Monday, April 03, 2006

Working Together: Why Is It So Hard?

I've been speaking to a high-level acquaintance about the challenges she faces in communications, both within and outside her company. This individual is tremendously creative, but she can't do her job effectively and is considering moving on.

The gist: because of internal traffic jams, she can't get the organization's unique value propostions to clients effectivley. Department leaders are talking, but they stick to their talking points and seem to have forgotten how to answer a question.

Defining the Problem

The organization's culture is inward-facing. Long-held fifedoms create a culture of land grabbing, even when people come in to create new departments. Each war lord has firmly established boundaries to the kingdom where he or she feels most safe and does not stray, even intellectually.

Cultural norms spread to communications strategies and hamstring companies from getting the word out. This, in turn, offers clients and prospects little more than established wisdom about the market. Even the experts won't part with an insight, primarily because there is a risk that he or she will be proved wrong.

Naturally, such a culture crushes innovation or chases away those with an interest in new possibilities. In a system bent on hunkering down defensively, risk is not an option. Anything original must be abandoned in the process of circling the wagons.

None of these problems are small individually, and together it's hard to find the end of the string. However, the bottom line is that determined internal focus both comes from and sustains a forgetfulness about clients' needs.

Creating Incentives for New Behavior

Before my friend can come up with an effective marketing plan, she needs to have something to communicate of value. To get this information, she needs to find away around gated talking points, over the walls of internal fifedoms, to the questions that clients really ask, and finally, through the barriers of answering those questions.

Key Questions

So how to get around culturally entrenched positions?

A good place to start is to ask:

What does everyone have in common? How can one leverage these goals to make leadership stray from their comfort zones? And what unifying principles would offer incentives for those who perceive each other as enemies to work together?

Clearly, an understanding of customer needs is the key to developing new offerings and develop markets. This requires a level of intimacy between business and client that you can't get from a focus groups or from hunkering down internally.

This is one place where it's important to remember where creativity is the ability to learn continuously across contexts. Effective thinking, creativity's synonym, is comprised of a series of disciplines that anyone can develop -- and must -- as challenges and circumstances continually change.

More on going forward in the next post.