A healthy relationship with your team is critical to the success of any project. Healthy team dynamics keep teams motivated, make room for creativity, allow for transparent and honest communication, and ultimately help produce great work. When two teams come together from different environments , like an Agency and a Client nonprofit team, it’s that much more important to focus on cultivating healthy relationships as a key component to ensuring project success. When looking back at some of the most successful agency-client relationships we’ve had over the years at Constructive, common themes quickly emerge.
Honesty & Transparency
The starting point to any successful agency-client relationship is honest and transparent communication. A clear and open communication strategy creates an environment of trust where teams are encouraged to ask questions, offer up different viewpoints, and voice challenges or concerns from the very beginning of the project. We relish opportunities to hear from our clients about how we’re performing and delivering because it allows us to adjust our process or course correct before major issues arise. It can sometimes be challenging to find opportunities to talk openly with clients about what’s working and what’s not when you’re focused on delivering and meeting deadlines. But we’ve found that when you make the space to reflect on how effectively teams are working together, great insights are uncovered that can be integrated into the project and relationships flourish.
Creating a working environment that is collaborative is also important to ensuring successful agency-client relationships. We can’t do the work we do without our clients’ expertise and input, and we know that our clients engage us because we bring our own expertise.
Collaboration is embedded into every activity and process that we engage in with our clients, and we believe the benefits are profound. A participatory process ensures we’re gathering insights from stakeholders with different goals and perspectives to co-create effective solutions. The end result of such an open, collaborative environment means a plethora of ideas are uncovered, teams are held accountable for the WHY behind their work because they are asked to explain their intentions, and the end product of what we’re creating together is strategically sound because it’s been tested through a collaborative process.
Workshops are perhaps the best example of how collaboration is embedded into our process. Since Constructive operates remotely, and most of our clients are still working remotely as well, we gather teams on Zoom and use collaboration tools like Miro to brainstorm ideas, identify common themes, and problem solve.
A collaborative process is not possible, however, unless it is accessible for everyone, so we also see this as paramount to building effective relationships. We try our best to avoid industry jargon, break down complex technical concepts, train our clients on the tools we use, and always allow space for questions and conversation.
We are lucky in that we’re always learning from our clients about their issue areas which are complex and multi-dimensional. One day, we might be digging into the complex dynamics of drug pricing with our clients at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Drug Pricing Lab, learning why the system is not designed to deliver low cost drugs to patients. Another day, we’re learning about the justice system and the systemic barriers that prevent all New Yorkers from thriving with The Legal Aid Society.
We know our clients are busy working towards a more just and equitable world so the least we can do is ensure our work together is accessible so that we can spend more of our time problem solving, identifying solutions, and co-creating impactful work to advance their goals.
One sure-fire way to erode trust in any relationship is lack of ownership. To avoid this, we prioritize communicating early and clearly about commitments so that everyone on a project team knows when things are happening and who is responsible for doing them. While proactive and consistent communication support an environment of ownership, not every project goes as planned and sometimes original commitments can’t be kept. When things do go awry, like a delivery deadline that won’t be made or feedback that won’t be delivered on time, it’s important to own up to the challenge quickly and lay out clear next steps for resolving.
Everyone has their story of a great project they worked on professionally. While a big part of that story is the end product of whatever was created — a new website that increased donations and reached wider audiences or a new service offering that benefited your constituents — most of the time what is remembered about the project is the people you worked with. You remember the creative energy and collaboration that made the project possible. That’s why we put so much of our focus into cultivating successful relationships with our teams and with our clients.
So in summary, when a project environment is built on trust, communication is honest and transparent, teams are successfully collaborating because processes are accessible, and there’s a culture of ownership, teams thrive and can accomplish great things.