March, April, and May are typically the height of conference season. Normally, we attend conference after conference, each one rife with networking opportunities and a ton of socializing (and maybe a cocktail or two). But COVID-19 had other plans for us. On a Friday, we thought we were looking at some delays, and by the following Monday, we were officially ordered to shelter in place, and all conferences were off.
In a completely unplanned pivot, we at Voxpopme decided to partner up with Zappi and do the unthinkable: plan a two-day digital conference in only eight weeks. (Even experts say you should have 6-12 months to plan. We were running on a tight timeline!) What followed was a learning experience that transcended event planning. It shone a light on how you can use external cross-team collaboration to drive internal collaboration and change.
Read on to learn how you can promote cross-team collaboration (or intercompany partnerships) and build a culture of change management.
Two companies, eight weeks, and a two-day event
We were fortunate, in that we’d worked with Zappi in the past. Our team knew their brand meshed well with ours, and I personally knew a lot of their team would likely get along well with ours. But this didn’t mean organizing a two-day event in just eight weeks was easy.
Preexisting relationship or not, we were still asking both of our teams to drop everything and work with people they’d never even met. Ensuring that people were on the same page was paramount to our success, so we did a few things to make sure we were all rowing in the same direction:
- We held a joint brainstorming session. It was originally going to be in-person, but the lockdown forced us to do it online. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as employees from opposite ends of the globe were able to call in and participate.
- We leveraged the right tools to help us home in on the best ideas. We used FunRetro, a digital whiteboard, to have a blind brainstorming and voting session. We wound up with a bunch of great ideas that ultimately turned into the Virtual Insight Summit. Did I mention that participants had only 15 minutes to come up with their best ideas?
- We delegated duties. Next, we broke into multiple teams made up of Voxpopme and Zappi employees, with each team taking ownership of different parts of the conference.
While we were lucky to have worked with Zappi before, we’d never worked with them at this capacity. Without the steps above, planning could have been incredibly messy — and still was at some points.
For example, ownership wasn’t established clearly in the beginning, which resulted in some confusion. Learn from our missteps and take the points above to heart!
Now, let’s see how this whole joint effort turned out.
Virtual Insight Summit: A collaborative victory
After eight weeks of nonstop planning, sprinting, and pivoting, the Virtual Insight Summit came to fruition. We knew our team and Zappi’s team were talented, but the end result of our collaboration was outstanding. After countless hours collaborating on Slack, hopping on impromptu Zoom calls, and two solid days of hosting the event, we accomplished the following:
- Two days of solid speaking engagements from 31 different companies, including Pepsico, King.com, IBM, and, of course, Voxpopme and Zappi!
- More than $6,000 in donations to Meals on Wheels America and Doctors Without Borders, thanks to our nearly 3,200 registrants and the $2 donated per ticket purchase.
- Hours of digital networking opportunities, thanks to our online happy-hour sessions. Even after 13 hours of nonstop presentations, we had people hanging out for hours in our happy-hour call!
- One incredibly catchy and motivational Virtual Insight Summit playlist, made by our very own attendants!
Keep in mind that we accomplished all of this in eight weeks, with little time to plan ahead. This isn’t to brag; it’s to point out that if we can achieve the results mentioned above in eight weeks, imagine what you can accomplish over a longer period with proper time for preparations and some handy best practices to draw upon.
The benefits of external cross-team collaboration
External collaboration is a great teacher for internal collaboration. First, external collaboration allows you to learn from another company and see how they collaborate. Second, it allows you to practice collaborating yourself. So, other than realizing pandemics don’t care about your plans, what did we learn from our own external collab, and what can you take away for your own cross-team collaboration efforts?
Partner with the right company
Before partnering with a company, make sure they’re a good fit. Even if you know someone who works there, or you’ve interacted with them before, dive deeper to ensure culture fit. For example, if you’re a spunky startup, you’ll probably have trouble meshing with a Fortune 500 company.
You’ll want to look at the other company’s audience and industry. If there’s some overlap, that can be a good thing, because it means you may have similar cultures. But if there’s too much overlap in your target audiences, you could wind up in an overly competitive landscape. This won’t be conducive to collaboration.
If you’ve found a company that’s in that sweet spot for audience and industry similarity, it’s time to check out their culture. Set up a call (or a few) with the primary people you’d be collaborating with, and include some of your own team as well. This will give you a chance to chat, get to know one another, and get a feel for how they operate. If things feel right, and your team seems excited, this could be a solid partnership.
Also, if you’re concerned about partnering with someone that is a potential competitor, don’t be. This entire relationship serves to be a learning experience. If anything, your relationship is more similar to a mentorship, not a competition.
Find the right tools
There are a ton of innovative, affordable tools out there. Take advantage of them when collaborating with other teams. FunRetro, for example, costs nothing to start out with, so we gave it a go. The end result was a batch of great ideas we were able to run with for several weeks and turn into a phenomenal digital conference.
Reach out to those in your professional network, and ask them what tools they use for collaboration. (For example, we love FunRetro, while we have an agency that uses Threads for collaborative communication.) You can also ask any of your vendors or agencies about their tools as well. There’s a big chance you know someone using something that could really benefit your cross-company efforts.
