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I was thinking about tables recently, and the role they play in creating or thwarting team collaboration.

A table can…

Provide distance and separation between participants

That can be both healthy or disastrous. It’s easy to use distance and opposition (as in sitting on directly opposite sides of the table) to foster disagreement, aggression, and otherness. In different situations, distance around a table can offer space for individual reflection or a couple of people to collaborate without being drawn into something bigger.

Idea: Arrange people purposefully and keep moving them around.

Serve as a hiding place

If it is your intention, you can use a table’s shapes and angles and how people fill them up to keep yourself out of view and out of the team conversation. You may use the hiding place to observe, look away, or plan what you do when you emerge from hiding.

Idea: A facilitator needs to draw people out of hiding places.

Create clutter

A too big table or too many tables in a too small room, can fill all the available space people need to move around both physically and mentally. They can eliminate any flexibility a space might offer.

Idea: Pay attention to how many table you are using and not using. Get rooms with way more square footage than you think you will need.

Establish power

Sitting at the front, sitting at the back, or sitting at a corner can, depending on who is doing the sitting, change the power dynamics for the entire group.

Idea: Use tables without corners and avoid creating a clear front of the room.

Be purely functional

It provides a place to put your arms, bang your head (or your fist), take notes, hold your drink, plug in your computer. You hope it affords an arrangement that lets you see what you need to see and is a jumping off point for people to productively collaborate.

Idea: Match the right table to what you will need it for throughout the meeting.

Team Collaboration with No Table at All

This thinking inspired something we’ll be doing soon: eliminate the tables and use only a few chairs. Provide the right amount of space to make it both inviting and slightly awkward.

We look forward to seeing what using no tables at all will do for creating or thwarting team collaboration. – Mike Brown

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Following up the post about why so many mid-career marketers have missed out on becoming outstanding content strategists, Emma Alvarez Gibson, from our West Coast (or Best Coast) Brainzooming HQ, is here discussing the steps to become a content strategist and avoid marketing career extinction.

How to Become a Content Strategist and Avoid Becoming Extinct by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Once I was a creative writer.

Then I was marcomm. Then I was a copywriter. These days, I’m a content strategist.

Titles change; it’s a fact of Western business life. But in this space, that’s not all that’s changed. Take a good look at the job description for any number of content strategist positions. More often than not, we aren’t just creating content. We’re managing SEO and Google Analytics, editing images and graphics in PhotoShop and InDesign, sending and tracking emails via a CMS or two. Or seven.  

I’ll admit it was a transition I came to reluctantly, and with a fair degree of resentment. Look, I remember saying, If I’d wanted to be a marketing analyst, I’d have become a marketing analyst. Are they also looking for chemical engineers who can rollerskate and sing opera? It seemed ridiculous and not a little unreasonable. But it’s been a few years now: I think that model’s going to be calling the shots for awhile.

Earlier this week, one of my fellow writers who’s looking for full-time employment expressed dismay over these broadly-drawn requirements, ending with: When did this happen? If you’ve not had to look for a job in a number of years, it’s a fair question. There were no announcements made. These expectations crept in slowly, like fog. When the market crashed in 2008, I saw many organizations let people go and distribute the resulting wealth of tasks among the employees who were left standing. No one’s going to complain about having a heavier load when their neighbor doesn’t have a job. You make it work. We all made it work as best we could.

Nine years later, here we are with a stronger economy and the continued legacy of these career mash-ups. We made it work, and we have to continue to make it work. That means getting on board with the expectations of our chosen field. It means stretching. Learn that CMS. Take the InDesign class. Familiarize yourself with basic photo editing. Pick up a copy of Web Analytics For Dummies. Read a few blog posts on how easy SEO really is. Things have changed, and that means we have to change. To deny it, to refuse, to stay stuck in the outrage, is professional suicide.

At the start of my career I worked at a PR firm. One of the publicists there was roughly 107 years old, to my twenty-something eyes. He was pure 1960s camp, only he didn’t know it. He seemed intrigued by the fact that women were in his workplace and held positions of authority. He referred to us, the assistants, as “the girls” (despite the fact that some of the assistants were, in fact male).  Best of all? He refused to have a computer in his office. He’d never needed one before, and he wasn’t going to start now. And if he did need to look something up that wasn’t in a book, “one of the girls” could do that for him. He repeated this speech often, and everyone would smile and nod, and wait for him to leave the room so they could roll their eyes and get back to work. He was a ridiculous old dinosaur.

But I’m not.

What about you? – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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I spoke about Social-First Content at the April 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. As always, I left this Social Media Strategies Summit with valuable insights on social content strategy plus great ideas for further developing our brand.

Social Media Strategists at the #SMSSummit

From this Social Media Strategies Summit, I took away a specific insight on the challenge for social media strategists.

With traditional marketing communication, there were numerous clear divisions among important roles:

  • Creative vs. analytical
  • Writing vs. visual communication
  • Strategy vs. design
  • Developing content vs. publishing content
  • Spokesperson vs. reporter
  • In front of the camera talent vs. behind the camera support
  • Media creation vs. media buying
  • Offline execution vs. online / technology execution
  • Mining customer and business insights vs. audience targeting

Looking back on the combined internal and external team we assembled to market our Fortune 500 B2B brand, we rarely had one person doing both sides of any of the pairs of talents and responsibilities above. Depending on a project’s size, in fact, there may be ten or more people involved across these roles.

