As an agency leader, you have a lot on your plate. You need to win new business while simultaneously keeping current clients happy. You juggle budgets and probably need to do a lot more with a lot less. You need to scale your business, deal with a million-and-one day-to-day management tasks, keep employees engaged and recruit the best and brightest new staff. If you had to pick one problem to focus on, it probably wouldn’t be finding better ways to communicate and work with your team.
But this could be where you’re going wrong.
Better collaboration breeds a better company culture. Things get done quicker, with fewer silos and roadblocks. This means you’re more productive and more cost effective. Collaboration also fosters innovation, so your current clients get better service and you develop a reputation for pushing boundaries, thinking outside the box and developing successful solutions. That makes winning new business and getting new talent on board much easier.
When asked by Docurated what the biggest mistake ad agencies make was, Michael Mestafer, CEO and founder of digital agency Roger West, identified building a team as the key problem, noting, “You are only as good as your people.” If you aren’t collaborating with your team, you aren’t harnessing their talents.
Effective communication and collaboration is especially important if all or part of your team works remotely. Making the team feel like a team when they’re in different parts of the country (or even the world) can be challenging.
For digital agency professionals, communication is ‘bread-and-butter’ stuff, so implementing a great internal communications program and establishing better collaboration between departments, team leaders and team members should be easy, right? Sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Here are five tips you can use to encourage better collaboration today. Start implementing some of these and see how they help in the other areas that keep you awake at night.
1. Get the right tech in place
In a digital environment, where your talent may be scattered across locations and time zones, getting the right tech in place to aid collaboration is critical. Communication is your foundation and ensures that idea-sharing can take place.
There are a variety of team collaboration tools available to digital marketers, consultants and freelancers. The right tool depends on your team’s size, culture, how it works and what the rest of your tech infrastructure looks like.
When you think about collaboration tools, Slack is probably one of the first to come to mind. With powerful messaging, thousands of apps and easy search, this tool is designed to help teams of any size communicate quickly and collaborate effectively. Trello, Basecamp and Teamwork are project management tools that help you keep track of everything from the big picture to the smallest details. Need more? G2crowd rounded out the top 21 best free collaboration team tools.
2. Have a clear goal
We’ve all been in meetings that felt like they dragged on for hours and resolved nothing. Don’t let your efforts at collaboration miss the mark, too.
Steffan Surdeck from Pyxis Cultures shared his five easy ways to effectively collaborate with Forbes. His number one tip? Have a clear goal. He says, “To begin collaborating on something, you need a shared understanding of what you are trying to do. Without a clear and common goal, it’s difficult to do anything as a team. The goal can be as simple as a statement everyone agrees on. You may find it more useful to have a list of three or four bulleted objectives as well.”
You must identify the goal of each project you’re managing as a team, as that way everyone is more invested in the outcome.
3. Recognize that conflicting opinions will emerge
Conflicting opinions are simply a part of team collaboration, but this conflict can be a wellspring of passionate ideas. Having a process in place to deal with conflict and having a space where everyone can participate and brainstorm ideas – regardless of how popular they are – is essential.
Figure out how you’re going to handle conflicting opinions. Will it go to a team vote? Will others be invited to weigh in? Will you perform a SWOT analysis? Should further discussion be encouraged? Having this structure in place before conflicts occur will keep your collaboration constructive and team members engaged in the process.
4. Share before you’re ready
If your business wants to scale, by winning big new clients or taking a big step up, knowing when to collaborate is just as important as knowing how. Founder of tech community Verge and current CEO of PowderKeg, Matt Hunckler says sharing before you may feel ready is especially critical for small teams.
Sharing his expertise with Forbes, Matt says, “Because every move matters for a small team, it can be a significant setback if someone spends too much time working on something that’s ultimately unnecessary. That’s why employees need to share new project ideas with their teammates early in the process, even before they’ve perfected their idea.”
While it might seem counterproductive to have everyone bring up ideas and opinions on a project or a client campaign while it’s still in its infancy, this is the point at which collaboration can actually be most helpful. These early discussions can help steer a project to success with group wisdom and guidance before it goes too far down an incorrect path.
5. Have a plan for remote collaboration
We’re all busy and many team members work remotely or travel frequently, so it can be difficult to get everyone together to collaborate. Most people enjoy the freedom and flexibility that remote working offers. According to Upwork’s 2016 Freelancing in American report, 55 million Americans – that’s 35% of the entire workforce – are now freelance. The primary motivator for choosing to freelance rather than have a traditional job is the freedom, including the flexibility to work from any location. The upshot of this on-demand workforce means you might be a freelancer or your agency will probably have at least one freelancer on your team. However, with this comes an inherent collaboration problem, especially if some of your team members are outside of the office environment and work away from their colleagues.
According to research by the collaboration tool Huddle, enterprise mobility can actually hinder collaboration. It found that although 93% of respondents used a mobile device in their daily working lives, the majority (73%) only use that device for basic work email, leading to broken promises when it comes to collaboration. In fact, its research concludes:
“When working remotely a significant number of respondents suggested that their ability to perform certain collaborative activities was significantly hampered or stopped altogether. 21% felt completely unable to access company documents, 25% were unable to share documents and 10% were unable to approve documents. In each of these scenarios, only 37%, 29% and 31% (respectively) felt no negative impact to their productivity.”
What does this mean? You need to have a plan that fosters and nurtures remote collaboration, and ensures your team is using the right tools on the right devices. This will ensure you choose a suitable technology to empower your collaboration, but remember: you still need to outline clear expectations, participation requirements, and time frames.
We’d love to hear what you think
What tips do you have for encouraging better collaboration? How has your agency changed since improving collaboration? What obstacles have you faced? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.