Build a culture of teamwork
Team up! You’re collaborating, and the last thing you want is an us-versus-them mentality. Pair up creatives from both companies, and put them in teams. Sure, they might have some friendly competition among themselves, but they’ll also bond and create something far greater than they could have on their own.
To help encourage teamwork, make sure you and any other leaders on the project are openly collaborating with people from your partner company as well. If you’re using a shared Slack channel, get on there and interact with people from your collaborative partner.
It’s also a good idea to celebrate any victories, no matter how small, especially when they’re the result of cross-company teamwork. All of these efforts can help with teamwork.
Assign ownership asap
Don’t forget to assign responsibilities to both your teams and individuals. It’s easy to forget that, while your employees have their usual roles, those roles can easily change during a collaborative effort. Setting clear responsibilities and ownership early on will save you a lot of heartache down the road.
There were times early on that we realized people weren’t quite sure what to work on. Fortunately, Voxpopme and Zappi have incredibly talented, understanding teams that were able to pivot on a dime.
For those of you interested in internal cross-team collaboration, much of the information mentioned above will carry over. And, there are even more specific steps you can take to facilitate internal collaboration and change management.
Driving change through successful internal collaboration
Putting together a large, collaborative event was certainly difficult. But Voxpopme is a younger company, where change is simply how things are. This gave us a big advantage when diving into external collaboration.
For older, larger companies or those that are resistant to change, the idea of embracing change can be terrifying. But you can use internal cross-team collaboration to break down barriers to change. This can be done by applying what you learned during external collaboration to your internal collaboration process. From there, you can build out a collaborative process that allows you to create a culture of change management. Here’s how.
Note: these points can be applied to external collaboration as well, so don’t hesitate to try them in both arenas.
Get buy-in asap
One of the first things you need when pursuing any cross-team collaboration is buy-in from stakeholders. One great way to get buy-in is to solve a problem one or more teams are having. Next, develop a theory, and then investigate. Then, reach out to a team having this problem, and see whether they’re interested in pursuing your theory. From there, seek buy-in from those at the top.
For example, Ashley Hopkins, senior manager of Consumer Insights at ASICS, was able to spearhead the entire consumer insight function at ASICS. (A story she shared at the Virtual Insight Summit!)
How? She realized the company briefs were lacking, so she decided to do something about it by assessing what they knew about their audience and what they could do to learn more. From there, she got buy-in from one department after the next, building the necessary momentum to green-light an entire consumer insights team.
Pair for success
Depending on the size of your company, it’s possible you have teams that have never worked together, or teams that don’t work well together. Wherever it makes sense, pair up your teams that don’t typically work together. For example, if sales doesn’t often collaborate with your creative team, make it happen, and pair them up on a project. This will allow sales to learn from creative, and marketing to learn from sales. The end result will be a more coherent sales funnel and marketing efforts.
If you don’t currently have a collaborative project in the works, meet with the department heads from any teams that you’d like to collaborate with. Next, brainstorm project ideas that would utilize both teams, and go from there.
The above points also work for helping teams work together when they’ve had trouble collaborating. For example, sales and marketing should be complete allies, yet they often fall into the blame game. Build camaraderie between the two departments by having them work together on a truly collaborative project.
Once you’ve decided on a project and determined which departments will be working on it, create committees that will be responsible for high-level thinking around a certain area. These committees should focus on larger elements, with your collaborative teams tackling the many pieces of each element.
For example, at Voxpopme, we utilize a committee made up of executives. These executives will decide on focuses for our sub-teams, and team leads then decide on responsibilities for the sub-teams. There are even task forces that are responsible for focusing on projects around product development, task forces for customer experience, and so on. This prevents any one group from having to worry about too much, allowing them to focus on their specific task.
Split into sub-teams
With committees formed, it’s time to break up into smaller sub-teams. These teams should have their own responsibilities and focuses. For example, if you have a sub-team made up of sales and marketing specialists, they could focus specifically on branding for a collaborative campaign. Your salespeople will have a deep understanding of your audience, and marketing specialists will understand what kinds of messaging have been effective in the past.
When we partnered with Zappi, we combined forces but split into sub-teams that would each be responsible for a different part of the conference. This allowed us to combine our expertise in a low-friction way, because responsibilities were clear from the onset, leaving little room to step on toes.
Have some fun
Be sure to set aside time for fun team-building activities. It’s possible many of your employees don’t know people from the other teams very well. Some silly team-building activities can go a long way toward fostering collaboration, while also reducing the chances that tensions will flare.
Whether you’re distributed or working in the same area, consider giving your team opportunities to get to know others through watercooler chats or happy hours as well. These can be done online over a video call, too, giving teams around the globe the chance to loosen up and bond.
A recipe for repeatable success
Collaboration can be scary, but it is also fun and productive and is an important element of change management. We knew we were taking on a lot when we tasked ourselves with planning a two-day event in eight weeks, but the end result was worth it.
We gained a deeper insight into how Zappi works, picked up useful skills from their talented team, put together an incredible event, and had fun while doing it. Collaboration is scary, but I can promise you: it’s absolutely worth it.