How to combat an agency’s top four collaboration killers

scream-killer

We’ve all been to the eternal meeting with the dull presentation. These four tips can keep those disruptions from killing agencies’ collaborative vibes.

Innovative companies rely on its employees to collaborate to edge out a competitor, crack a problem or simply, stay alive. However, it’s shocking how the most innocuous and well-meaning practices can undermine best efforts and at worst, crush valuable employees.

Despite this, somehow people continue to put up with them. Excuses become the toxic crutches that destroy lean muscle and turn them to fat.

Here are four things to recognize, and ways to put an end to them:

1. Poor presentations

We’ve all suffered these. The slides don’t stop, the text is small and the bullets go on for days – and not one sticks. The presenter offers nothing but narration.

Instead: Ask for materials to be distributed in advance and turn the presentation “meeting” into a working session to solve the problem, brainstorm solutions, or do the work. Amazon has perfected this and by any standard of measure, they’re doing fine.

2. Unclear meetings

There’s a joke that goes, “It takes dozens of approvals to buy a $99 piece of software but it’s trivial to burn $2,400 by calling a meeting with a dozen folks who should be doing work and billing the client $200 an hour.” It’s an expensive joke, and not really that funny.

We’ve all been through this, too: 60 minutes (30 if you’re lucky; 90 to 120 if you’re not) of sitting in a room discussing stuff in circles or having someone go line-by-line through a spreadsheet on a screen. Again, it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Instead: Ask for details when receiving a meeting request. If the organizer can’t provide them, feel free to decline the meeting. Trust me, you won’t be missing much.

Finally, when you’re in the actual meeting, always ask for next steps before leaving and make sure that they are clearly assigned with dates. This way, even if notes aren’t disseminated in a timely fashion (shame on you, meeting organizer!) everyone knows what to do.

3. Collaborating via email

This one is particularly egregious in how insidious and destructive it can be. If it’s not the unending stream of “Thank you” reply-alls, it’s the “Sorry, forgot the attachment” email.

Email is simply the worst collaboration tool. Someone gets left off the chain and is added after much discussion, only to be left off again because someone replied to an older message.

Worse, contradicting responses to a document get back to the sender leaving them to figure out which one to keep and which one to not. There’s also the attention fragmentation. A ping here, a ding there, next thing you know you’re triaging your mailbox just to stay afloat as opposed to doing work.

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Instead: Try and collaborate in person, even if it’s virtual, whenever possible. Get people together and hammer things out. Use any number of the newer tools – Slack, HipChat, a Wiki – to have discussions that allow people to participate based on their own preference. No inboxes get hurt.

Even better, try to hold office hours and separate them from working hours. Make it clear to your coworkers when you’ll be available to discuss things and when you won’t.

4. Information droughts

This is a tactic that can be caustic to not only the project, but also to team morale. It creates a hierarchy of those who know and those who don’t. Information and knowledge becomes a privilege doled out as opposed to a free-flowing resource that empowers anyone who wants to contribute.

I’ve heard the “good intentions” argument where someone simply wants people to focus on what they’re doing and not worry about what’s not relevant. Fair. However, it makes one person the arbiter of what gets shared.

Unless they are all-knowing and an exceptional leader, they are rarely the best judge of who needs (and doesn’t need) what. Worse, when left unchecked, this will quickly kill collaboration and turn everything into a game of control and politics.

Instead: Create a culture where people have free access to information. Of course, sometimes there’s confidential stuff, but let the team know when and why they don’t have access to it. Be transparent about your selective opacity.

In addition, most newer collaboration tools – Slack, again, Basecamp, Confluence – allow for this where documents and data are indexed and searchable by those on the project team with fine-tuned access controls when needed.

A smart person once told me, “Not one of us is as smart as all of us.” Today’s challenges require people to work together like never before. You owe it not only to yourself, but also to the North Star of your project or company to find ways to unlock the full potential of your colleagues by working together, and, yes, collaborating.

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