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When thinking about great marketing content, it’s easy to imagine a single Don Draper-style pitchman coming up with the perfect idea at the perfect time to drive maximum value. However, experience shows that the best ideas don’t come from individuals, they come from open collaboration and diverse teams.
Of course, open collaboration is easier said than done. Recently, Red Hat’s own Jessica Cox covered how complex creative projects can become as organizations go global. Struggles with collaboration, however, are not limited to massive projects. At some point, any project that involves a team of creators and stakeholders is going to get complex. Luckily, complexity doesn’t necessarily have to be painful. Getting from ideation to finished product can be relatively simple, as long as you know your team and how to make sure the best ideas are heard.
NOT ALL PERSONALITIES ARE CREATED EQUAL (FOR MEETINGS)
The first thing to understand about working in open teams is that not all personalities are built for large, in-person meetings. Often, teams find themselves falling into the "loudest ideas are the best ideas" trap, which allows them to miss great ideas from the introverts in the crowd. To avoid neglecting the ideas of the quieter members of your team, make sure to have alternative methods of idea generation. At Red Hat, we have used a few different techniques that may help you get the best ideas, including:
FORM-BASED QUESTIONNAIRES. Use free form building tools to put out a call to ideas before your meetings. This approach can also be used to solicit ideas from people outside of your team, without dragging them too far into the process.
HIGHLY STRUCTURED MEETINGS. Sometimes, the best way to ensure everyone is heard is by adding structure to your meetings. Hal Gregersen, in his Harvard Business Review "Better Brainstorming" article, talks about a "question brainstorming" format for early meetings to ensure that teams look at a problem from multiple angles. Essentially, the team is tasked with generating as many questions about the problem as possible in a short period of time (usually around 4 minutes), rather than trying to look for solutions to a problem. This allows the personalities in the room who are good at understanding problems (but may not be as good at quickly coming up with solutions) to have their voices heard. This is just one example of a structured meeting. Agile methodologies also have highly structured weekly meetings that help keep teams on track. Find a meeting style and cadence that works for your team, then turn it into the norm.
BREAKING INTO GROUPS. Major projects can create a huge group of stakeholders. If your team is getting out of hand, consider breaking into smaller groups for brainstorming or tactical conversations, then bringing the results to the larger group.
TEAM, KNOW THYSELF
Experienced team leaders who have been working with teams for a while will know the personalities in the room and be able to guide each member toward responsibilities that play to their strengths. But what about new teams or one-off projects? In those situations, teams can occasionally suffer from a fear of alienating themselves from the rest of the team by speaking up too quickly or playing a role they think is outside the scope of their job title. It may seem obvious, but the easiest way to get a team to work well together is to get to know the team. Something as simple as asking during introductions what role someone prefers to play on a team can help you understand who your players are—and direct them toward roles that will best move the entire project forward.
WORK MUST COMMENCE
The desire to get the best ideas from everyone on your team has the potential side effect of delaying projects that need to keep moving forward. The power of good team facilitators is to know when a project team has room to brainstorm and explore the problem, and when work just needs to get done. To give your team more room to breathe, make sure you have a well-thought-out plan before kicking off the project—one that includes major project milestones and timelines—and then do your best not to schedule that first team meeting three days before the project is due.
Of course, not all strategies work for all teams. Every enterprise has their own processes, and every team has their own priorities. We encourage you to try out some of these tactics with your own projects, and then let us know what works for you.