An Idea Contest Engages the Whole Agency in Finding Better Ways to Collaborate

It's Important for Management to Be Clear on the Rules and Be Truly Open to All Ideas, From Staff at Every Level

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In my last post, I talked about the importance of tapping the internal brainpower of every single person in the agency, at every level.

We did just that with a recent "One Idea" contest, where senior management challenged everyone to submit a proposal for the workplace that would be transformative and simple to execute. 

A funny thing happened along the way: 100% of all entries focused on one thing -- the need for greater internal communication, collaboration and connection. Not via technology -- an intranet or anything like that -- but face to face.

We have some new hires at our shop, and not everyone knows each other. Plus , we work on three floors, so people in branding on the 6th floor, for example, don't get to spend much time with those in public relations/social media on the 8th floor. And so on. 

People suggested internal lunches, happy hours and town hall meetings. They proposed creating more physical space for collaboration --  a build-it-and-they-will-innovate-better type of concept. Discussion centers around questions such as: "Should we have high or low walls separating the workstations?"; "How often should the four divisions share work, just to keep everyone in the loop?"; and of course the classic, "Can we have beer on tap—and not just on Friday afternoons?"

Overall, the younger generation of employees prefers working in a large open space, where they can all see each other and each other's work. This can get noisy  and many wear headphones to tune out distractions. For brainstorming, they need dedicated areas for meeting. 

We narrowed down the entries to five finalists and ultimately my leadership team chose an idea that featured a mini beer-stocked pub on each floor with ample tables, whiteboards and flat screens for idea sharing and shaping.

I announced the winner at an all-agency town hall meeting, where we recognized the finalists. Many of the changes were put in place quickly, driven by a new business deadline. It was easy to get team members involved in the implementation, since they were all on the same page even before there was a winner.

If you decide to conduct an internal idea contest,  here are a few things you might want to think about if you want to unearth ideas from your team:

  • Be clear in your objective and how you present it. If you want people to take time away from client work (or personal time), you want to make sure they don't waste their time, or anyone else's.

  • Emphasize that you are open to any productive idea. If your team believes that senior management is too sensitive, you are going to get sanitized submissions. We promote an open, entrepreneurial culture, where people feel they can tell it like it is , as long as it's in the best interest of our agency and clients.

  • Include an incentive. We award cash, but gift cards to restaurants and popular retailers also work. Recognize the winning individual(s) in front of the whole agency. Good ideas deserve the spotlight. We tried not to alienate people whose ideas were not chosen by openly praising all the ideas we received.

  • Implement the idea quickly. Don't sit on it, or senior management will lose credibility. Skepticism will seep in, defeating the purpose of the initiative. 

Marc Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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