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I Found a Chief Collaboration Officer and his name is Todd


Posted by on March 16, 2012

I think at this point it’s safe to say that I’ve worked with, researched, and communicated with hundreds of companies around how they are leveraging emergent tools and strategies to impact their business.  A few weeks ago I asked if we need a chief collaboration officer which received a lot of attention.  Out of all of these companies I have interacted with I have never come across a “chief collaboration officer,” until now.

Some of you may know the Motley Fool (just under 300 employees), they offer visitors investing information and is a site I used to frequent quite often when I was involved with finance.  After speaking with several members of their team not only was I inspired but what they are doing but I felt as though I had uncovered a gem of a collaboration and employee engagement story.  I first came in contact with Motley Fool through Lee Burbage (he works at Motley Fool and focuses on people and culture) who responded to one of my collaboration tweets.  Lee then introduced me to Todd Etter, the chief collaboration officer at Motley Fool and one of the early founders of the company.  Todd always had a passion for creating and playing games designed to get people to think or laugh and has a profound interest in social interactions.

I had the opportunity to chat with Todd about his role at Motley Fool and to find out a bit more about what he is doing over there.

Todd’s main goal is to get people to creatively and intelligently think together.  What’s interesting about this is that Todd is not specifically focusing on integrating this into specific projects or even into the general work of employees.  For example one of the games Todd created was handing out his employees (broken up into teams) 9 cartoon drawings of marine life; fish, crabs, whales, etc.  A number and English word were written on each animal:

1. SALOON

2. SCRIMP

3. MERLIN

4. HEARING

5. SHANK

6. TUBA

7. GULPY

8. CUD

9. BASE

The instructions?  Well, the only thing Todd told the group was that this puzzle had a single phrase as its answer.  And that was it.  They had to figure out what to do.

Todd observed that people take concepts from these challenges or puzzles and then apply them to their work, for example listening to each other as they each voice their ideas and possible solutions.

But it’s not just about these offline games.  Motley Fool also uses a collaboration platform (SocialText) to connect their employees digitally and the concepts that employees learn from the physical games are translated to the digital collaboration environments.  Another example of a game that Todd put together revolved around employees learning each other’s names.  If everyone in the company new each other then they would be more productive.  20% of the employee bonus was tied to getting a 100% pass rate on this so once every employee new everyone else’s name then the cash pool was unlocked and everyone was rewarded.  This really helped break down walls within the organizations.

Todd told me that it doesn’t matter how large the company is, everyone can develop these types of collaborative games.  For example instead of doing this across your entire 100k person company you may want to do this across two departments who you believe should be more collaborative with each other, say sales and product development or your marketing team in the United States and your marketing team in Japan.

Todd emphasized that organizations really focus on the online component today but that we should also be including the real world collaboration aspects among employees.  I asked Todd what he felt the key characteristics or qualities of a chief collaboration officer were and these were some of the things he outlined.

  • open minded personality
  • work well with all types of people
  • easy going to approach and talk to
  • need to enjoy social interaction
  • creative thinker
  • visionary, someone that can see how things could be and not just how they are
  • effective communicator
  • someone willing to practice what they preach
  • need to understand games/puzzles/working together
  • someone who understands the danger of just focusing on the cheer-leading mentality; they should have a strategic/analytical mind that can tie this back to business results and the company message

Admittedly Todd told me this was a relatively new role and that he wasn’t completely sure which direction it’s going to go in or how it will evolve but the fact that this role even exists at Motley Fool is something I found quite amazing.  It’s interesting that Todd’s role isn’t purely focused on technology and on digital collaboration but also on getting employees to work and think together while being physically around each other.  It’s also interesting to note the employees at Motley Fool are happy and they have a high retention rate.

Motley Fools does all sorts of other interesting creative and fun things to not only encourage employee collaboration but to inspire and engage their workforce.  For example every month all the employee names are put into a hat and one person’s name is drawn, that person must take two weeks off in the coming month.  The company as a whole is a very inspiring story that I think more organizations large and small should try to emulate.

What do you think?  Do you know of any other chief collaboration officers?

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