Agencies can make room for cultures that feel like family
A view from Claire Beale

Agencies can make room for cultures that feel like family

You can't force a close-knit team and culture, but you can make room for it to happen.

At the risk of unsettling a few of you: I had dinner recently with a global chief who confessed he was planning to eject his UK chief executive.

He’d got several theories about why this person wasn’t working out. And he’d got several thoughts about how he needed to reshape the management team to get things back on track.

What he clearly hadn’t got a clue about, though, was the culture of his UK office and the chemistry that existed among his most senior lieutenants.

From his big office overseas, he couldn’t see (or, more appropriately, feel) the complex, visceral dynamic (trust, respect, joy, love) between the other two members of his key management team in London. He didn’t know either of them well, and couldn’t remember the name of one of them. Yet he could be about to impose a new partner on the pair as though he was moving wooden pieces on a chessboard. He’d thought long and hard about the strategy but not about the people he was playing with.

You can’t engineer a close-knit management team, boy band-style, and just expect the chemistry to ignite. Trust, respect, joy, love and all the other elemental ingredients of brilliant teams either happen or they don’t. You can’t force it. And, as Ben Mooge points out in this issue, you can’t articulate it on an "about us" page or give it to HR as a recruitment checklist.

But you can make room for it to happen, and you can do what the textbooks say and lead by example (tricky, though, if you live on a plane and see your team once every quarter and can’t remember their names).

Anyway, I adore the picture Mooge has posted in his piece because it’s a wonderful reminder of how many brilliant people have been through the doors at Mother. And it’s a wonderful reminder of how the agencies that get this stuff right draw in and nourish the very best talent around  –  to the benefit, ultimately, of the industry at large.

Mother is clearly one of these agencies, HHCL and BMP were others. Interestingly, they are/were all entrepreneurial owner/managed businesses where the hiring decisions, and all the other big and small choices that create rich culture, were all made by the people on the ground. Family.

It’s not impossible to nurture this culture of camaraderie and loyalty and joy in a big networked agency; Grey’s done it recently most obviously (ignoring DDB, which ended up having to buy it in). But it’s hard, really hard. Of course, the global chief considering firing his UK CEO should allow the rest of the management team to find the replacement. Mostly, though, big global companies don’t work that way. Which explains so much.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.