3 Tips from the Academy: How to Foster Internal Collaboration & Boost Customer-First Innovation

Jennifer Armstrong / September 2017

What would you do in your business, if you could harness the power of many? Fresh from the launch of the Academy, a new hub for digital skills in London, dedicated to inspiring and educating everyone from marketing managers to CEOs – the masterminds behind it share their tips for uniting as a cross-team collective to spur customer-first innovation.

Digital skills training, tick; modules set, tick; space to do it, questionable. Creating the right environment to inspire the most impactful learning for your people – especially in the world of marketing where on a 100-point scale (with 100 indicating best practice) the average digital skills score in advertisers is 57 – is a tricky contender.

"Physical environment has a big part to play in what and how we learn," says Shuvo Saha, Director of Google's Digital Academy. "You can have the best teaching material in the world, yet the lighting, layout, breakout areas – even wall space – can make or break an educational experience."

Recently ten education teams across Google joined forces on a year-long innovation project to develop a space where marketers can come and develop the digital skills they need to help them be the driving force behind business success.

Building the Digital Academy came with great learnings, and here, we wanted to share some of them with you. Here are three ways you can activate internal collaboration across your own teams.

1. Bring groups with a shared purpose together as a coalition

Start by finding a point of common interest and building out. At Google, we’d seen lots of teams grow up around the need to upskill users and customers and we stood to gain a tremendous amount from each other – only we were disconnected until we noticed the vacuum.

For us this led naturally to the creation of a 'One-Google' education community, but without the feel that everyone has to be working in the same area for there to be a crossover. If there’s no clear intersection, look out for similarities – goals, obstacles, challenges – in meetings, internal communications, even a conversation over lunch. If you combined resources on a new tool, or solution or way of working, you could always adapt it to fit your needs much faster than you would working solo.

Then find a way to make it official. "To formalise our efforts, we organised a two-day summit to come together and strategise a joined-up vision for education," explains Sandrine Denier, Education Product Marketing Manager for Google Partners. "This provided a forum for all voices to be heard, and gave us a shared plan we could all rally around."

2. Keep sights firmly set on customer-first innovation

With a collective in their corner, not only could we air this challenge more widely, it opened up the opportunity to go one better than solving for their individual needs alone.

"We’d come up against this obstacle of finding training space, and when we talked to the other teams, it turned out they were experiencing the exact same thing," explains Shuvo. "So we seized on the opportunity to team up and build something that could work for everyone: a hub where customers and users could come and learn under one roof."

What’s key is keeping your innovation project tied to your customers: make sure you can always draw a clear line between your idea and how it will help your business be more useful to them first and foremost. By penning your project around these constraints, you’ll focus creative thinking squarely around doing the right thing by them.

3. Engage potential supporters with a winning story

Strategy decks are great a way to tell your story and get vital buy-in on a new venture, but they’re not the only option. Consider how best you can make your ideas take flight and fire others up.

When making the pitch for the Academy, the teams behind it felt a regular strategy document didn’t quite have the dynamism to evoke a strong reaction in their audience.

"We wanted to set the scene, in the truest sense," recalls Simon Barrow, Director of Professional Services for Google Cloud. "We knew we couldn’t prototype an entire building, but we still wanted to make the whole endeavour look and feel real. We wanted to show everyone exactly what they could have, if they lent their support to the project. So we created a map of the floorplan, named rooms, drew up a moodboard. Looking at the Academy now, it bears little resemblance to the real thing, but thinking of it like a client pitch really worked get people on-side."

Jen Harvey, Site Lead for the Academy, adds: “This project has been a truly cross-functional effort, and we will continue to work this way to ensure that future Academies are designed and built with the same approach so that we continue to help marketers across the world build digital capability."

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