Social Media Strategists Face Complex Roles

Now, consider today’s social communications landscape. The divisions between the complementary roles have largely disappeared. Today’s social media strategists must be functional, if not fully adept, at nearly all these roles to succeed.

This idea started developing for me as we started using Hubspot for inbound marketing. I’m continually moving between intense analytical and creative roles in developing and executing content-based workflows.

The realization really hit me while attending a Facebook list building, advertising, and re-marketing workshop at the Social Media Strategies Summit. The presenters covered audience targeting and Facebook advertising in detail. We don’t use Facebook advertising very aggressively, so the topic isn’t one that has occupied much of my attention. As workshop presenters continued, I recalled that in the corporate world, I told media buyers that I’d ask questions, but I understood they had a knowledge base that was difficult to have without living in their world. I depended on their expertise to guide and lead us toward accomplishing our marketing objectives.

Today, however, you can’t afford to make that distinction. Outstanding social media strategists must understand Facebook targeting, advertising, and remarketing. It’s just as important as understanding the fundamentals of writing a compelling story. They also must understand everything else on the list of communication roles.

Sure, in a smaller organization, I’m now taking on many more communication roles than as a VP in a Fortune 500 organization. A team of ten no longer exists for me. Talking with other attendees at the Social Media Strategies Summit, though, it’s clear a team of ten doesn’t exist for many of them either – even within large organizations.

Why Many Mid-Career Marketers Are Dinosaurs

Put all this together, and I think it explains why I see so many mid-career marketers are dinosaurs, either limiting themselves in comfortable, but career-threatening ways (“I just do PR” or “I write but don’t do SEO”), or floundering while they rework the calculations on how much longer until they have enough money to retire.

The much smaller group is leveraging career experience and diving into social content strategy with a passion. These folks are learning to become perhaps the best-positioned marketers: they heave experience AND social sensibilities.

Seeing this landscape for mid-career marketers is why I encourage them to attend as many social content marketing events and conferences as possible. It’s the foreseeable future. If they want to be a part of that future AND get paid, they must be aggressive and prepare to work with multiple generations that grew up in a marketing world where role divisions that made sense ten years ago no longer apply. – Mike Brown

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Are you involved with the strategic planning process for your organization?

That could involve leading it, participating in it, or trying to influence the strategic planning process so it delivers more value and better results for the organization?

7 Strategic Planning Process Challenges You Can Fix!

Typical complaints about a strategic planning process

If you have a role in strategic planning, do any of these describe your situation?

  • You have a strategic plan completed by a small senior leadership team. Key leaders in the organization now won’t embrace the strategic plan because they weren’t involved in developing it.
  • You are a board member of a non-profit that’s doing great work, yet the board is apprehensive about whether the dynamic executive director has a plan and is grooming successors. The executive director, on the other hand, is not inclined to want to complete a strategic plan.
  • You have just taken over leadership of a company. You are starting to see where you most need to make progress. Your next challenge is communicating the vision and getting your new, senior team onboard.
  • Your organization is pursuing lots of good ideas. All the good ideas are getting in the way of the game-changing idea you need to develop and successfully implement.
  • You have a major strategic move to make with the company. You need to ensure you are considering every potential option to ensure you’re pursuing the smartest possible direction.
  • You have the okay for a more robust strategic planning process. You don’t have the expertise or experience for delivering on the expectations you’ve created. And now you’re scared.
  • Your senior leadership team held a meeting to develop a strategic plan. You had tons of great conversation, but no one wrote anything down that you can now implement.

These are just a few of the situations where we have helped organizations embrace a different type of collaborative strategic planning process.

If you find yourself on this list, contact us and let’s talk before this year’s strategic planning season starts. We’d love to share ideas with you on how to derive more results from the time investment you will be making in planning your organization’s future!  – Mike Brown

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Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


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Mess Wright, who just recently opened Mess Labs in Dallas, has been an online friend for many years, and an in-person friend since August 2016.  

Invariably, Mess puts words to ideas that rattle around in my head in a half-formed state. Mess not only pulls ideas together; she puts herself out there by articulating them. Here’s the most recent example of this, with Mess weighing in on business mentoring and the importance of protecting your time and attention when you are trying to make things happen.

Trust me: Mess is a person that makes things happen! – Mike

Business Mentoring – Be Careful of Who Promises You Help by Mess Wright

Abe Nadimi and Mess Wright of Mess Labs

You can go ahead and file this one under, “Things You Aren’t Supposed to Say but Mess Says Anyway.” Oh, well, here goes:

It seems there is some sort of incubator, accelerator, or entrepreneurial center popping up everywhere lately.

I think this is supposed to (and can) be a good thing, but I have to tell you something.

I’ve been in this startup world for nearly a year, and I’ve found the majority of the “entrepreneurs” and “mentors” I’ve met are actually either hacks, delusional liars, con-artists, or people who are otherwise lost or unemployable.

