Are You on the Team?

I remember a kindergarten teacher telling me when I was the tender age of four, “Peter, your ability to play with others is more important than your God-given talent to color within the lines and translate Homer at such a young age.” (Or something like that.)

It doesn’t change when you get older. At Boston University, a wise professor told us, “Companies are looking for team players almost more than creative superstars.”

Working at Whitlock ebs has been a great experience, because for the first time, I’m not working at an agency or on the client side in a traditional advertising environment. I go on client pitches and sales meetings with Oracle specialists, wireless application developers, server-side experts, and Java scripters.

One thing this close brush with technology has taught me is that there are some very smart people floating around companies who know stuff I’ll never fully understand.

How do you blend technology geeks and creative people into a harmonious team? Here are a few ideas:

  • Who’s driving this train? Get someone who understands both sides to be the project manager. Having a creative project manager or an Oracle-type manager means you might have someone running the show who has no idea how to work with the other side. Train your project managers to understand both sides.

  • Learn, learn, learn. I must admit, the thought of network services, application development, and back-end functionality (get your mind out of the gutter) didn’t thrill me. But once I started attending meetings and asking a lot of dumb questions, the pieces began to fall into place. Most of the time, these technical superstars are happy to share their knowledge.
  • Think like a client. If you ask the technology people a lot of dumb questions, you’ll be giving them great training for talking with clients. If you’re working with the marketing director at a client site, there’s a low likelihood that he or she will have any idea what the hell the techies are talking about. But since you’ve already worked with the technical folks to teach them to speak English, they’ll have a better chance to communicate effectively with the clients.
  • Become a team from the start. If you’re thrown together with people from different departments, do something to break the ice. On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I went through the halls shouting “mandatory lunch at Wings!” I gathered 18 people from all departments, and we headed out for lunch. Most of us hadn’t worked together, let alone eaten together. Due to some painfully slow service, we had a chance to talk to each other in a way that wouldn’t have happened unless we were offsite. You don’t have to go to the extravagance of a bucket of chicken wings, but a quick outing or brainstorming session will do wonders for camaraderie when you do start working together.
  • Brown-bag it. Do you work in a company with a lot of departments? Sales, marketing, manufacturing, technical, and administrative staff have a lot of company-related and specialized information to share. How about setting up a brown-bag lunch every other Monday? Ask the department heads to speak (or ask them to send representatives). Meet in the big conference room, or even under a big tree out back. Have them give an overview of what they do, then tell some anecdotes about some of your current customers, then leave time for Q&A. Once you understand what other departments go through, you’ll have more of an understanding of their timelines and their “pain issues.”

    The more information everyone in your company has about the other departments, the better. First, you’ll get smarter. Second, when you need information for a client, you’ll know who to call.

  • Break ’em up! Some teams work great from the start, and some combinations can be deadly. Don’t force people to work together if there is an irreparable problem. You don’t need to turn into Dear Abby or Miss Manners if two people just don’t click. Rearrange team members if something isn’t working.
  • Get feedback. Companies do a great job of telling employees when something goes horribly wrong. How about when something goes tremendously right? Celebrate each victory in a public way. Let everyone in the company know that team of Tinkers, Evers, and Chance just landed a huge deal because they worked hard and understood the customer, making your company proud.

Let me know what else goes into an effective team. Email me at I’m late for an Oracle server-side meeting. Really.

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