As marketing leaders look into the crystal ball and attempt to plan for 2021, the task seems impossible. There’s still so much uncertainty, but it’s mixed in with a heavy dose of hope for the first time in a while.
Perhaps all we can do is plan for the unexpected: a skill we’ve all perfected over the past year. Or perhaps, even better, we can look back at the insanity of last year and try to find some good lessons to carry forward. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
At the start of the pandemic, we all thought that communication among our teams was really going to suffer. But in some ways, it has gotten better. Instead of everyone operating in their little siloes, there was a huge shift towards focused team units working together towards a unified goal. As minutiae got thrown by the wayside and the truly important matters got thrown into sharp relief, the level of interruption went down, and the time to focus actually increased, allowing for synchronized task completion. As a marketing leader, the job got easier: set your goal post, and let your team get to work and report back as needed. It’s been a banner year for “de-siloing,” if nothing else.
However, while inter-functional team communication has increased, the downside is that cross-functional team communication hasn’t. In the virtual environment, you don’t get those random moments of serendipity—perhaps at the coffee machine, a desk or the pub—that spark creativity, and forced Zoom brainstorming isn’t quite the same. So how can marketing leaders help?
The role of a leader is to provide the structure needed for the synthesis of new ideas from multiple viewpoints. An untended forest will grow into one of nature’s most magical creations, but without that option, a manicured garden with space for all the different elements is needed. Leaders need to provide the right conditions for growth, in all areas. Some of the things we’ve done at Phrasee to try and keep the serendipity going when all is virtual is having virtual meetups that don’t have anything to do with work. Trivia nights, group exercise, even choir practice; creating opportunities for employees to connect means that they’re more likely to feel comfortable reaching out for help with a project.
But while it sounds like we’re piling onto our employees’ calendars (all optional, I promise!), we’ve also been given new respect for their time. As we see children, pets and spouses in the background, it’s reminded us that we can only ask so much of our employees because other people need them too. If anything has come light this year, it’s that unstructured and endless meetings are inefficient. They have a place, but if an email can do the job and everyone else can get on with theirs? It’s a win-win.
So in 2021, a year where planning is still challenging, make space for employees to do good work and live good lives. Continue breaking down barriers between teams and fostering an environment where they can work together better. Find new ways to spark serendipity, even if it has to be over Zoom. Whatever is coming over the next several months, we’re better prepared than we’ve ever been.