When we started SmallBox back in 2006 we did one thing – build websites. Often client contact was pretty limited. Sometimes we met with the client only at kickoff and launch. Essentially we did our work, they did their work (mostly content) and the two ends messily met in a new website. It was not an ideal way of working, to say the least.
Over time we have radically changed the way we work. Our work, internally and with clients, has become an increasingly analog experience, even when we are creating digital outcomes. We have come to believe that the best digital experiences often originate in analog ones. As awesome as the web and technology are, they can’t compete with face to face, human interaction.
Modern technology is powerful, and that cuts both ways. It can transform organizations or make a huge mess of things. Implement the right solution and great efficiences are achieved. Choose the wrong solution and technology debt begins to accrue. It all comes down to how people work together to solve an organization's problems.
So to more effectively solve our client's problems we have had to learn new problem-solving skills. Along the way we began to notice an interesting by-product: our clients were beginning to pick up and apply these skills internally. Sure, they were getting a new website or a new logo and messaging strategy, but they were also getting a toolkit to solve other problems. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a white board, some butcher block paper and sticky notes. These “primitive" tools, when used correctly, can be very powerful. It all comes down to how people work together.
From our experience, here are the 3 most essential organizational skill sets: creative problem solving, collaborative team work and effective communication. Teams who have some level of mastery around these skill sets work smarter and faster than other teams. Also, choosing and implementing the right solutions, technology or otherwise, is absolutely dependent on these skills. So what better opportunity to learn and practice than a project? This could be a website, software, branding, strategic plan or really, anything that impacts a good chunk of the company. It's a two for one deal!
In the process of working on a project we look for opportunities to teach our clients along the way. We often design custom collaborative exercises that illuminate areas of the business that need focus and clarity. This sometimes pushes participants into healthy conflict which, when handled correctly, leads to shared commitment on the path forward. We facilitate with the goal that every voice is heard and needed conversations are had. Clients often find this approach so useful that start appying it to other organizational challenges without us. We love this! Our goal is to teach our clients how to fish. We feel this is as valuable as the actual project outcomes.
So why do this? Why not stick to our knitting and just build websites?
I believe that, more than ever, service businesses must continually increase the value they bring to their clients. If they are providing the same value today as they did a year ago they risk obsolescence. Their clients are always watching and learning, as they should be, looking for ways to bring the work in-house and/or create efficiencies. Our philosophy is to encourage this behavior while also working harder every year to increase our value, constantly bringing something new to the equation.
This has led to SmallBox setting aside a week every 6 months – our "Factory Weeks” – to explore different ways of working, master or build new tools and generally “sharpen the saw.” This isn’t cheap to do but we firmly believe that it is essential to maintaining a relevant offering.
But what stands apart is the joy we get from teaching as we do. Nothing is more satisfying to our team than seeing our clients empowered by the work we do together.
Together is better.
We want to bring our clients into our journey, to share what we have learned and to learn from them along the way. It's a collaboration.