It takes a minute to decipher the people who are actually “in business.” That minute is long and hard, but my advice is to take the time to really vet people you might let into your life.

I’ve taken a lot of hits (mostly inside my co-working space) for pointing out the people who are time and money sucks. I’ve been told it’s rude or impolite. I’ve been told “community” means “supporting” people, even people who are clearly trying to take whilst offering nothing.

I say all this because I think a lot of people romanticize self-employment or entrepreneurship. My advice for them is if you take that jump, be very selective about who gets time with you. You don’t have to say Yes to every invitation, every introduction or entertain every opinion. It’s way okay to be exclusive in some ways – don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

Just because someone is older, more experienced, more educated, or did the thing you want to do, that does not make them mentor material. Gravitate to people who lift you up, listen to you, and help you grow. Don’t worry if those people aren’t marketing themselves as leaders or guides. The ones who do aren’t always the support you are seeking and needing anyway.

Everyone who is in a position to refer mentors to mentees needs to also vet people better. Let’s hold anyone we call “mentor” to a higher standard and drop the assumption that “accomplished” or “perceived as accomplished” translates to “can mentor.” It’s a horrible assumption, if you think about it. And a bad mentor figure can do amazing harm to a mentee.

Finally, if you feel you want to mentor someone ask yourself if you have the time, you have the inclination, and if you truly hold the mentee’s best interests as a priority.

If you’re doing business mentoring to feed your own ego, stop. Just stop! – Mess Wright

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Learning what participants in an upcoming big meeting know, think, and believe before they come together in a large group is one tactic to strengthen team collaboration.

14 Team Collaboration Benefits from Pre-Meeting Outreach

Depending on the nature of the pre-meeting outreach you conduct with participants, it can promote team collaboration and help:

  • Get to know participants better and figure out how to best work with them
  • Gain a sense of what people already think
  • Learn what insights the participants already have and don’t have
  • Find out what you need to figure out or research ahead of time
  • Look for areas where you agree so you can make it seem like your ideas are theirs, creating greater ownership
  • Identify strong ideas upfront so you are ready to listen for and act on them in the larger group meeting
  • Understand the nature of disagreements or contrarian points of view, especially how accurate, deeply held, and unchanging they are.
  • Better strategize how to introduce challenging points of view
  • Determine how interested people are in developing a beneficial solution
  • Prioritize topics based on their criticality
  • Uncover time saving and efficiency opportunities, knowing you can spend less time on topics where people agree and more on where they disagree
  • Identify which people should and shouldn’t be in small groups together
  • Discover perspectives you will need to introduce in a larger group setting that individuals may be reluctant to voice
  • Make it more difficult for someone to play games in a large group (by espousing a point of view they don’t hold privately)

Gaining these team collaboration insights can come through various pre-meeting outreach formats. You can use individual conversations, online surveys, online collaborations, and review previous documentation. The method you choose obviously depends on how available and near people are, along with the importance of anonymity in their responses.

No matter the approach don’t go into a big meeting and expect the strongest team collaboration if you haven’t done your pre-meeting groundwork to make it happen. – Mike Brown

5 Ways to Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

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In Brainzooming presentations and workshops, attendees want case studies and the answers somebody else has used.

Why?

Because that seems easy.

You show up, put in your forty-five or sixty minutes, and walk away with the answers that you haven’t been able to come up with back at the office. Or you receive confirmation from a speaker that what you have been thinking is right (or pretty close to right), and you can take that back to the office and tell the boss.

A Strategic Thinking Framework Is Better than an Answer, Really!

Despite this desire for case studies and answers, I rarely include them when I speak. Or if I do, I incorporate examples from audience members so THEY can talk about everything they tried, what worked and didn’t, and the things they learned.

Instead, I include lots of strategic thinking frameworks for decision making. While these strategic thinking frameworks aren’t answers, they allow you to quickly develop answers even in areas where you lack experience. That ability (and flexibility) is vital in business. It’s also essential as a presenter where you get questions and people wanting you to tell them what to do. As I remind people, however, I can’t tell them to do one thing or another within a couple of minutes at a conference. But I can give them a strategic thinking framework to analyze the question and decide for themselves.

Here is one example from a social media and content marketing workshop:

An attendee asked about the need to maintain separate Facebook pages in different languages. I pointed him to a brand-oriented strategic thinking framework I shared that focuses on what customers expect, accept, and will reward.

As we played it out, customers expect brands to interact in their own languages. They may or may not accept that one out of every few posts is in their language, and then they have to scroll. Maybe they will accept images with links to content in their own language? Maybe they will accept built-in translation as a viable option.

Then, depending on which approach they choose, they have to look at whether customers will reward it in some meaningful way. Will they select the brand over another? Select it more often? Pay more for a sense of personalization?

While I didn’t know the answer at that moment, the strategic thinking framework provides a way for them to consider the options and make a decision that works for the brand.

Bring the Questions!

If you are in the audience for a Brainzooming workshop, I love, love, love the questions. Please ask questions.

Just realize, your answer is probably going to be a way for YOU to think about your question and develop the answer you are seeking that works best for YOU, not somebody else! – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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