Part 4: Are Agency Org Charts Undermining Collaboration?

Posted on March 31, 2014

Over the past two months, I’ve been releasing a series of posts to stimulate reflection on traditional full-service agency organization structure and whether it is the best way to deliver client value in the future.   The theme being that most full-service agencies are organized into production silos with separate Directors and P&Ls such that collaboration becomes difficult when competing interests collide.

This is the fourth in a 5-part series to examine each of what I believe are fatal flaws in the traditional full-service agency organization structure, from a client (CMO) perspective.  In this post, I’m going to tackle the issue of collaboration for results.

The illustration I’ll use is a familiar one: team sports.  There have been examples throughout sports history of collections of great players that failed to win while collections of average players achieved great things.  This has been seen in Olympic basketball (collapse of US Team in 2004) or the failure of the Dallas Cowboys to win a playoff game from 1996-2010 and many other examples.  Nothing brings teams closer together than a shared goal and working together unselfishly to achieve it.

Departmental Reward Systems Can Backfire

Agency production silos do not emphasize a shared goal across different departments.  Sure, a web designer and PPC analyst working in separate departments wants to “keep the client happy” but what is often missing is “how” to make the client happy — business results.  Seldom do businesses extract their optimal results when individual production teams are focused on their own goals and agendas.  Let me clarify that I do believe in individual accountability (I wouldn’t hold my email marketing analyst responsible for a mistake by the PPC analyst), however, blended reward systems can deliver positive results while instilling healthy cultural norms.

When individual departments are seen as succeeding while others are struggling (particularly if the successful departments are receiving substantial rewards and public accolades) resentment can form among the under-performing department staff.  What’s even worse is if a class system develops where some departments become elitist in how they view the contributions of others.  No, I’m not advocating some sort of socialistic system — but there are ways to balance performance incentives within the context of the agency enjoying success (not just departments within the agency.)


Because unhappy clients don’t fire agency departments — they fire entire agencies.  So that means that the agency should consider the importance of motivating individual departmental performance within the context of reaching overall client goals.

Adopt a Culture of Sharing

It’s not natural for people to share.  Think about it — when babies are little do they say “mine” or do they voluntarily share their toys or ice cream?  Parents must teach them to share because sharing is not in our nature.  Similarly, many corporate cultures do not foster healthy attitudes toward sharing including information or credit for a job well done.  Why?  Because many people view life through a “zero sum gain” mentality that for someone else to gain, I must lose. Compensation and advancement systems in many organizations reinforce these norms by adopting “quartile” peer rating systems and other mechanisms by which to rate people against each for advancement or worse yet — layoffs. The result becomes a Darwinian scenario of survival of the fittest that results in self-serving behavior.

Rising Tides Raise All Boats

It might sound corny, but helping your peers succeed can ultimately help you succeed.  If a web designer gets better content from the writers to act as a call-to-action and the SEO team creates better site optimization to achieve a page one Google SERP rank, then the website may perform better.  So who wins and who loses in this scenario?  Everyone wins — including the client.  So if the web designer has ideas that can benefit the content writers or SEO team, why not collaborate? For each organization, the specific examples might look differently but promoting a culture of helping other succeed can deliver powerful results.

Cross-functional teams focused on shared client goals can be a powerful point of differentiation in the eyes of a client.  If your organization is struggling to build a culture of sharing and collaboration, spend the time to root out why and involve a third-party facilitator if needed.  Cultures don’t happen by accident, they are the result of behavioral norms being established and reinforced.  Be intentional about building a culture collaboration thrives.

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