How to choose an Agency with an Empowered Team Culture
20 April 2018 Matt Griffin
There is more to agency selection than comparing project proposals and costings.
For most of human history, executive hierarchy was a fact of life.
From the all-powerful pharaohs to the modern capitalist enterprise, the pattern has largely been the same.
Imbalances of power lead to an authority figure telling his or her ‘subordinates’, (and I hate that word) what to do. The authority’s word is law, and everyone else follows suit.
The problems our customers ask us to solve are certainly complex. Like most digital agencies, we started with a pretty firm executive hierarchy in place. In the early days, a top-down approach was simply the most efficient way to get things done.
But it didn’t take long for issues to pop up. Interdepartmental communication suffered, and our most valuable and creative employees weren’t getting their voices heard. We knew intuitively that something had to change.
While this method has produced results like pyramids, global wealth, and international law, it isn’t always the best way to get things done. The more complex a problem is, the better-suited a motivated, collective power is to solve it.
"By redefining processes, methods, and structures that did not reinforce the core power of our team’s collaborative capacity, we have been able to achieve total transparency while leveraging individual strengths for the collective good."
About a year ago, we replaced our hierarchy-based business framework for a more inclusive and empowering one, and the results have been astounding. Taking cues from successful systems like Agile software development and recent developments in Design Thinking, we implemented a new, collaboration-centric workflow model that guarantees a voice for every individual on a project.
This has profoundly changed the way many of our processes work. Old engagement models simply cannot adapt fast enough to the speed of information.
Having an authoritative few define projects as a series of complex problems for the many to solve produced a creative bottleneck that we’ve since worked out. By redefining processes, methods, and structures that did not reinforce the core power of our team’s collaborative capacity, we have been able to achieve total transparency while leveraging individual strengths for the collective good.
This is very much a 21st-century workflow model, and one that pioneers in communication continue to develop on every day. Collaboration has been proven to work for countless organisations including of course the poster children of collaboration, the likes of Wikipedia, Linux, Atlassian and Slack; all organisations that are built from or sell collaboration at their heart.
The Key Element to Collaboration is Trust
So far, this probably sounds like a positive, feel-good direction for any organisation to go in. But it isn’t easy. Opening up executive authority to question is sure to bring difficulties and conflicts to light. The key to turning this into a value-generating business strategy is trust.
Ants are the animal kingdom’s ultimate champions of teamwork. Not only do they successfully work together to achieve goals far beyond the capability of any individual, but they successfully leverage comparative advantage between separate co-existing species with conflicting interests.
For the Earth’s most successful insects, trust is not an issue – the fact that they have to work together to survive is incontestable, so every individual pulls its weight. Humans, on the other hand, tend to think of one another through distorted lenses of self-interest, conflict, disassociation, and alienation. We make it harder on ourselves than we have to because we’re afraid to trust one another.
Through the new lens that we now view our business, we have begun to place much greater faith in our team for their unique, individual traits and characteristics. When you look at personal values and culture to define what a person is capable of, you are able to focus on how people’s intrinsic nature may help achieve organisational goals. Once you have that, you owe it to them to start from a place of trust – there’s no need to “earn” it.
The most important message here is that the team empowerment approach works the same when hiring as it does for clients with agency selection.
Ultimately, everyone has a slightly different way of learning and of approaching complex problems. The trust and freedom we offer our team is a reflection of the trust and freedom that we get from our most enthusiastic clients. Understanding, accepting, and empowering the differences between people let us leverage the most successful approach.
If you’re ready to take a chance with an agency like ours, jump on-board. Sometimes the best plan to achieve great things is the simplest – sink or swim.