Envision a typical office space. Within it, there’s a room, set off from the main area; a bit disheveled, unkempt even. Piles of papers stacked high: Moleskin notebooks, storyboards, and post-it notes wallpaper the walls.
Whiteboarded scribbles, diagrams, and doodles that lay out every step in the process, outlining how ideas inch closer to the goal – all evidence of bustling activity. As a record of the project from start to finish, the room wears its objective like a favorite worn-in T-shirt: slightly tattered, but comfortable, familiar, and improved with use.
Does this environment sound familiar? Some call it a “War Room” while others call it “Mission Control.”
What is a War Room? It’s a gathering space – dedicated to an account, campaign, or project – where information is shared and collected. Or it can also be a communal area that teams regularly use to brainstorm. Like the desk of Einstein, most great ideas take shape in settings that are cluttered with the contributions of many team members and their divergent sources of inspiration. With traces of everyone’s work, this room – an ideal creative space where people gel as a team – conveys the process of thinking, the environment in which trust has been built over time, and not just the final result.
Every creative department has one; ad agencies have more than a few. I’ve worked in a number of spaces like these throughout my career. In fact, many roles, industries, and companies take great pride in creating a zone where innovative ideas can spring forth.
Yet collaboration today has changed substantially. Remote workers and global teams require regular interactions that cross geographic distance and span time zones. The makeup and proximity of teams has evolved based on the needs of the modern workplace and with these changes, teams have been forced to re-evaluate how they connect with one another.
Team collaboration is as important as it ever was, despite the growing physical distance between workers. When paired with the growing demands of the 24/7 workplace, how do teams stick together? Is the War Room a relic of a Mad Men-era past?
To make collaboration feasible within the parameters of today’s workforce, employers need to reimagine the way they communicate across teams. Not only is this possible, it’s happening now – thanks to technology. Here are some tips to build the modern project War Room for today’s distributed office:
- Gather the troops. In order to be successful, teams must feel a sense of mutual involvement from the get-go. Projects span a timeline from an idea to the delivery of that idea. Face-to-face meetings help set the stage, to establish an operating rhythm, and to show workers that group brainstorms are as much a part of the process as the tasks assigned to individuals on the project team. Recurring meetings establish rapport – offering a process for informal contributions in between major deadlines – and should be thought of as valuable touch points, not just another box on the routine checklist. Establish kickoff questions that create personal investment from everyone participating to bridge distances and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard from the start.
- Take pride in the process. Meetings are just a moment in time along the project’s timeline. Informal, regular conversation and knowledge sharing needs to take place between teams organically on an ad hoc basis, whether in person or remote. The user experience between modes of communication must be fluid – enabled by technology – so that teams can connect however it makes sense as they fuse their thinking together. Teams need to have the flexibility to move between SMS, modern chat, or video to confirm mundane details, sketch out plans, and then graduate to video chat; just as easily as they could if they worked from the same physical location. Again, this helps mimic the physical world, helping workers work closely together with the immediacy that was previously only available when working in the same office. Managers need to be the glue that keeps everyone together here, leading by example. If you can’t work from the same location, find ways to establish a digital War Room, and establish ways to share little victories, “X”ed out concepts, and starred goals. Use, chat, cloud document sharing, video and work together in real time. Call out individual successes. Take screenshots. Let text tell a digital story by highlighting vignettes and taking the time to markup documents, and use meetings to drive decisions. Help move projects forward while establishing credibility and accountability within the team, reminding everyone of goals, encouraging and coaching them often, as the project advances toward the finish line.
- Recognize failures. Starting each meeting with key lessons learned creates a forum where team members can be transparent, where goals can be discussed openly, and setbacks can be discussed outright for the benefit of all. Again, this takes leadership that rolls up its sleeves: as observant as they are humble to acknowledge that failure is a regular part of the path to success. Take this video from Spanx founder and CEO Sara Blakely on failure – and let it serve as a reminder that reflecting on failures helps teams ultimately better visualize the goal.
In the end, a War Room is just a room: four walls, carpet, and some ceiling tiles. What it represents, however, is something much bigger: the potential for collaboration to live and breathe in one space, defining something that everyone feels a part of. When leaders can bring this sense of purpose to projects by helping connect workers to each other and to a visual display of everyone’s collective contributions, greater work will result. That’s the digital War Room of the future.