I awoke at 4AM today thinking about how differently I work now than two years ago, before coming to GS, and wanting to further explore what I've learned from working in a truly collaborative agency. It's a different kind of experience working here and a different kind of client experience as well. Sometimes it is a good way to break out of the so-called Comfort Zone. Once in a while, it can be a road to the place called Crazy Town. Almost always, it's a viable path to higher employee and client engagement.
Collaboration: a fancy word for working together.
Many agencies say they are collaborative, of course. It's one of those pervasive agency buzzwords. A quick Google search reveals agencies calling themselves "collaboratives," small agencies making a case for why they are better than large agencies because they are more collaborative and so on. In my personal experience, most agencies that say they are collaborative really aren't. Collaboration to them might mean presenting concepts to a client occasionally in pencil sketch form, in hopes of making the client feel like they were involved early. Really, though, there is not a whole lot of "working together" that happens along the way which is all that collaboration really means. There are exceptions, of course. In my experience, GS is among the legitimately exceptional agencies in this regard.
Learn to put things on the wall and see what sticks.
I thought it would be pretty challenging to adapt to more genuinely open, let's-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-do-this-together, let's-have-a-workshop-with-this-client kind of culture like GS. Other than the genuinely difficult transition of not having an office door for the first time in 25 years, though, it's been more refreshing and freeing than anything else. It takes you from a place where you feel like you have to attach to and defend every word of your carefully-crafted sacred documents to one where you get reasonably comfortable putting your stuff on the wall and seeing what continues to stick. (Random personal side note: had I worked at GS before going to photography school for a year, I probably would not have been utterly crushed by my first "critique.") You become less ego-driven. In a way, one could say it's a somewhat Buddhist way of working, if one was so inclined, as I am.
For example, recently we onboarded a new fitness client with a mission/vision/values workshop in what we call the "Think Tank," the large, comfortable interactive workspace on our second floor. We laughed. We (literally) cried. We filled many whiteboards. We got up and walked around and looked at competitive work on walls and talked about what the client likes and doesn't like. We followed up with a photography workshop led by the creative team to further identify what the client likes and doesn't like. By the time we presented a single brand identity design, we knew what the client would like, "in our skin." ("In our skin" seems to be a favorite expression here.)
It's not all sticky notes and sharpies, the collaboration equivalent of sunshine and roses.
Like all good things, collaboration isn't always easy. Sometimes, even when it's effective, it can get messy, a little frustrating for people, and chaotic. It's the nature of the process, sometimes. Then, in the end, order emerges from the chaos and it's even more gratifying and better because you did it together.
Occasionally collaboration can go too far. Once, there were several us in the Think Tank trying to group-write a few bullet points for a big presentation. That was sheer madness and I think we learned that lesson. Working together has its outer limits. It's good to push them and recognize when you're crossing the border into Crazy Town.
The benefits of collaborating are many.
The bottom line, for me, is I'm grateful for the experience of working here, this way. I think it would be hard to go back to a more closed-off, do-it-yourself agency culture now. I've gotten to used to sticking things on the walls. I feel much more engaged.
According to Gallup, less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. Engagement is defined as "those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace." That's a pretty sad state of affairs. Companies seeking to better engage their employees should experiment with different means of creating a more collaborative environment.
It's certainly more fun and engaging to work through a sticky problem with a smart group of teammates and a pack of sticky notes. It's much more engaging and interesting for our clients, too.
It absolutely has a positive impact on the end product, giving our clients more of a hand in the work and incorporating the smarts of more people. That whole "none of us is as good as all of us" cliche is pretty true.
So, in the end, I highly recommend taking a giant step out of Comfort Zone. Just remember to turn right at the Think Tank before you get all the way to Crazy Town.