Updated: Mar 20
Ideas are fragile things - and so are people. If you want to get the best out of your teams and your clients in collaboration, there are some basic things you need to do to set the stage for the right environment.
Have you ever been in a team or client meeting that feels like running into a cement wall? Where you can't seem to get anywhere? Where every idea you try proposing is shot down in take-off before it can fly? Of course you have. And why is that? Usually it's because people aren't really listening to each other. That sounds simple enough. But how do you get around that wall standing in the way of better ideas? 1. Explain up-front that this is a collaboration, or an exercise in collaboration. Let everyone know from the start that we want to build off of ideas and not kill them in mid-stride. Tell everyone that they won't be allowed to say 'well, but" or "well, no". The expectation is for only "yes, and..." statements. Or, "I like what you're saying there, and...". 'Yes, and" shows a person is actually listening to what's being said and then building on it. It also endorses the last idea and encourages others to build on top of what's being said. Your brainstorms with teams or clients will go much more smoothly, and the end results will always be better. 2. Brainstorming during collaboration (or even delivery of draft products) isn't an opportunity to only look for faults and criticize. This is a go-to for a lot of people; the entirety of a concept or a draft product may be great, yet they look for the one small thing that's wrong with it. Don't let your teams do that; you might not have as much control over a client, but if you begin your relationship with point #1, it might push the automatic fault-finders and naysayers in a more positive direction. Little things can be fixed, but it's worth acknowledging the whole, if it's good and has merit. If it's all terrible you have a different problem. However, there are nice ways to acknowledge every contribution and nudge even bad ideas into a better direction. Brainstorming is all about building the best approach, idea, or strategy. To this end, every input can be valuable. In fact, the worst idea might end up sparking the best idea in the end, as it will force you to consider something completely different.
3. Acknowledge people and their input. I know a lot of agencies and companies don't do this, or do it as well as they could, but if your team has done or said brilliant or good things, it's important to acknowledge this with them in the room, or at least a follow up in a meeting or email. If your receptionist was responsible for a brilliant concept, give her credit. If your client thinks less of you for acknowledging someone outside of the delivery team, then that says a lot about them, and not all good. But who cares? Acknowledgement empowers people, and they will more naturally give you their best next time, no matter who it is.
4. Don't talk over one another. This is harder to do now with so many virtual meetings. You can try using the hands up function, though a lot of people ignore this anyway. A good way to reduce this is to either have someone be the lead moderator of the meeting, usually the organizer, or simply wait until the previous person has finished speaking completely. You'll always have someone waiting to leap into the conversation the second the last person stops talking (or even before). If you have someone always trying to dominate the conversation, a moderator is a good way to go as they can be sure to let everyone be heard on a subject. I know these seem like commonsense observations, and better collaborations do basically come down to professional politeness and a willingness to listen. Of these four, I think point number one is the most important. Collaborations within teams and with clients should always start from a "yes, and" perspective. It's the only way to give ideas room to breath and become something, or become something else, better than the first thought. Collaboration is about building together, not jockeying to be the smartest person in the room, or diminishing the ideas or work of others. Collaboration at its best is done in an environment of openness, sharing and positivity. Collaboration also accepts mistakes or marginal ideas along the road to strengthening ideas and building the confidence of everyone on team to share what's on their mind. Not everyone is bold or outspoken. Creating the right environment for collaboration gives everyone an opportunity to share an idea or an opinion, which will make all eventual outcomes better for everyone.