Large corporate collaboration

We got bought. And contrary to most, I am quite excited about it. We are moving from a medium-sized corporate entity to a large corporate entity with divisions and multiple business units. My experience will be complete as I started in small consultancies.

What excites me is to learn from the other business groups. The smaller you are, the more you are an island. With more resources, there are more opportunities to acquire other best practices.

But I don’t know how this works on the tactical level. So my question is to those working for large companies, how do you collaborate with the same department in a different business unit? Is there a single contact and they will direct your inquiry to the appropriate person? Are there summits where the different units come together? All of the above? Please tell us how you utilized this “same” resource in a different part of your company.

Be prepared for “The clusterf*ck” of design silos (hopefully not, but be prepared for it)

Having been bought and sold twice my experience has been large corporations TEND to be bad about managing design at scale. If the company is more progressive, and has a centralized design function that is the ideal. If design teams are nestled underneath each business unit/engineering team/etc then it becomes very challenging, because everyone has to respond to the needs of different owners, rather than a central corporate good.

Some companies obviously have this figured out, but when we were bought it was quite the opposite - we were purposely segregated from the larger design functions (which were soon to be sold off anyways) and it wasn’t until we became a smaller business that they realized design needed to be centralized and spread horizontally across different business units. By the time that happened we were divested and absorbed by a company with NO internal design functions, which has also been a hurdle because we have to explain why internal design isn’t just a consulting model of “Give us what we want and move on”.

My advice to you would be:

-Do your best to find out how the business units are structured and try to identify who the other designers are. Usually the reporting structure will be similar (IE All designers report to engineering) so you can drill down the food chain to try and find the right folks, or at least know who you can ask to find the right people.

-Understand what, if any alignment exists between the design functions. This is where I mention being prepared for potential disappointment.

-If there is a central design organization, then your immediate goal should be figuring how to get out of your silo and integrate with that larger organization. Even if you still work with the same people and do the same job, reporting structure is important because it matters if you’re representing the goals and vision of the company as a whole, or the goals and vision of your boss/BU.

We have done a number of team building activities over the years/design summits/projects around consolidating and building on a common design language, etc. Usually depends more on your travel budget and resources than anything else.

Good luck in the new gig.

I can tell you from the get go we are independent business units, there is no central doctrine to follow. This makes sense in that the product offering is very diverse and there is not much need for a common design language between business units. We are held to having the same vision/mission. But as it turns out, our current vision/mission is identical to the corporate version. Just different words to say the same thing.

How do you find the structure. Ask your HR to ask their HR? Have your VP ask their VP? Once you find the structure, just cold call? Or something else? Do you use multiple contacts or just one go to in each department or, it depends?

At the current place, if I needed collaboration with another department, I would walk down, say hi, my name is, and go from there. That method won’t work in the new case.

One easy way to start finding people is see if you have a standard corporate directory. If you do (and it includes an org chart or titles) you may be able to drill through and try to ID people to talk to. Talking to folks in Mechanical Engineering is always a decent place to start because you can say “Hi I do design, where do you get your designs from?” and they’ll either say “Consultants” or “Talk to Bob, he’s our head of design”. For things like that it’s fine for a cold call or email. VP’s probably won’t be bothered but if you have a good relationship with your VP’s you can ask them to help you find out as well.

In our case, there were central teams within each BU, and then individuals who tackled specific sub-businesses.

Sometimes you stumble upon people by accident or find out that someone was hiding a designer in a closet and didn’t want to share them.