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Adam Grant’s 6 Tips for Building More Engaged Marketing Teams

By December 16, 2021

“There’s nothing about learning and creativity that requires spontaneity. You just need informal interaction time. And you can actually structure that unstructured time.“

That’s organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant, who studies how people find motivation and meaning in the workplace. Adam has found that the same skills that make us good at thinking and learning can make us worse at rethinking and unlearning — and the ability to do the latter has become much more important in light of the groundbreaking changes to the workplace wrought by the pandemic.

Cartoon depiction of key takeaways from Adam Grant’s higher ed CMO circle event. invited Adam to speak with a group of higher education CMOs about ways they can update their own opinions and strategies, open people’s minds, and build teams in which people are eager to improve on the status quo rather than enforce it. I was thrilled to moderate that highly engaged discussion, which focused mainly on concerns about how to find the right mix between in-person and remote work, how to build and support strong remote or hybrid teams when everyone is exhausted, and how to rebuild lost opportunities for spontaneous collaboration and innovation.

Adam drew upon his recent experiences with virtual teaching and shared insights about how he harnessed the power of technology to create what he calls “the richest conversations I have ever had as a teacher.” For example, he used the chat window as an extension of the classroom, which allowed him to build a safe space for both honesty and humour (as when one student joked that Adam was having a “bad hair life”) and led to stronger relationships with and among students. Opening the chat also opened the ability for diverse conversations. Instead of hearing from two or three students during class on a topic, now all 90 could join in.

Below are some of the key themes and strategies that emerged from our conversation.

“Thinking like a scientist“ can help us become better, more flexible leaders. Adam says thinking like a scientist means having the humility to know what we don’t know, to doubt what we think we do know, and the curiosity to explore alternate perspectives. We should be as motivated to look for reasons why we might be wrong as we are to search for reasons why we must be right. It’s important to recognize that most of our beliefs are just hypotheses waiting to be tested. We should always be trying to learn from people and situations.

Bringing humanity and personality into work interactions can lead to stronger, healthier, more engaged workplace cultures, whether in-person, remote, or hybrid. Something as simple as using emojis or GIFs in a work chat can give people the opportunity to express their creativity and help us gain insight into coworkers’ individualities. “Passion talks” and icebreaker exercises (like “tell us about one item on your desk and why it’s important to you”) can also be helpful in learning more about colleagues, which helps to build a stronger workplace culture — even remotely.

Invite people to be vulnerable in order to build trust. It’s important to set the tone for an environment of psychological safety and make work conversations a safe place for both humour and honesty. It may sound counterintuitive, but something like asking people to tell an embarrassing story about themselves before beginning a brainstorming activity allows them to be more creative, because it helps them build trust with others and let their guard down to share their honest ideas and thoughts. They get to choose the story, so they are not humiliated, but instead offer up that vulnerability as a way of letting themselves be known.

Hashtags: They’re not just for social media. In a group chat or virtual meeting, using hashtags like #question, #aha, #onfire, and #debate can help facilitators drive and choreograph the discussion, draw out introverts, capture insights, and determine when more explanation is needed or when it’s time to move on.

Schedule time for unstructured learning, creativity, and connection. Adam says the main problem with remote work is that it lacks the spontaneous interactions that happened naturally when everybody worked in the office. That’s especially bad news because research shows that weaker ties (relationships with people you might see occasionally, rather than close colleagues) are more likely to open up fresh ideas. He says the best way to compensate for that loss is to provide structured time for informal interactions. This might look like virtual water cooler chats, scheduled one-on-ones with colleagues you’ve never met in person, or pairing up people in similar roles for scheduled yet casual lunch conversations.

Use sports metaphors to decide when to work synchronously and when to work asynchronously. Essentially, there are three kinds of sports: individual, relay, and team. The same is true of the types of work we are trying to get done. Adam says analyzing the type of work a hybrid team is doing can be helpful in determining when they need to be together in the office (“team sports” like brainstorming or strategic planning), when working remotely might be the better option (“individual sports“ like writing a report or analyzing data), and when maintaining synchronous communication with the next person in the chain of work is most important (“relay sports“ like ensuring a document is reviewed by a series of specific people and submitted on deadline).

For more insights, download the new whitepaper, A Student-Centric Approach to Higher Education Marketing. Read more from Jessica: Impact and Interoperability: How Te chnology Powers Collaboration

About the Author

Jessica Hood, Vice President of Innovation + Digital Transformation,
Jessica Hood
Vice President of Innovation + Digital Transformation,
Jessica leads the team responsible for ensuring the executives of top nonprofits and education institutions are set up for success as they lead their organizations through a digital transformation. She has 20 years of experience in the social sector, helping organizations scale and deliver impact with technology. Jessica is a volunteer with Girl Scouts of Northern California as a STEM and Camp CEO mentor. She served as a judge for CARE Scale X Design Pitch Night and sits on an advisory council to their technology team.