Goodbye to Office Politics: When Workers Lead the Culture, Collaboration Follows

Employees Here Are Responsible for an Agency's Spirit, and It Pays Off

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Being the new guy in an agency comes with some advantages.  Having an outsider's perspective, you can see what's unique about a workplace and what's effective, in a way that 's not always obvious from the inside.

I was originally attracted to my new agency, Carrot Creative, based on its vibrant, fun and collaborative culture. It turns out, this is made possible by a team of 20 committees within the firm. Twenty committees, and only 30-plus employees? How does that work? 

It's relatively easy for partners to infuse culture on an organization with 10 to 15 employees. But once a firm grows past 20, things change. Employees don't get the same amount of time with owners as before. Culture can begin to take on a life of its own. For many agencies, this is the first stage of growing pains -- cliques form and office politics begin. Employees can lose sight of an agency's founding vision.

Carrot blew past this awkward stage by trusting responsibility for culture to the team of 20 committees.  Their mission: to carry the agency's spirit beyond where it had ever been.

When you join Carrot as an employee, you're greeted by products from the Welcome Committee, which tries to make sure that all new hires get acclimated to the agency culture quickly and efficiently. Newcomers eventually are visited by other committees, including Propaganda (self-promotion), Shoulder (stress or personal counseling), Get Busy (office fun stuff),  Keeping it Real (events that keep everyone grounded) and of course the Beer (tasked with keeping the agency keg filled with popular and seasonal brew).

The best part: each  committee is run by employee volunteers who have stepped up to make sure co-workers get what they need, go home inspired and feel proud to work where they do. Why would they volunteer  when they already have jam-packed days? Because they've been given the authority to "own" this piece of the business. Committee leaders have the freedom to make decisions and the budgets to make things happen. Agency partners check in and approve major initiatives, and certainly provide input on success and challenges, but employees take the brunt of ownership. They make the rules, decide what lives and what dies and ultimately, how things evolve.

Employees can volunteer on any committee, and there is plenty of cross-committee collaboration on events and activities. Some "committees" are even run by a single person. Each week at the agency status meeting, committee leaders give updates on everything that 's in motion within the firm.  

It's working. As an outsider turned Carrot employee, I've experienced it first hand. I've worked in large teams without politics. I've collaborated across the agency without personal agendas getting in the way. All of these things are possible because the culture committees are shaping work life. The committees have banded employees together and given them control over things that might otherwise frustrate them. When employees are intimately involved in the agency's operational and cultural activities, they're far less likely to be deflated by challenges. Instead, they'll likely come up with solutions to make their workplace better.

How does an agency know it's all worthwhile? We recently won business where the client stated that the reason for hiring our agency was because "you demonstrated a number of things that we hold dear -- collaboration with each other, close working relationships, lots of energy, creative thinking and a desire to have fun while doing what you love." That's what return on investment in employee culture looks like. 

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, professional internet surfer and executive creative director at Carrot Creative in NYC. He's one of the three super-hot bloggers that make up AdVerve, and admits to knowing just enough about the creative business to be dangerous. Keep your distance.
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