13 June 2024

Work together, grow together

| The European |

In an extract from his new book, CEO of Argonon James Burstall outlines why collaboration is a vital component to crisis management

In the independent TV production sector we are good at managing tight margins. We have learned to be nimble and always ready to pivot. Change management is firmly embedded in our DNA. But when a crisis like Covid strikes, more is required to survive.

Covid led to a 9% fall in our revenue, compared to an industry average of 19% – but we actually increased out headcount during the pandemic and came out of it with our revenues up 50% year-on-year. This is largely down to a 16-step process we call The Flexible Method. It was first developed by Argonon during another existential crisis, the 2008 Credit Crunch.

Some aspects of it may seem counter-intuitive. When disaster strikes, we often instinctively revert to behaviour that might seem justified, but which actually damages your business in the long-term. When the survival of your organisation is threatened in a crisis, your focus is naturally on self-preservation. As your income, savings and even essential supplies dry up, your anxiety urges you to protect what you have and guard it against others. You may think about how to ringfence your clients and hoard resources. This is understandable, but ultimately unhelpful.

Reaching out

Effective collaboration, especially in a crisis, can boost long-term commercial success. Harvard Business Review research on the 2008 financial crisis found that collaboration leads to sustainably higher commercial performance. The most highly collaborative companies – the top 10% – grew their business during the crisis and continued that upward trajectory afterwards. Those in the bottom 70% hunkered down and dramatically reduced their collaboration with others. The revenue generated by this group contracted during the crisis and had still not recovered five years after the recession had ended.

The reasons for the success of the more collaborative companies is that reaching out to a wider group allows you to tap into different perspectives and experiences. This enables you to come up with new solutions and adapt dynamically to rapidly changing, complex problems. Collaboration counters any tendency to just dig in. It can also help you alleviate anxiety and give you hope.

Collaborating externally will certainly help your organisation if teamwork and collaboration are already embedded in your culture. Ways of encouraging this include listening to your teams, praising teamwork and having a higher sense of purpose that motivates people to think about the greater good and act collectively. You should also emphasise this sense of purpose when seeking to collaborate with other organisations that may share your values.

When disaster strikes, the first place to turn when widening your circle externally is your sector or industry network. How are your peers responding? Is there something your industry or the government can do to help? If so, teaming up to create alliances will give you a stronger voice when lobbying.

Collaboration can also make you a better leader. You can learn a lot from your peers. No matter what your problem is, the chances are someone else has already been through it, so surrounding yourself with people who can speak from experience is invaluable.


James Burstall is the founder and CEO of Argonon, one of the UK’s largest international independent TV production groups. ‘The Flexible Method: Prepare to Prosper in the Next Global Crisis’ is available from Amazon and good book stores.

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