The word collaboration is universally understood as a positive characteristic. If you are labelled collaborative you are a good team member open to input; you share insights and results and can work effectively with others to achieve better results with more satisfaction and less group or team pain. It’s a big concept and too big a word for kindergarteners but that is what teachers were attempting to instill when they urged us to play nice in the sandbox. Even today, maybe especially today, that goal is critical for digital marketing success.
It’s not easy. Effective digital marketing requires collaboration across teams, companies, systems, and data that may involve strangers, partners or even competitors in some instances. There may be duplications or fuzziness in roles and technical or other incompatibilities to sort out and doing so requires both individual and company commitment. There are vast hurdles to overcome for collaboration to work as it requires buy-in and on-going participation from all the parties involved and there is both investment and risk in the process. Sadly, team members often undermine efforts to collaborate by withholding data or other critical insights, attempting to usurp decisions that should be shared, pushing an agenda or looking for opportunities to lay blame.
Collaborative structures and mindsets are best able to adapt to and thrive in the dynamic digital environment because no individual can possibly know everything and no single entity can possibly provide best results across the broad range of digital specializations and business interests. Where would digital specialists be without the insights available from the brand team or researchers, or the data specialists or media providers, or a hundred other parties that are critical players in a successful digital strategy? Relying on team mates or partners for the upkeep, knowledge base and experience needed in select and sometimes obscure fields makes tremendous sense in areas that move so darn fast.
Effective collaboration is born of trust and respect and requires both common goals as well as supreme confidence in your own abilities. But in order to work, that collaborative framework and approach must be pervasively and persistently supported across the individual, team, department and company levels. Just one person, department or partner that refuses to play nice can dislodge the trust needed for others to reciprocate the desired behaviors starting an unproductive spiraling of non-collaborative behaviors. It is a precarious balance to maintain and so requires constant diligence along the critical dimensions of trust and respect within your organization and your partnerships. These important attributes are difficult to define at the organizational level with a typical set of KPIs which makes the commitment that much harder to establish, track and reward.
Internal or external trust isn’t a given, especially in new working relationships. Trust requires a framework that clearly outlines responsibilities and expectations but allows some flex to respond to change as it inevitably occurs. That framework has to be seeded with a common understanding of goals and supported with demonstrations of proficiency. How can your partners trust you if you keep missing deadlines or delivering subpar work that their own work hinges on?
Trust markers within a strong organization might include transparency in the reporting of broader results, an emphasis on sharing info for iterative learning or optimization, openness to new ideas, flat and fluid reporting structures, cross departmental planning and teams, and other inclusive and consensus building behaviors.
Working groups do best when they respect established boundaries and let others do their jobs unimpeded. Respect can be shown in numerous ways including adherence to deadlines, in giving team members a voice and a safe place to disagree, in assuming best intentions, in deferring where appropriate to superior experience or knowledge, and actively seeking guidance and ideas from others. Reputation can go a long way to respect in new relationships so carefully build and guard your reputation as a solid, dependable organization that knows how to play nice.
You can’t have real trust without respect, or real respect without trust and you can’t have good collaboration without both. That’s a lot to ask of individuals and teams new to each other and possibly thrown together in a temporary situation. It’s also a lot to ask of teams that work together every day and get to know each other’s hot buttons and weak points because let’s face it – we all have them and the passionate, committed personalities attracted to this field can be a force of nature.
Simply mandating collaboration won’t magically deliver it but you can actively support the core values that underpin collaboration and create the culture, processes and structures that allow it to thrive. It’s worth the effort as good collaboration will bring better business results, better staff morale and strengthen an organization’s ability to compete in this ever changing environment. Share the info, the decision making, the ideas and the spotlight with your team mates and partners and you will make your teachers proud and your organization strong.
What challenges have you encountered creating a collaborative environment in your organization and with your partners?