Thought Leadership: Building A Culture Of Collaboration

nFusion's Collaboration Pyramid
Collaboration Pyramid

For organizations engaging customers through multiple touch points online and offline, there is no more important aspect to ensure seamless experiences than collaboration. Teams must learn how to break out of their silos and work together to engage their digitally enabled, socially connected customers.

At nFusion we’ve developed a model that provides guidance for building collaboration in order to achieve marketing objectives. While you can’t just say “work well together” and assume it will happen, this model offers insight on how teams can forge relationships built on trust and collaboration.

Having a highly aligned team that works well together is not a “nice to have” in today’s business world, it’s the critical foundation for achieving superior results. This insight was a highlight of a research report published by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) on the value clients expect agencies to add to their businesses. Of the most important items rated by clients, the one with the biggest gap between expectations and reality was “ensuring that agency disciplines and functions are integrated and that agency teams and divisions collaborate well on behalf of the client.”

Building a culture of collaboration is not easy. It certainly hasn’t been for the big agency holding companies. And it hasn’t been for many of the clients with whom we work. As an agency that focuses on the planning and execution of integrated seamless customer experiences across paid, owned and earned digital media, we could not leave collaboration to chance. Over the past several years, we have actively researched this subject and developed some approaches that may be useful to organizations that seek ways to improve collaboration across internal and agency teams

Trust

Our first insight was that real collaboration is made possible when relationships are based on trust. These relationships can be between team members in the same company or between two entities, such as client/agency or manufacturer/supplier. However, you cannot mandate trust. People earn it over time through positive interactions. So how can you manage your way into a culture of collaboration based on trust? This question led us to our second insight.

Because trust is built over time through positive interactions, we realized that managing the conditions that improve interaction would lead to improved collaboration. We identified five common obstacles that inhibit effective interaction.

See if any of these challenges sounds familiar.

1. Alignment of expectations. Are different parties working at cross-purposes because their primary goals (and incentives) are in conflict? Do two people butt heads because they lack clear understanding of their roles or because there is not a defined process for accomplishing key activities? Are team member values significantly different?

2. Role accountability. Are the people tasked with a certain role capable of performing the task? Do they have the skills needed? Do they have the time and resources to deliver as expected? Do they have the discipline to follow through on commitments?

3. Shared language and information. Does everyone share the same vocabulary? Does one word mean something different to different people? Are there terms or acronyms that people do not understand? Is everyone working with the same information or are they drawing different conclusions due to incomplete or biased data?

4. Interactions skills. Is everyone on the team an active listener? Can they express themselves clearly? Can they express disagreement in a professional manner?

5. Consistency of interactions. How often do individuals interact? Do they interact frequently or only when there is a problem? Are the exchanges appropriately honest, or does a third party get involved to facilitate communication?

Steps to Improved Collaboration

We built the Collaboration Pyramid as a tool to help us foster the culture we and our clients believe is essential to our success. The feedback from both our team and our clients indicates that we’ve taken many steps in the right direction.

Here are five things we do at nFusion for the five key areas that impact interaction.

1. Align expectations

  • Define proficiency for each role and team member
  • Provide insight into improvement needed to progress to the next level
  • Define measures of success for the agency in which all employees are rewarded for meeting or exceeding them
  • Define success and success metrics for all client engagements
  • Require an “excellence without arrogance” philosophy for all job candidates

2. Create role accountability

  • Provide comprehensive peer-to-peer feedback for all employees
  • Hold weekly discussions on resource levels and adjust teams as needed
  • Develop a new measure of client satisfaction to assure team accountability to clients

3. Share language and information

  • Hold a series of weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual information sharing sessions
  • Implement a regular education forum to build a common understanding of key marketing disciplines
  • Begin engagements with new client teams learning the client’s products, acronyms and business language

4. Improve interaction skills

  • Learn people’s interaction tendencies, based on the DISC system, and how to adjust interactions with individuals of different types
  • Provide tools on how to be an active listener and share with all employees
  • Coach those who can benefit from expressing themselves more productively

5. Create interaction consistency

  • Hold regular internal and client-facing forums to encourage candid discussion
  • Enact a series of cross-functional management discussion sessions

Many of these activities are common, and you probably use many of them. Having the discipline to diagnose your key challenges and systematically establishing root cause solutions is hard. But in the long run your organization will work much more effectively and will achieve better results. Hopefully nFusion’s Collaboration Pyramid can help set you on the path to success with your organization and agency partners.