Savage counsel – the importance of collaboration

Chris SavageEach week in Encore, STW’s Chris Savage answers your agency and career questions. This week he talks about the importance of collaboration.

Hi Chris,

Our major client is becoming fickle, pitching out almost every piece of work. Increasingly they are hiring several specialist agencies to execute the brief and insisting we collaborate. I don’t like it. Working with other competing businesses is uncomfortable. They often take the credit, steal ideas, erode budget (though I guess we do that to them too). Is there a way around having to work with these other businesses? How do I persuade my client to have us do the whole project like we did in the good old days?

Time to grow up and get real about business today. My answer to your question lies in this very simple story. Read it, and learn.

It can take intrepid game watchers years of effort to see ‘the big five’ in the African bush – a buffalo, lion, rhino, elephant and leopard. Yet, I saw all five in the first three hours when I went looking a few months ago. How could this be? Here’s how. Our nine seater open air truck was driven by a chap named Ranger Piet, with his colleague Tracker Nelson sitting up front. We left the lodge a couple of hours after having arrived in the bush from Johannesburg. Excitement levels were high. Yet we never expected to see all of the big five within three hours of starting out, given the game reserve was the size of Wales.

But it happened. And it happened because Ranger Piet did one thing that epitomises the most critical skill needed to survive and thrive in business today. It’s all about delivering outstanding results to your customers. Piet knew this. So he adopted one habit. Quite simply, Piet is a master at collaboration.

That’s it. Piet thrives through collaboration. As do the other 15 or so rangers in that section of the game reserve. They communicate constantly with each other. Even though they work for different, competing lodges, they know they must work together and share to ensure their clients have the most powerful experiences possible.

So when Piet and Nelson took us to three lions resting under a tree, they were immediately on the walkie talkie briefing all other rangers with those close by, then agreeing a ‘schedule’ of who would bring their guests and when to view this wonderful sight. In turn, Piet would be told about some rhino five miles away, or an elephant, and so the exchange continued.

The end result was delighted customers who had a once in a lifetime experience. It’s the way of the world today. No single organization or executive can have all the answers or skills to deliver to clients in such a fast-changing scene when we need to mesh creativity and channels with new technology and fast-morphing consumers. We have to learn to collaborate with competitors, pirates, nutters and positive deviants and with whomever can deliver the outcome our clients need.

At STW Group, David Trewern, our chief digital officer, calls this the ‘emergence of T-shaped executives’. On one level they are highly skilled at what they do and bring, on the other level they have to be able to collaborate.

They used to talk about ‘change or die’. I think we all get that message now and what it is really about. If you want the very best roles and greatest challenges and opportunities, it is ‘collaborate or die’.

Chris Savage is the chief operating officer of STW Group. His blog, Wrestling Possums with Chris Savage, can be found at chrisjohnsavage.com
 
Issue 23This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.

Comments


  1. Dictatorship has its benefits
    25 Jul 13
    11:51 am

  2. But in the example you give, there was still only one driver of the vehicle – Piet.

  3. AgencyMan
    29 Jul 13
    3:33 pm

  4. ‘Dictatorship has its benefits’ is, probably deliberately, missing the point. In Chris’s story, the overall quality of the experience for the client was delivered by a number of competitive players working together. Piet was a very important part of the experience and delivered on some of the critical components – but he couldn’t have delivered the whole thing by himself.

    People just need to accept that inter-agency collaboration is necessary and relax their egos. Strong collaboration also requires great culture building – inter-agency, intra-agency and client-agency. Building collaborative culture in this respect is one of the single most important functions of senior agency team leads/MDs right now. It can’t be done without straight talking at senior level between client and agencies, and agreement on a combined vision/behavioural direction for the various teams involved.

    Shame that this happens relatively rarely. It’s why things are, as the original author notes, generally ‘uncomfortable’, which inhibits performance, process. confidence and dialogue – four keystones necessary to deliver great output to clients.