If it wasn’t so hackneyed, the best expression to describe collaboration might be: “No pain, no gain.”

Collaboration is the process by which innovation happens. But first you have to get people to cooperate with the process.

They have to be willing to have their ideas truncated, stretched and twisted, and then embrace the reality of constant change.

Or so said project managers, data experts and collaboration specialists at Collabosphere, the “ultimate collaboration conference.” Now in its fifth year, it runs through tomorrow in Austin, Texas.

Central Desktop, a collaboration Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendor that focuses on creative agencies, sponsors the event.

Innovation: Everyone’s Responsibility

Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work and The Collaborative Organization, spoke on the need for an organization-wide innovation ecosystem incorporating employees and customers.

Innovation, he said, is no longer the domain of a few elite people in the company. Rather it’s the responsibility of everyone engaged in making and distributing products and services.

Jacob Morgan

Some enterprises, like the Coca-Cola Co. and P&G, have even made crowdsourcing ideas and input from customers a key element of their research and development strategies.

But people working together, powerful as it may be, isn’t always easy.

In an interview after the presentation, Morgan named some of the hurdles organizations have to overcome to succeed at collaboration: The obstacles include putting technology before strategy, lack of buy-in by the C-suite and controls and protocols that kill momentum and block creativity.

Brace for Change

project management panelistsA panel of project managers discussing collaboration at the front lines stressed the imperative of constantly tweaking the process to make collaboration smoother, especially among creative teams.

The panelists — Melissa Gordon and Shannon Leighton, an account executive and VP, Director of Creative Operations at Leopard, a B2B marketing consultancy; Wendy Niebank, Vice President of Global Services Project Management at PGi, event and communications agency; and Nada Saidi Smith, Vice President of Account Operations at Y&R Austin — noted how clients want to change directions, no matter how well laid out a project may be at the onset.

They might throw in something extra at the last minute in or shift from a concern about speed to a concern about cost.

As a result, project managers are constantly trying to keep creatives, account managers and others motivated and suffering as little frustration as possible.

Collaboration Tools Help

The technology, they said, helps a lot.

Instead of having to backtrack through emails looking for information, everything is available in one place. This makes it easy to onboard new participants in the project, get signoffs and track progress and objectives, they concurred.

On occasion, the project managers said, they experience the lack of leadership buy-in that Morgan mentioned.

“Having buy in from the top is crucial,” Gordon said. “If the creative director is like ‘I’m going to go around this and get my own resources,’ it won’t work. The technology needs a champion in each department who is on board and will help facilitate the adoption.”

Getting clients to join can also be difficult since they often have their own collaboration software. But it’s crucial to successful collaboration.

It’s especially helpful, Niebank said, when the client’s first language is something other than English. There might be miscommunication during conference calls, but when the client has the entire project available it ensures clarity of purpose because they can read the information off line.

Another vital aspect of the collaboration software, Leighton said, is it helps conduct accurate post mortems when a project is completed — allowing everyone to see the source of mistakes or problems that need to be remedied.

CX Is About the Brand

Later in the afternoon, Forrester Research analyst Sheryl Pattek reinforced the idea that the technology, the process and the strategy have to be in sync — with the strategy coming first.

And the strategy has to be customer obsessed. In her talk, “Marketing in the Age of the Customer” Pattek said customers value relationship far more than they did in the past.

This includes the relationship customers have with their friends and advisors, which is far more influential in making a purchase decision than advertising.

Consequently brands have to have marketing experiences that not only touch the customer but also the customer’s advisors and friends.

The customer experience, she said, is the brand. What that means for companies is that everything, from the initial internet search — which launches most purchases — through education about the product to actual sale and then follow up must be one, integrated, holistic experience from the customer’s perspective.

That requires a lot more collaboration within the organization selling the good or service.

“Marketing demands a new model of integrated engagement,” Pattek said. “Work has to be done collaboratively, distributed across different teams.”

But that means a real shift in the way organizations think. “You have to adjust your mindset to one of collaboration,” he added.

Among the key tactics to doing that are:

  • Build in flexible work teams
  • Streamline interconnected processes
  • Ruthlessly prioritize the work that must be done
  • Think beyond digital execution
  • Create a customer-first innovative culture
  • Enable with technology

“You need customer-centered integrated processes and end-to-end metrics,” Pattek said.

And the technology needs to be an integral part of the new strategy so that it opens up the possibilities for what organizations can do.

“When companies adopt technology they do new things in old ways,” she said. “When companies internalize technology, they find disruptive new things to do.”

Title image by Masha Danilova.