What I’ve learnt about collaboration so far

My colleague Lars Holm published this article in Campaign this month. He argues that, in an effort to create a better world, agencies have to cast aside competition… and collaborate. A big ask for a very competitive industry! Here I wanted to share three lessons about collaboration I learnt from being involved in the Common Ground initiative for the past year.

Collaboration involves more than 1 party

First off: collaboration is best when it involves more than 2 independent parties. Of course, in holding companies, collaboration regularly happens: a good example is our recent episode in the series Unboxed which is all about the power of collaboration within our agency network, and between agencies and clients. But collaboration between more than two independent parties is still rare.

Dentsu Aegis Network announced a partnership to support Malaria No More together with creative agency RG/A.

In the context of Common Ground, we wanted to make sure that we stimulated real collaboration for a common goal. So we took our global charity partner Malaria No More to Cannes to enable them to build relationships outside our agency network. And it worked. We recently announced our partnership with charity Malaria No More in tandem with creative agency RG/A.

What I learnt was that, to facilitate this collaboration, it’s important to create a safe space where partners feel equal. That’s why we created the Malaria No More “Creative Collective”: an advisory group where all agencies can come together on an equal basis to contribute to the goals of Malaria No More.

Stakeholder engagement avoids group-think

In addition, we need to further develop our collaboration skills. One of the most important skills in the context of collaboration is stakeholder engagement. Frequently used in the CSR and sustainability industry but relatively rarely in advertising, this is a commitment to engage as many parties as possible to hear their input, feedback and opinions prior to developing a solution.

A brief introduction to the Common Future project, showcasing the extensive briefing the team received.

It is easy to think that a brainstorming session with a few colleagues from your agency can come up with solutions for humanity’s most pressing problems. That’s why a Common Ground initiative like the Common Future project had a full day of briefings from experts from the United Nations and other stakeholders to help the agency participants fully understand the issues.

Stakeholder engagement is especially important to avoid group-think and we must all be vigilant of that. Do the participants reflect the diversity of society around us in age, gender, cultural and ethnic background? Have we spoken to sufficient practitioners in the field, experts, civil society organisations and end-users? This is all important to ensure that collaboration does not end in group-think.

It’s more than just working together

Another important element of collaboration is everyone’s attitude. This might seem like a tiny and inconsequential point, but it makes a huge difference. To create a collaborative atmosphere (and team) it is important to shed any prior assumptions held on the right way of doing things. Specific structures you use at work to approach problems? Think again. Standard truths you hold as self-evident? Shed them. You need to go in with an open mind.

In addition, it is essential that everyone individually understands and supports the end goal of the project. If people feel they are forced to participate or they do not care for the cause, they are not going to be truly open and collaborative. Without these elements the team is just working together, but not collaborating. And it is essential for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that our industry collaborates, developing innovative solutions for global problems.

I believe we have some way to go, but practice makes perfect. I strongly believe that collaboration across our industry on the world’s biggest challenges not only contributes to a better world, but also to a better work force that is able to innovate more effectively. So get involved!