What our last experiment taught us about collaboration
Notes from building a network of news innovators
This piece is co-authored by Paula Montañà Tor.
Is collaboration really the new disruption?
We selected a group of members that would represent the diversity of the News Impact community across geography, background, type of organisations and skill-sets. With them, we embarked on a 9-month journey to explore our challenges and develop innovative solutions and new paths to sustainability.
It’s been a rollercoaster. We exchanged an unhealthy amount of emails and messages on Slack. We joined regular calls to catch up and others to meet with experts we could learn from. We met four times: in Perugia, in London, in Maastricht, in Berlin. We combined our ideas in a cookbook. And above all, we made sure to have fun.
During the year, we discussed some of the most pressing challenges the news industry is facing, from the transformation of our newsrooms to engagement and community strategies. But we also learned how valuable it is to just have a network of peers to rely on in times of need.
After months of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, we asked the cohort to describe what kind of impact this experience had on them. This is what we heard:
A journey of exploration and rediscovery
All the members of the Network started the year with one specific challenge they wanted to tackle. Nobody expected to find a complete solution in just a few months, but we did find something else — almost unwittingly — through all our conversations, meetings and exercises.
“Working with a loose framework helped me realise many things about myself and my organisation that I didn’t expect. I saw what’s truly important for me,” said one participant.
Someone else found in the experience the feeling of “not being just a wave in the sea, swimming all by myself.”
In every get-together and group call, we found a space to slow down and reflect on our job and purpose. Sometimes we found validation of our ideas. On other occasions, the truths were more uncomfortable and destabilising, yet necessary and extremely valuable to grow.
A support for the new generation of newsroom leaders
One of the main struggles of being in a leadership position is that it can feel quite isolating. A team relies on your support and guidance, but you need that too and often you might not find it inside your news organisation.
That was the case for many members of the cohort. They are driving change in their newsrooms and thanks to the support of the group, they could find “courage and motivation to keep on going.”
The opportunity to reach out for advice and hear the experiences of others has made a remarkable difference for the confidence of many. This also had a positive impact on their teams: “The Network gave me reassurance of my leadership style and more endurance. My team has a clearer vision now and even meetings and brainstormings got better.”
A safe space to develop and nurture new ideas
In the daily grind, it’s very hard to step back and get a bird’s eye view of the situation. But sometimes, all one needs is a safe space and time to “break from the routine and get inspired again.”
The fact that the Network brought together participants from different countries, with various backgrounds and skill-sets, and from traditional media as well as from news start-ups, created a fertile environment for creativity to flourish.
We’ve seen newsroom structures being reshaped and new projects come to life. A study on burnout in the workplace, revamped event strategies, big audience surveys to reshape a newsroom’s understanding of its communities, and much more.
There have been many light-bulb moments and new seeds were planted, with the potential to blossom in the near future.
A school of empathy and extreme user-centrism
One of the backbones of the programme has been the belief that by putting the users at the beginning and centre of our work, we can redefine our challenges, discover new insights and ultimately come up with better solutions.
We encouraged the cohort to practice their listening skills and to exercise empathy as a powerful tool to interact with peers and users. And it worked.
Many say that they now approach their roles with a different mindset. They ask more questions, listen more and better, and have shifted their attention to their communities. The impact of this approach is far-reaching: from team management to product development and even the reporting processes. The adoption of an extreme user-centrism is showing its value across the board.
One year ago, we decided to create this programme to prove that innovation needs a network to thrive. Nine months in the company of this talented bunch and we are now convinced that the benefits of bringing people together in a safe and honest environment go way beyond innovation.
By creating a network of peers, open to sharing their struggles and to learning from each other, we discovered surprising truths about ourselves. We have become better leaders and listeners, we have experienced the power of generating ideas collaboratively and without fear of judgement.
The Network was created as an experiment. We weren’t sure of what outcome to expect and its impact on our professional growth has surprised everyone involved. Some participants found new jobs. Others quit their old positions. Tangible collaborations were born, even job-sharing between two of the members is now in place. Those who still hold the same job title they had one year ago feel empowered, more confident and way richer than before.
We are not done sharing what we have learned together and this adventure doesn’t end here, but what we learned so far is clear: We need networks. We need to collaborate, share and learn from each other.
We all need a network to thrive.