How can collaboration lead to innovation: #eventprofstalk Twitter chat with Becky Dempsey, Account Manager at The Collaboration Company

Collaboration is particularly interesting for the events industry because event planners work so often with venues, suppliers, destination management companies (DMCs) and clients, yet it sometimes can seem that the various stakeholders do not truly collaborate, but actually cooperate or coordinate an event. Therefore, collaboration is the most misused and misunderstood word in business. 

Collaboration vs cooperation and coordination 

Have you come across phrases such as ‘We’re really good at collaboration, we have Skype, shared servers and online tools, so we can always collaborate?’. According to Becky Dempsey, Account Manager at The Collaboration Company and who will also speak at our annual conference next year, these examples are referring to ‘Sharing information and connection, not collaboration.’ 

Have you come across the phrase ‘All my team collaborate on an event because we have the client in mind and are making sure the event is right?’ Here Becky explained that ‘This is working to a shared goal, so maybe more cooperation than collaboration.’ A further example is when collaboration is confused with coordination, ‘We collaborate with all of our suppliers to ensure the best event.’ Here, Becky suggested that this is yet not fully related to collaboration, but rather suppliers are working in parallel on their own section of the event; therefore, it is more about coordination rather than collaboration.

Defining collaboration 

Collaboration is particularity important in the events industry because event planners often rush to the end goal. According to Becky, ‘If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you know the tips and tricks, have good contacts and people you trust and can deal with situations, but sometimes that knowledge can hold us back from innovating because we reach for the end goal all of the time—get that event organised and run it smoothly! Event professionals are so organised (most of the time!) that we rush to the how and ignore the possibilities.’

But it is here where collaboration can make a huge difference. Instead of reaching for the end goal straight away, Becky suggested, ‘What if we took the time to sit with our clients and explore, imagine and build together to really innovate! I accept that it’s tricky with clients, but we should put the time in with our teams, and certainly could with our suppliers/venues/DMC’s, or even with fellow industry colleagues! I often run workshops bringing together people from a range of different industries that have never met before, and when they are intentional and specific about collaboration, the results are always amazing. Collaboration is often thought of as a team thing, but if we truly collaborated with our partners, clients, suppliers and customers, rather than pushed information at them or got a like or a retweet every now and again, surely that can only strengthen those relationships, providing those involved with a sense of ownership and pride and therefore a greater sense of commitment to the end goal.’

That’s also what we hope to achieve after learning from Becky at our annual conference in Bern, takeaways that will help us advance personal careers and progress industry standards through collaboration between the most ambitious event planners. But until then, we wanted to explore the topic further and define the difference between collaboration, cooperation and coordination because collaboration when done right leads to innovation. We opened up the discussion to our community on the #eventprofstalk Twitter chat on 23rd September 2019, and below are the highlights!

How would you define collaboration? 

According to Becky, collaboration is ‘exploring, imagining and building together whilst trusting each other completely—Truly working together and making time for it to solve a complex challenge!’. According to Robert Kenward, Chief Talent Officer at YOU Search & Select, collaboration involves ‘listening to others, and taking other people’s opinions into account’, with Becky adding that listening constantly rates as the top thing that employees wish their leaders did more of!.

According to Irina Graf, founder of The MICE Blog and Event Planners Talk, ‘Collaboration is when multiple parties are working together to develop a new idea, concept or product and taking advantage of collaborative tools, such as digital but also using principles of event design, various meetings formats etc.’ 

LeAnna Toups-Bennett, project manager at the Louisiana Department of Education, shared that ‘Collaboration is taking out the me, mine and my. It is about focusing on the group’s objectives and goals in a manner not only productive but also conducive to thought sharing.’

Do you think collaboration is important? Please explain 

Becky noted that ‘Collaboration leads to innovation, but it’s not required all the time. When a challenge/brief is complex, it’s perfect, but it’s not required for everyday tasks!’. Robert discussed the challenges of collaboration as a self-employed event professional, ‘It’s tough when you work for yourself too because these can be the times when you feel most lonely and vulnerable due to the fact that your decisions mean so much more because you’re the brand/business not a corporate.’ Becky agreed that ‘It’s important to get multiple opinions and experience together to collaborate and develop the idea or event further. Take today’s chat, for example; there were so many interesting perspectives I hadn’t even thought of, it’s like collaborating on a content piece together.’ This is a great approach for small agencies who want to learn and solve complex challenges, for example, put them out on social media to the event community and develop the topic further!

