting tables, you are leaving a constant reminder to conduct meetings in a predetermined and organized fashion.

  1. Let employees know it’s okay to decline

It is important that associates understand that their time is their own to manage, and communicating to them that they are not required to accept every invite that comes their way will free up windows that are best spent elsewhere. Let them know that they have other options should they determine that their attendance is unnecessary. Communicate how it is acceptable to provide the input you may have on the subject by email prior to the meeting or send a substitute with similar proficiency. This is a point that can be emphasized during the onboarding process since new employees are more likely to feel discomfort declining meeting invites.

  1. Advise on how to limit wasting time in meetings

Periodic communications to associates about how to have more efficient meetings serves your workforce a benefit since most don’t know they need it. These can be in the form of dedicated communications or included in established communications such as a newsletter. Examples include:

“Try standing during meetings instead of sitting, so you are more likely to stay on schedule.”

or

“Recommend only one person conducts each meeting in order to avoid dysfunction.” 

Looking to communicate better meeting habits to your employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Three Reasons to Shoot Your Employees

Stock photography is cheap and easy, but it’s not always a great idea. In certain situations, of course, it can be a good solution. When you want to communicate a concept, like collaboration or growth, you might use symbolic or metaphorical photography. If you want a simple visual to illustrate a topic like the 401K, you can find tons of nice shots of piggy banks or gold coins or other relevant objects.

But don’t use stock to represent your employees. It instantly communicates inauthenticity, but even more important, it’s forgoing a fantastic opportunity to build engagement.

Let’s start with the inauthentic part. People can spot a model a mile away. When you use stock in employee communications — to represent real employees — you’re not fooling anyone. Everybody knows those aren’t really employees on the intranet or in the brochure or wherever you’re using stock photos.

Then consider what happens when you photograph actual employees. All three of the following benefits make it worth considering the effort and expense of original photography.

1. Making heroes of your employees: Our culture is fascinated with celebrities, and when you use photographs of real employees, some of that show biz stardust falls on each of those individuals. But like a pebble in a pond, a heroic shot of one employee also creates a sense of pride for all those other employees out there who can look at that photo and say, “Hey, that person is just like me.”

2. Connecting employees across silos: One of the best ways to break down silos is to help employees develop human connections with the people in other silos. When you can put a face on a colleague, whether that person is down the hall or across the globe, you humanize them. Besides, employees love looking at photos of each other. Employee photos consistently get positive responses in all sorts of internal communications. If you’re creating a library of employee photography, or shooting numerous photos for a large project like a vision book, try to include as many silos as possible. Try also to cover a diversity of job function, seniority levels, ethnic backgrounds, age and gender.

3. The shoot itself builds engagement. When you have a professional photographer in the building — along with the accompanying lights, cameras and makeup stylists — it creates excitement. Employees want to know what’s going on, they want to be involved, and they will tell everybody they know about the shoot at work. Create more assets to use in internal comms with “behind the scenes” photos of the shoot in progress. Get shots of employees in the makeup chair, the photographer working with his subjects, the glamour of a working set. Those BTS photos are sometimes even more engaging than the professional shots by the real photographer.

Interested in the possibilities of employee photography in your organization?Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If you want collaboration, encourage conversations that aren’t about work

See that group of employees standing around the coffee maker chewing the fat? The ones talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work?

That sort of idle chit chat is exactly what you want if you’re hoping to build a collaborative culture. In Tribe’s national research on collaboration, respondents stressed how important it is to know the other people, at least casually, in order to feel comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating on work projects.

One of the major hurdles to collaboration is how vulnerable people can feel sharing fragile ideas that are still half-baked. But that’s exactly when you want to get those ideas out on the table so people with different expertise and perspectives can contribute to moving the idea forward.

Creating a culture where casual conversation and personal relationships are valued helps give employees that comfort level. Look for more ways employees can cross paths with those in other work teams and even business units. That might mean building more social hours into annual conferences or establishing an inter-departmental dodgeball tournament. It can be impacted by the architecture of your buildings. It can even be encouraged by stocking a really great break room with latte machines and coolers of energy drinks and bowls of fresh fruit.

The goal is to give employees, especially those in different disciplines, occasions to rub elbows. And then to encourage your managers to let those casual conversations happen. To some, it may look like employees are goofing off. But by establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Interested in building a culture of collaboration at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Origin of Brainstorming: Or Why It’s Not Something to Squeeze into the Meeting Agenda

HiResBrainstorming happens to be one of my least favorite words. In the corporate world, the term usually means a bunch of people in a conference room shouting out things that someone else scribbles on a whiteboard or flip chart. In my experience, it’s not the best way to generate truly creative ideas. It’s too loud, for one thing, to hear that quiet voice of inspiration. That voice is more apt to raise its hand when just a couple of people are kicking around ideas, or later when one of those people is in the shower, or driving a car, or cooking dinner. But there’s something else that bothers me about this brainstorming thing.

At least I now know who to blame for coining this word. It was Alex Osborn, one of the founding partners of BDO, later to become the advertising giant BBDO. (Oldies quiz for those who’ve been in Atlanta for decades: Remember the ad shop known as BDA/BBDO? When the receptionist answered the phone, it sounded like someone falling down a flight of stairs.) Osborn’s ideas on brainstorming were later expanded upon by academic Sidney Parnes, with whom he partnered to develop what they called the Creative Problem Solving Process, or CPS.

I have a vague memory of my father explaining the phases of CPS to me as a child, saying that it mirrored the general process of the way his firm practiced architecture. The rules Osborn came up with for brainstorming were rules I remember my father using with young architects, particularly the first of those rules. They’re also second nature for most art director-copywriter teams in ad agencies, at least those in which I’ve been involved.

  1. No criticism of ideas
  2. Go for large quantities of ideas
  3. Build on each others ideas
  4. Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas

There’s a tradition in ad agencies that says creative ideas come out of the creative department only. Any account executive who didn’t know better than to pipe up with a headline was quickly schooled by his elders. The way we work now is far too fluid for rigid boundaries of responsibility, and I think most of us in the business of selling creative ideas will take a good one where we find it.

What’s useful about that ad agency tradition, to my mind, is a respect for the hard work of generating ideas. Before the brilliant idea that comes in a flash, there are generally many, many bad ideas. Before any of those bad ideas, comes a period of immersion in the subject matter. Even before those particular bad ideas, there are often years and years of experience trying to think up ideas for a living. There’s a certain way of thinking, of using the brain, that can be honed over a career in a creative business.

Which leads us back to the original meaning of the word brainstorming. According to CPS, it’s a process of 1. fact finding, 2. problem finding, 3. Idea finding, 4. solution finding and 5. acceptance finding. So maybe I’m fine with the word brainstorming. I’m just not a fan of thinking that the entire process is easy.

Want a more creative approach to your internal communications? Tribe can help.