Creative Collaboration


Another sundown flight, another entry. This post is a continuation of a few threads. Over the last couple months I’ve written about brothers in arms, creativity, and making your own destiny. These posts have dealt with a couple close co-workers, some recent creative influences, and my attempts at making some positive changes in my job. This week, I got the chance to go to Boulder, CO and work with my boss and team plus got some creative input. Our small group had felt the need to create an offering and deliver a vision to our customers. This involved recognizing who our targets are, what the offering would be in order to meet our goals, and a go-to-market strategy which involves influencing some internal entities who we will be helping. I catalyzed an overview and reviewed it with the team and management which got us the green light we needed.

Sunset over Denver Airport
Sunset over Denver Airport

A lot of this is new to us because our team is focused on sales and our focus hasn’t been on going from conception to delivery with an offering. Most of our 5-person group had worked together in some capacity before but never all together and never in this creative context. When we gathered at the office, we started discussing what our goals were and laying some groundwork. Shortly thereafter, John Kembel (who I wrote about in the creativity blog referenced above) came in and checked in on us. John has a creative and entrepreneurial background and has a different perspective than the different personalities on the team.

The very process of explaining what we were up to brought up some core factors which were extremely important. The very first factor was that although the concepts in my original ideation were solid overall, our goal needed to change. We identified what the offering needed to be but our timeframe needed to shift and address a different need. That realization really shifted how we put together our concepts and gave us something solid to come back to and keep us on track. We also realized that we had two customers to serve and we needed to craft our vision around both of them. The first customer is, in fact, the company’s end customers. Those businesses we sell to who need to meet certain goals and who we want to understand how we can help them. We started by trying to look at ourselves through their eyes and decided what we want them to come away with. The second customer set are our sales reps. We need to help them understand how we are going to help them differentiate themselves to the end customer and why our team is the right group to get the job done.

We had several factors working together. There was the team’s dynamic, John’s influence, the different audiences we need to address, and the very details of what we are building. Buried in here is the need to recognize that none of us had individual ownership of the overall project. The very first thing that could have gone wrong was with me. I’d spent some time putting together the prototype at my own initiative and I really liked what I’d built. When I presented it to the team before we got together, they’d liked it. When I’d reviewed it with management, I’d gotten some feedback which was positive overall but had some strong opinions on changes. What I realized was that I needed to take a step back and look at it with the team because I was probably too close to and passionate about what I’d put together. Definitely too close for a first pass that I had built to evoke emotion.

Scott and Shetal weighing merits
Scott and Shetal weighing merits

There is certainly a time to get passionate and deliver a heartfelt message. It’s actually crucial to success in getting someone to believe your perspective. What makes no sense is asking for feedback and letting that same passion stand between the input and making valuable improvements. So what I had was a roller coaster of emotions and perspectives. The strong belief which helped drive the initial creativity, the feedback, the outside input and influence, then the team’s collaboration in taking the next step. It’s not easy. At all. But it is critically important. Taking too much ownership in a group process defeats the entire purpose and taking too much pride in your work can actually limit your ability to achieve more.

Our building process today involved defining distinct elements of our foundational goals which we filled in with content and definition in deeper and deeper stages. Each time we took that next step, we filled in the details as a team and I white-boarded the process while we debated the merits of each piece. I talked through each step of our message until we got to a transition point in our story then we would stop and make adjustments. The end storyboard had elements of the early prototype but was much richer while going farther towards meeting the needs of our two customer sets. This time, it wasn’t just my own passion in the end message that came through. Our result was much more on target and had the backing of the team. There was a definite vibe which came from individuals being willing to confidently share their own knowledge yet having the awareness of other perspectives and improvements.

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5 thoughts on “Creative Collaboration

  1. This makes me think of the African proverb, “If you want to quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” A lot of wisdom in that.

    Maybe you should have identified a 3rd type of customer, managment/leadership. Then you’d have 3 types of customers: 1) Actual customers to whom you sell, 2) internal stake holders who will be the engine if it happens, and 3) internal leadership who will decide if it will happen. A good project must address the needs of all three.

    This makes me think of a project that I’ve recently been brought in on. A monster project with many internal stakeholders on the design team–probably too many. I am supportive of the big picture goals but very critical of a bunch of the details. I provided the lead with extensive critical feedback (being a pain in the @ss). The lead responded with thanks, and considered some of my feedback but ignored much of it. I suspect she is ignoring some of the stuff she knows won’t fly with senior leadership, who have set an overly aggressive timeline for role-out.

    Then the lead tells me how valuable my feedback is. Really, she could just ignore me with all the senior people involved. She says she’ll set a meeting to discuss things with me in January.

    Part of me would like forget about it because the thing is pretty far down the track with a bunch of flaws. But, I think I can make a real contribution to something important for my organization that could be big.

    Guess I’ll stay engaged, at least until I see how the Jan meeting goes. I might get a bit more insight into the politics in that 1-on-1 meeting.

    Since this is cross-departmental, I’ve also gotta worry about the people above me on the chain of command understanding the contribution I made and valuing it.

    This is sorta of the view from the other side of a collaborative team.

  2. Thanks, Tenbroeck. That’s absolutely a consideration here too. I mentioned that I had reviewed the early concept with management and the actual origin of it was an idea I’d expressed. That’s what led us to this week. My boss was engaged this week and his boss – who I’d pitched the idea to – has already reached back out. We’re discussing things next week. The good news is that I’ve got buy-in. The better news is that the team is working towards the end goal and not just me.

    As you said, we’ll get farther than the quick start I did on my own.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing!

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