What happens when you ask a bunch of left-brain thinkers to work with a bunch of right-brain thinkers?
If you answered chaos, mayhem and a whole lot of frustration, you might be right.
But as more companies begin to merge the creative thinkers in a company with the technical side, they’re finding that if done correctly, such a working relationship doesn’t have to be frustrating or chaotic. In fact, it can lead to higher productivity, efficiency and more innovative solutions.
Recent research by The Creative Group and Robert Half Technology finds that 55% of advertising and marketing executives are collaborating more closely with technology leaders within their company compared to three years ago. In addition, 33% of chief information officers report the same of their marketing counterparts.
Despite the increasing demand for creatives to work with IT, there are ongoing challenges to such relationships, the survey finds. Chief among them: poor communication.
“You have these creatives who are right-brain thinkers who think in a very conceptual, circular way,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. “Then you have these IT people who are left-brain thinkers and have very linear, factual thinking.”
Another challenge is the logistics of getting these two groups physically close enough to work together. Domeyer says some companies are putting cross-functional teams together in the same area, forming a team around a common goal such as improving customer experience. She says these groups may use a “bridge” – someone who understands both functions and can ensure their efforts are tied to the company’s strategy.
Further, these teams may come together and disband based on projects. The key is giving them the flexibility to innovate, collaborate and work on a common goal without having to take the time to break down organizational barriers so the groups can work together as needed.
“Working cross-functionally successfully can be much more difficult in a big organization than a small company where you can move faster,” she says. “But those who figure it out will have a competitive advantage.”
Still, Domeyer says that leaders must recognize that there are some barriers to creatives and IT working together that go beyond being in different departments within a company.
“These two groups can have different perspectives. IT may say, for example, that marketing is trying to drive decisions and they don’t understand a thing about technology. On the other hand, marketing may argue that creatives feel they’re being pushed aside,” she says.
That’s why it’s important that creatives and IT take time to educate one another about their jobs, she says.
“Marketing needs to enlighten IT on the creative process, and tech needs to talk about technology limitations and what it takes to design software,” Domeyer says. “It’s going to take some individual initiative.”
Among the other suggestions to improve the creative/tech collaboration efforts:
- Clearly define objectives. Once teams are formed to tackle a project such as a website redesign, it can help eliminate the “us versus them” mindset. It’s also important to consistently communicate the goals of working together. One survey respondent notes that “tech pros think it’s all about the tools and creative pros think it’s all about the ideas.”
- Commit to in-person communications. Lots of other meetings and work demands can get in the way of creatives and IT getting together to work on projects. But committing to an hour or two of working together can prevent numerous headaches and inefficiencies later on. When teams can’t meet in person, use online communication tools to keep the team on the same page. “Professionals in IT are often only accustomed to working with other professionals in IT,” so getting their attention is tough, one survey respondent says.
- Find a shared language. Using lingo that employees from other departments may not understand can be frustrating and cause people to lose interest in what’s being discussed. If specific terms will be used, define them and give concrete examples. Survey respondents, for example, note that tech terms are “forever changing.”
- Encourage constructive criticism. Research shows that creative and IT executives say that providing feedback to their counterparts is challenging because it’s not often well-received. It helps if all parties are more empathetic and get a clear understanding of the time and resources that go into an initiative. What creatives might think of as an easy job for IT might actually involve a lot of complex behind-the-scenes work, for example.
- Keep cool heads. Creatives and IT need to understand that if they don’t work to communicate clearly, it can cause tempers to flare as each group seeks to meet their objectives while working in a pressure-cooker situation. Such disagreements need to be resolved quickly and not allowed to fester and derail the project.
Domeyer says her discussions with employees – especially younger ones at the entry level – shows they realize the importance of digital tools in their work. Even if they’re in the creative side of business, she says, they’re eager to learn more about technology and implement it into their work.
“They really understand how digital tools are a direct link to the customer, and they want more skills in that area,” she says. “They have much more of an understanding of the importance of technology.”Posted in Project Management, Team & Project Management, Team Productivity | Tagged Collaboration, communication, creatives, cross-functional