It’s a regular day at Inertia. Inside our meeting room overlooking bustling Bathurst Street in Toronto is a whiteboard covered with ideas, drawings and diagrams. We’re mid-way through our project review session as one of our engineers, the one running the meeting that day, asks for feedback on some potential solutions for overcoming a roadblock in the product development phase.
He’s not our most senior engineer. That senior team member is in the room, but isn’t leading the meeting that day. Our junior engineer, a new hire recently out of school, is using his specific expertise on the topic to guide the discussion.
Our team accepts that today he’s the one up at the whiteboard asking for feedback, because shifting roles and collaboration are at the heart of what we do. Because we’re a flat organization, another engineer — one whose project assignment is most relevant to the next step of the project — will get up at the front of the room for the following discussion.
There’s one more important person at the table that day, too: the client.
We operate in a collaborative environment based on teamwork. This includes the way we interact with our clients. Put simply: we share everything.
When we have success, we share it. When we hit a snag, we share it.
We share all our knowledge with the client. We do this so that when it’s time to make a key decision, they feel empowered to select the most sensible solution from a variety of options, each of which will have its own pros and cons. You can’t hide key details or thought processes from a client and expect them to make an informed decision on the spot. Just like our junior engineer, they have a valued role on the team.
Here are three things we practice for better collaboration:
Be honest: It’s important to tell the truth but take it a step further. Share your challenges, your frustrations and your failures. The client can help you solve the problem if they know what it is. If you give your clients a chance to understand your challenges, they’ll have empathy for your situation, and will better understand failure is a part of the process. That final success will be sweeter for them, too.
Just the facts: You better bring more than just your opinion to the table because talk is cheap. Always present the facts. Creative friction, although sometimes uncomfortable, is necessary to produce the best outcome. It’s vital to fight for what you believe in but arm yourself with facts, calculations and studies — hard evidence that backs up what you think is right. At Inertia, even the most junior person is welcome and expected to challenge the president, senior engineers and even the client.
Check your ego at the door: Even if it was your idea to begin with and the client has taken ownership, let them have it. In fact, I think it’s a sign of successful collaboration when the client feels as though they are leading the charge with your support. There is a fine balance between recommending a solution to the client and collaboratively leading them to it. In the latter, they will feel a part of the decision-making process and they will own the solution. If the outcome is positive, everyone wins. If the outcome is negative, you have a chance to share your learning with your client. That way, you can work together going forward to find the best solution.
One last word: While it may be tempting, don’t ever say: “I told you so”. Even if the client takes a roundabout route to agreeing to a solution you proposed from the get-go, or goes down a path you know is a dead end against your recommendation, don’t ever gloat. You’re in this together. Always remember that.