LeAnna suggested that everything has a time and place and ‘not everything needs collaboration. However, much should be collaborated on. In group settings (formal and informal), everyone brings a different lens to the table. Each lens is a unique perspective that should be validated and respected.’ Becky agreed, ‘Definitely. We always say different perspectives are the point of collaboration, not the problem!’

TELUS Convention Centre added, ‘Absolutely. “Two heads are better than one”. We believe that to be successful, no matter the industry you are part of, you need to co-create, learn from others and be surrounded by organisations that can work with you towards the same goal.’

Conference Care Package highlighted that collaboration can solve problems, ‘Collaboration is a great way to approach a problem because it brings together different perspectives. There are many ways to look at a problem, and the more heads, the better.’ 

How can collaboration help in the events industry? 

According to Irina, ‘The events industry needs more collaboration between the smaller or new players in the industry with the established ones, but also more collaboration with other industries. This will keep the industry more agile, innovative, and all actors can benefit from the larger network.’

Becky presented an example of collaboration vs coordination, ‘We so often answer briefs and request quotes quickly from suppliers that event responses are often based on past experiences…use the same entertainment, the same process etc because we know it works…but it’s not providing an opportunity for innovation and change!’ Irina explained that that’s why collaboration is so important, ‘Attendees evolve, and events should evolve at the same speed to constantly exceed expectations.’ When everyone completes the tasks leading to the event day, that means that everyone is doing their job to a common goal but in their own way in parallel. On event day that’s perfect, but in the lead-up, it would be great to share and build ideas to take the event to a new level!’

Robert highlighted, ‘There is no events industry without collaboration, and there are certain areas in events, such as recruitment, where industry professionals should collaborate with specialists.’ Further discussion highlighted the reasons for lack of collaboration: Competition, fear of failure and not making the time or other general excuses! It was mentioned that ‘The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results.’

LeAnna recommended to think broadly about collaboration, ‘I think we need to think about collaboration as not happening just before events. Collaboration also occurs during and after them, too. It is not just between planners and suppliers, but participants and hosts, hosts and planners, suppliers and participants.’ 

What are the barriers to collaboration? 

All chat participants agreed that barriers are linked to personal interests, negative past experiences, an ‘I-know-it-better’ approach, a corporate culture that prevents collaboration, egoism and some who refuse to work with others, competition, lack of time and discipline and lack of communication between stakeholders. 

Becky suggested avoiding the phrases ‘”No, we’ve tried that before”, “That won’t work because”, “No, I don’t like the idea of that”…it stops teams from wanting to collaborate for fear of our ideas being shot down!’ 

What’s your top tip for helping inspire collaborative working? 

Robert and Valerie Wagner, blogger and podcaster at Hotel O Motion, suggested to ‘Just do it’ and Valerie added not to be afraid to share an idea due to fear that someone is going to steal it, and furthermore ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously, work for the cause and always focus on the customer. Irina agreed, ‘There is so much between an idea and the execution, no one is going to steal your ideas.’

Becky highlighted the importance of the group structure, ‘Creative styles should also be considered. In a group, you need more than just innovators. You need detectors to pick out key points, adaptors to tweak it, refiners to make it happen and enthusiasts to keep it all on track! Much more than an idea to collaborate on. Be intentional and be specific! Bring together people from different areas and varying experience levels and even people who have no idea about your industry, and see where you can take it!’

LeAnna encouraged not to limit yourself by being afraid to try something new and embrace technology. 

Are there ways other than collaboration that could lead to innovation? 

Becky encouraged that ‘We can spark innovation with our own ideas, but it’s unlikely to become anything more than an idea without exploring, building and imagining what it might be with others!’

Irina also thinks that merely an idea isn’t worth much unless it’s further explored, ‘It’s important to exchange knowledge and the idea with others and bounce it around, listen and fine-tune it. An idea is highly abstract until it gets context, which can be achieved through collaboration.’ 

LeAnna concluded, ‘There is always trial and error. However, you get a faster result through productive collaboration. Valerie summed up that exchange is vital, ‘Talking to each other is always important in order to hear different perspectives and to develop further.’

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