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.

 

Stephen Burns

Get Out of Your Own Head: Evolving Ideas through Collaboration

Before you start reading this, watch this clip of Paul Simon on the Dick Cavett showCool, right? Now, think about how hard it is to share ideas with others. How often have you wanted to voice your opinion, but couldn’t collect your thoughts perfectly so you didn’t? Listen to how Simon completely, almost nonchalantly, surrenders his incomplete work, his sketched thoughts, to a national TV audience. That is bravery, you say.

But imagine if he hadn’t shared. Without his transparent process, we might never have gotten that brilliant key change into one of the most phenomenal bridges in songwriting history. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But there are some big lessons that you and your team can take from his boldness. Sharing your ideas with others shines a new light on them, and it can open up a world of possibilities.

Collaboration is imperative to finding answers that work for everyone. When you put an unfinished idea out into the room, you allow others to have input early on. You don’t quite have everything defined, so you can change and evolve the idea as it works with the group. Together, you can shape a solution that will work for everyone. You also get the benefit of alternate perspectives, and this can really only improve your original thoughts.

Stop Editing. Start Creating. As songwriter Darrell Brown so eloquently wrote, “The ego of perfectionism will cut you off from the very cup you long to drink from.” Editing should occur well after ideation takes place. Separate these two processes as much as possible. Editing in your head to get a thought “more complete” is one of the biggest detriments to your idea flow. You’re stunting your own creative growth, firing down your own ideas, and undermining your methods.

Don’t let yourself get stuck. If you start to think you have a mental block, you’ll begin believe it’s there, and it will manifest itself in a matter of seconds. In writing workshops, instructors always tell you, “There is no such thing as writer’s block.” So, if you can’t think of anything, just starting moving your pen. Try an collaboration exercise to clear the cobwebs. Bukowski said it best when he said, “Even writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

Give yourself time. Don’t come to a brainstorm cold. The longer you start thinking about a concept, the more you can bring to the table when the time comes to meet with your team. This allows your Eureka moments to happen, and it lets you develop ideas on your own to feel more comfortable speaking up with your team.

Need a hand building up your collaborative culture? Give Tribe a call. We’d love to 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.

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.

Jeff Smith

TRIBE TRIVIA: Technology and Collaboration

Concept of consulting services, project management, time management, marketing research, strategic planning.

Q: True or False: Technology completely replaces the need for face-to-face contact in collaboration.

A: False, for 92 percent of the employees in Tribe’s national research on collaboration and silos. The remaining 8 percent believe interacting in person is “not neccesary at all.” Interview results indicated that most employees feel meeting in person at least once eases collaboration via technology afterwards.

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or contact Steve Baskin, President and Chief of Strategy at Tribe. 

 

Jeff Smith

Graphic Design: Why Slack Became the Messaging App of Choice For Employees

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 3.56.52 PM

Tribe has been a believer in Slack for a while now. Last year, we were looking for a better way to communicate in our office. We heard some great things about a few apps, but Slack stood out for one big reason. Employees around the world were adopting it independently and using it for work voluntarily. That type of phenomenon warrants investigation, so we tried it, and immediately, we understood the hype.

Today, Slack is being used by thousands of teams, from Al Jazeera to NASA’s Mars Rover team. The messaging app has caught on like wildfire. Why? It’s no real secret, but the answer might still surprise you: good design. It’s something that a lot of people take for granted, but it can make or break an application like this. It can be hard to distinguish yourself with features alone. Anyone can have video capability, @mentions, cloud storage, etc. But when you make all of those features easy to find, easy to use and fun to incorporate into a work routine, that’s when you really have something special.

 The intuitive, yet unexpected graphic design of the program is what helps Slack easily adapt to your daily work. According to Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of MetaLab, the company that did the design work for Slack, they initially weren’t necessarily aiming for anything in particular with the design.

 “Figuring out why something is successful in retrospect is like trying to describe the taste of water. It’s hard,” he says. “We aren’t big on process. We prefer to just put our heads down and design stuff, iterating over and over again until something feels right. Slack was no different —there wasn’t any magic process we used”

But MetaLab was using another messaging app, and they saw opportunities to improve existing apps simply through better graphic design. Where the old app would have grey borders, black type and blue links, they gave Slack a “confetti cannon” color scheme. Where the old apps had a loading screen, they put funny, inspirational quotes. In short, their design gave Slack a personality, and in so doing, they didn’t just give employees another messaging app – they gave them an ally.

