Five questions with… Ben Grossman, VP, Strategy Director at Jack Morton Worldwide

As a marketing and advertising strategist, Ben Grossman sits at the intersection of brand strategy, communications planning and marketing effectiveness. He leads Jack Morton Worldwide’s strategy department, as well as end-to-end strategy for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Subway, Liberty Mutual, P&G, Calvin Klein, PUMA, Intel, Fidelity and Eaton Corporation.


Ben will be serving as a panelist for the Publicity Club of New England’s upcoming Masters’ Institute titled: “Creating Teamwork, Not Tension, in a Collaborative Environment.”  The program, which is designed for senior level communications professionals, will focus on one of the primary challenges agencies and brands face today:

In advance of the panel, Ben took a few moments to provide some insight into the topic.

The evolving communications landscape and path to optimizing success demands cross-disciplinary experience and collaboration. What are the challenges and opportunities in achieving it?

Integrate or become irrelevant… or worse: ineffective. Today’s communications landscape is more converged and interdependent than ever before. So it’s really not an option for communications and marketing professionals to work in silos if brands want to see maximum efficiency and success.

However, integration for integration’s sake isn’t the end game. The opportunity that integration presents is to help create a seamless experience with your brand that’s oriented around your consumer, instead of being based on how companies or agencies are organized. And it’s about leveraging the most relevant channels to meet brands’ business objectives. The results of integrated initiatives always exceed results of brands where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Some of the top challenges associated with cross-disciplinary teams include that a) it requires change – which is always difficult, b) some of the involved parties may lack knowledge or education about process or channels which they’re not responsible for, and this can be intimidating and c) it necessitates strong leadership to promote collaboration.

This approach requires teamwork, but it also can create tension. How do you balance the two? And when is tension healthy? When is it destructive?

Certainly tension related to a contest of ideas can be healthy —as long as the best ideas win and it doesn’t impact morale.

Generally however, tension that can arise from cross-disciplinary collaboration is something to be avoided.  It can be destructive, leading to frustrated team members, disjointed outputs and lack of buy-in or overall enthusiasm. Discord shows in the work.

Does collaboration occur by decree? Organically? Or some other way?

Collaboration occurs by design, not decree. The right cross-disciplinary design comes down to three S’s being in place: shared objectives, social relationships and strong leadership:

  1. Shared objectives: It’s crucial to align the entire group towards one set of goals and metrics, then to reward them based on those. Too often there’s actually a disincentive in place to foster collaboration, because people are rewarded on different measures.
  2. Social relationships: It’s hard to truly collaborate with strangers. Get time on the clock with cross-disciplinary teams both in the context of work, but also socially.
  3. Strong leadership: Clarity brings comfort. Ensure that, as collaborative as you’d like the group to be, there’s a widely supported leader in place that can make tough calls and be “the bad guy” when necessary so that it doesn’t get in the way of the team dynamic.

Of course, success breeds success, so once a team has achieved together, it’s more likely to succeed again. Momentum matters.

How have you fostered a collaborative culture and how critical is senior leadership in realizing success?

At Jack Morton, we pride ourselves on our collaborative culture and on the fact that we work to break down silos – to the extent that departments and titles fade away. We are also proponents of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. Too often organizations focus on the diversity part, but then miss getting the best out of people by not creating an inclusive, collaborative culture that celebrates people’s differences. That’s a major focus of ours.

We’re seeing clients more and more seek an entirely integrated agency that can own the entire brand experience, or one that’s willing to run hyper-effective integrated marketing committees where all agencies collaborate. It’s hard work, but when done right, the results sing.

Senior leadership both at agencies and on the client side are critical to realizing success, as it’s their responsibility to establish several key components in creating an environment that can lead to cross-disciplinary collaboration. Firstly, it takes time; collaboration under pressure is a recipe for disaster. It takes shared goals – and the vision must come from and be supported by the top. And it takes human relationships; people like to work with people, not departments.

And finally and most subtly, it takes a zero tolerance policy from senior leadership when it comes to team members attempting to avoid collaboration or using back channels to jockey ahead of the team. Senior leadership must be convinced that they’ll get better results from a combined, integrated effort than from a siloed one.

What mistakes do brands and agencies make in making this a reality?

Brands and agencies make all sorts of mistakes when it comes to making cross-disciplinary teams a reality. But it’s necessary – there’s no hiding from efficacy and there’s no arguing that integration is effective.

A few of the top mistakes are:

  1. Rushing it: Particularly during the first time teams collaborate, you can’t rush it – it leads to unhealthy tension and reduces the ability for teams to mesh and for collaboration to really work.
  2.  Group think: Too much collaboration without enough dynamic leadership and vision setting can also lead to mediocre results that are a watered down version of a consensus. Brands and agencies can’t afford to let that happen.
  3. Thinking it’s easy: Here’s a hint: It’s not. And it really starts with leadership being part of the solution and enabling the collaboration to happen. From the way people are rewarded, to trouble-shooting, to inspiring teams, a lot of what fosters an environment of openness and collaboration starts with our leaders.

Connect with Ben on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Sign up today to hear more from Ben Grossman at our next Master’s Institute event

Program: Creating Teamwork, Not Tension in a Collaborative Environment
Date: Thursday, November 3, 2016
Time: 7:00 AM – 10:00 AM EDT
Free to members and first-time non-members with at least 12 years professional experience
Sign up here!

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