In a recent team meeting, our CEO, Catherine Downey, shared information about Mindset Theory. The mindset theory of learning is the work of renowned Stanford University behavioral psychologist, Carol Dweck. Dweck studied ways of thinking and learning. She proposed a continuum with the fixed mindset on one end, and the growth mindset on the other. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that his or her intelligence and talents are fixed traits that have been achieved, can be documented, and don't need to be further developed. An example of a fixed mindset is someone who’s stuck in their ways, with little interest in trying new things or listening to other opinions. In contrast, those with a growth mindset strive to build upon their natural born abilities through dedication and hard work. The growth mindset is characterized by a desire for learning and collaboration with others around them. We were asked to take this idea and contemplate how these mindsets might apply to our own work.
This reflection about mindset theory led me to think about how our individual mindsets, like the moving parts in a piece of machinery, affect the way our organization works. Since I was working on this article about collaboration, I was curious about learning more about our team’s perceptions of collaboration in our work at CATMEDIA and decided to seek feedback from several colleagues--in essence, collaborating about collaboration!
Benefits of Collaboration
There are many articles with tips and benefits of collaboration, easily available by doing a search on the Internet. Benefits include increased performance achieved by communicating better, sharing ideas, improving upon ideas, improved allocation of resources, and social learning. Based on the research of Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese, authors of The Collaboration Imperative (2011), the average return on collaboration was four times the initial investment made by organizations to encourage and facilitate collaboration.
Just like musical instruments collaborate in an orchestra to create beautiful pieces of music, the employees of an organization, with their various areas of expertise and experiences, collaborate to deliver quality goods and services to their clients.
I asked several CATMEDIA subject matter experts (SMEs) to give me their perspectives of collaboration as a tool to meet our clients’ goals. The feedback summarized below was received from Amy Ferzoco, Director of Creative Services; Gloria Pobst, Director of Marketing; Jonathan L’hommedieu, Director of Training; and Matthew Mitchell, Human Resource Generalist.
Frequency of Collaboration
Not surprising, given that we are a service organization, CATMEDIA SMEs indicated frequent collaboration both within and outside our firm. Jonathan explained, “Collaboration is a central component to effectively creating solutions to our clients problems.” Jonathan’s responsibilities require him to be in daily contact with various departments and with client organizations in order to ensure deadlines are met.
Of course, there are times when working as a team is essential, and there are times when an employee must concentrate on a task and tackle his or her responsibilities as an individual contributor. However, the requirements of a task almost always go beyond the capabilities of just one person. This is why collaboration on a daily or several times per week basis is a part of most successful organizations. Amy described regular collaboration in her position that includes reaching out to many departments:
The nature of my position is to be hands-on with all aspects of project management, so whether it’s working with the Sales group to determine the viability of an opportunity, contracting and finance to track all the back end details, or HR to help manage my people, I collaborate daily with other departments.
My colleagues agree that collaboration is a key tool since we rely on one another to build on each other’s skills as we apply creativity to solve client’s problems.
Increased Productivity from Collaboration
In a survey conducted by co-working magazine Deskmag, researchers found that “people who work as a team are more creative, productive, and confident,” and in fact 62% of survey participants said that their standard work improved significantly with collaboration. CATMEDIA’s employees agree with this research. Matthew described the benefits of collaboration in this way: “Collaboration has allowed me to understand and address the needs of each department. It allows a plan or course or action; increased productivity and creation of working relationships.” Amy shared her perspective of collaboration as not only a way to stay one step ahead, but also as an opportunity to learn from one another and become more enthusiastic about the hard work we are putting in:
Our progression as a company is only as good as our work. Our work is only as good as our people, so fostering fun collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst people with different skills and work/life experiences greatly benefits us and the projects we work on.
Structured Process for Collaboration
According to a survey conducted by Clear Company, 97% of survey participants said that lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of task or project.
While open communication and collaboration is essential for the expansion of any business, collaboration benefits from a certain amount of structure to manage many opinions and preventing “analysis paralysis.” Gloria clarified, "As a project manager, you must communicate, follow up to ensure your message was received, and minimize risk by doing 'check ins' to ensure the project is on schedule."
Whether through face to face meetings, emails, or Skype conversations, in order to effectively collaborate, it’s important that all participants fully understand the objectives, the specific roles each individual will contribute towards the objectives, while following a certain structured project plan and process of communication. Structured and disciplined project management fosters alignment within the CATMEDIA team, and makes it possible for us to stay on track with our programs and projects.
Collaboration as Facilitator for Problem-solving Skills
The CATMEDIA colleagues interviewed for this article agreed that we don’t confine ourselves to a linear way of thinking, sticking to the manual each time we have a new challenge to tackle. Gloria, our adult-learning expert, provided a practical explanation of collaboration as social learning:
When a diverse group of people get together to discuss a particular problem, or a new project, it is a rich learning experience for all involved. There is no designated "teacher" or instructor; learning is multi-directional as the group engages on the objective at hand and hears new perspectives on how to solve an issue.
By giving an open ear to different perspectives on any given problem, we increase the chance of developing a solution, and indeed can also gain new insights about our colleagues. Amy expanded on this idea and explained how collaboration helps her to be a better director for her group: “It [Collaboration] has given me the ability to see which solutions work for different people and why. This inevitably sheds light on how my individual team members “operate,” which helps me be a better director.”
Collaboration as a Generator of Expertise
Just as many people strive to better themselves as individuals, CATMEDIA employees are asked regularly how we believe the company could better itself. Our unique opinions matter, and are heard, which motivates each one of us to deliver the best work we possibly can. Jonathan described the value of collaboration as a bedrock of our culture:
We have a significant brain trust at CATMEDIA across all our practices. This is rooted in the ways that we hire and onboard people and is nurtured by our belief in diversity of ideas and bringing together people from different backgrounds, all focused on creating great solutions for our clients.
Being successful requires more than getting the job done on time. It requires genuine interest and desire to work with a client to discover the client’s needs, interests and desires. Amy explained in this way: “Collaboration doesn’t end at our front door. We extend our collaboration to include the client.” Through our open door policy of ideas, CATMEDIA employees enhance who we are as individuals, thereby developing expertise, so that we enhance the work we deliver as a team. By operating in a growth mindset we continue growing, changing, and adapting.
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CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).