 The lesson? Good design gets things done. This is battle that people in creative fields fight every day. Companies can’t seem to justify a budget for design because it’s just “making things look nicer” or adding color or a logo, but as we can see clearly here, design has made all the difference in Slack’s success. There isn’t some unattainable formula. It’s the hard work of talented individuals who find real solutions through good design. They understand the trials and tribulations of the workplace because they’ve been there, and their education and background allows them to approach the problem in a different way.

Could your workplace communications use a graphic design overhaul? Give Tribe a call. We know the value of good design, and we’d love to help.

Stephen Burns

Making BYOD work for your company

Bring your own device (BYOD) is a trend that has been building in the internal comms world for a while now. And why not? Just about everybody on the planet has a smartphone or other smart device. There are a multitude of great apps that can give your company a great channel for employees to connect and collaborate. Best of all, the apps are intuitive, and employees are becoming increasingly familiar with the interfaces, so training and other related expenses are at a minimum. Is your company taking advantage?

It might be time to do a sort of audit on your internal communication channels. In Tribe’s research, we’ve found that a lot of employees are already on board the BYOD train. It’s very likely that there are large groups in your company using one of the aforementioned apps to great effect. Surveying employees can help identify these trends that are already happening in your company, so that you can build on them and help officially promote them companywide.

Still worried about your company’s security? It could be time to stop. These apps and the information “clouds” that make them tick are becoming more and more secure. While it is important to keep a tight lid on trade secrets, personnel and customer information, you don’t need to sacrifice what could be a beneficial communication tool. You can maintain a secure, onsite channel to communicate about those topics, and reserve the mobile channel for day-to-day tasks and collaboration.

With all the options out there, it can still be a challenge to find the right way to connect your employees and their devices.  Start by having a conversation with your people. Find out what your employees want and what your company needs. And if you need someone to navigate the waters of BYOD, give Tribe a call. We’d love to help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How to promote collaboration for employees working from home

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAX_AAAAJDYzODQwYWRjLWRlZGEtNDY3ZC04OWVkLTk0ZWQxNzVhY2RkNwPromoting a culture of collaboration is hard enough when employees are all in the same place. Even companies with only one location can be so siloed that people in the same building but different functional areas resist collaborating.

So how do you get employees working from home to collaborate with others? That starts with laying some groundwork that will be the foundation of future collaboration.

Employees are more likely to collaborate with people they know. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents told us they feel much more comfortable sharing ideas when they already have a relationship with their collaborative partners.

Home-based employees don’t get the opportunity to bump into people in the hallway. While office-based employees may exchange a few words in the elevator, the break room or the cafeteria, home-based folks probably see the UPS guy more than their co-workers.

Building human connections happens one conversation at a time. But even just having a face to attach to a name seems to help. In our research, employees said they’re better able to collaborate by phone and email with colleagues in other locations when they’ve met them in person at least once.

It’s important to provide home-based employees with opportunities to brush shoulders with their office-based colleagues. For major projects, try to have them attend some meetings in person, even if that means travel. If there’s an annual managers’ meeting or sales conference, they can build the beginnings of relationships there, especially during the non-meeting portions of the meeting where people have an opportunity to interact socially.

Another brick in the foundation for collaboration is to help home-based employees not feel invisible. Being the only voice on the Polycom phone in the center of the conference room table is tough when all the other meeting participants can see each other. Promote a meeting culture that’s consciously inclusive of remote callers and gives them a chance to weigh in on the conversation.

If there are company events they don’t customarily attend because of travel, don’t forget your home-based employees exist. When Tribe helped plan a global employee event that occurred on the same day in 28 offices around the world, we sent the small minority of home-based employees an event in a box. They received a package (no doubt delivered by their buddy the UPS guy) that included the same T-shirt everyone else received at the event, plus the themed collateral, printed buttons, a noisemaker and even a cookie.

Those sorts of tactics may not seem directly tied to promoting collaboration. They may even feel a little fluffy. But you can’t just tell people “Okay, now collaborate.” First, you have to help them feel comfortable doing so. Not so ironically, there’s a clear business benefit to treating all those office-based employees with common courtesy and kindness.

Interested in building engagement and collaboration in your work force? Tribe can help.