How creative collaboration can boost your company culture

Where do we go next in a world of Great Resignation? the Datas telling us that people don’t just leave for more money. They leave toxic cultures.

As dust collects on the ping pong tables and free food goes unconsumed, leaders ask themselves, “What levers do I have left?” This is predictably followed by pressure to throw money at them.

Too little, too late. They walked out of Zoom’s door before you could say “counter-offer”. What remains are bewildered leaders with little hope of changing the equation.

Between an endless pandemic, stacked family responsibilities and a job that now seems unavoidable, it’s an existential moment. It is also a somewhat hot labor market. But that doesn’t explain the real reason people leave YOUR business.

Now is not the time to give up. It’s time to move forward into our future. It’s time to transform. How? Culture. In the past, he’s been categorized with soft words, speaking HR. At best, a word to insert into superficial discussions of why a place is better for work – fill in the blank with a benefit-related reason.

Most leaders have never been intentional about culture. They said the right things, but prioritized profits, a quick career path for themselves, and sought rewards for siled “hero” behaviors.

This leaves us with questions: what if cultures were reinvented? What if the question that all leaders asked themselves was not “How can I keep my people?” but rather “How do they want to feel and how do they want to be treated?” and “How can I inspire them?”, and “How can we shape a culture we love?”

This is the way: co-creative culture

Look no further than Pixar. In Creativity, Inc.., Ed Catmull shares the power of “the Braintrust” – a collection of passionate people focused on working together with egos off the table and building blocks on the table. The Braintrust was once a small team, but Catmull (the head of Pixar and president of Disney Animation) says it’s become “part of the DNA of the culture, and Braintrust meetings have become the norm” – inspiring connection, collaboration and co-creation.

Braintrust at Pixar has also influenced everything from Marvel to the Star Wars universe. Jon Favreau was the “only Disney director who didn’t just ask for advice, but went to Pixar and experimented with Braintrust himself,” Catmull explained.

It’s led to endless joy for Star Wars fans, including those unhappy with Movie Episodes 7, 8, and 9, giving them The Mandalorian and an undeniably cute and powerful Baby Yoda. How? Favreau has built a directing team as diverse as a bunch of empire-fighting bounty hunters like Bryce Dallas Howard, Taika Waititi, and Deborah Chow. They selflessly created context together, rather than in silos, avoiding the history-destroying mistakes of “heads down” story-building that left JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson facing online debates forever. on the quality of the suites. What impact does deep collaboration (or lack thereof) have on the larger Star Wars story arc? How does this have anything to do with building culture in any field?

The Braintrust approach is not just about hoping for the future, but about reinventing the way we engage in work and life. Build with pods. Break the silence of boring meetings and turn them into co-creative conversations. Where we don’t “download” others with data (something AI can do better than us anyway). We explore together. Different ideas that we had never imagined. Experiences, products and services that surprise and delight us and our customers.

It’s the difference between a disjointed DC Universe and a fully connected Marvel ecosystem, or a dispersed set of products and an intuitively connected experience, as Apple has built it by design.

The difference between employees feeling detached and jaded or part of a world-changing cause.

The difference between companies that become a relic of the past or a future builder.

Default culture or formatting culture?

Leaders faced with broken cultures they have shaped have failed themselves and their people. And the most difficult news is this: there is no quick fix for this. No overnight solution. Culture is shaped over years and decades. And if it wasn’t intentional, it’s probably not what people want.

So what should a leader do? Look in the mirror. Make it clear how irrelevant, complacent, or complicit they have become. Not that they haven’t built a successful business. Not that they haven’t built a successful team. But they were never intentional about the culture.


So here we are. 2022. Living in a world where people don’t get enough empathy, appreciation, and inspiration. Where they don’t want bureaucracy, intimidation or boredom.

Here are some things you can do now to start shaping the culture:

Personalize meetings. Studies show that people feel exhausted, more alone and exhausted. The last thing they need is to jump from one meeting to the next “cutting to the chase” at every turn. It’s a surefire way to make them go away. The best approach? Give them space. Start with two questions: “How are you? and “How are you really?” Give them the opportunity to check in, share their dog story, let their 5 year old daughter wave to the camera. Bonding is one of the best ways for people to feel part of a team and want to stay there. The “Everything But Work” check-ins are great, as well as sharing stories and highlighting what we’re grateful for.

Give people permission to build. Yesour people aren’t as interested in random rewards as they are in challenges, or lack thereof. They want to take on impossible challenges, disrupt things and build them together. They want to be trusted so that they can extend the impact of their work in all directions. Let people take on a big challenge and give them explicit permission to connect with whoever they need to make it happen. Break down the barriers for them and they will raise the bar themselves.

Related: Inside the Pixar Braintrus

Turn “boring work” into inspired co-creation. If people don’t feel inspired by their work, they will leave. It’s so simple. They want to be part of something big and feel like they belong. People want to be part of the wave where hard work matters. It might not be your job to keep their work from feeling boring, but you can create the environment where work feels and is co-creative. How? Connect the dots with them. Tell people you want them to “co-create” solutions and get into the trenches with them to see what they see and feel what they feel. Show them a model of co-creation based on your commitment to engaging them and building collective progress. There’s nothing like leaders who build meaning and purpose by shaping products and solutions into one.

Culture is about embodying principles. It’s about reimagining meetings as conversations rather than downloads, and building bridges between teams rather than creating more islands and silos. It’s about giving people a sense of joy, where they talk about feeling energized. Where leaders care about them personally and bring them together. A place where the word “love” can even emerge in all its simple yet powerful ways.

Isn’t that what each of us wants?

A bright future that we can imagine and shape together. A future that every leader can start building now. Intentionally. Intentionally. Sacrificing one’s own ego for the greater good of others. Knowing that people will feel the truth of their motives deep in their hearts by the way we make them feel, not by pithy memos. They will feel the strength of a common purpose, building success together, for each other and for customers. A joy that has power, woven into the fabric of our personal lives and with our families. Shaping a future where we are not only better at work, but much better in life.

We are now at a critical moment in leadership: what are you going to do with it? How will you lead others into the future through the power of culture? And how are you going to design it to make it such an inspiring place that people dream of joining?

First steps towards transformation

How can we build cultures more like Pixar’s Braintrust? Here are some ways to level up (which we learned from Ed Catmull):

Give people permission to change the world by first changing their job. Be open to where people take their passion for building solutions. Billion-dollar companies are born from a single idea that someone had had for years, once they were given permission to unleash it. Lead with questions to spark a culture of curiosity, where everyone can imagine and articulate a better future, and partner with whoever they need to make it happen, without fear. Show them you care by giving them the space to create, collaborate and shape with others.

Encourage people to be brave enough to co-create with others. Don’t let your culture slide into workplace politics, leaders building personal empires, or self-inflation. Embrace the future of seeking to become a selfless force. Make others the mission by putting aside ego and pursuing work based on measurement: how your culture inspires the lives of others and how the “lowest ranked” person tells a stranger about your culture. Model and encourage bold empathy to help others feel seen, respected and understood.

Gather misfits to build insanely awesome things. The future is calling. People are looking for a superior way of life and work. Let them drive the deep work that not only is different but makes the difference. Be inspired by the story of your future and seek to be now. Do not blindly follow popular opinion or general consensus. Your competition doesn’t have the innovative elixir, your people do. Have the courage to align the principles and be brave enough to manifest the best results, whether now, 10, 100 or 1000 years from now. Build infinite trust in your team.

Braintrust is about co-creation. At the heart of it, co-creation solves the deepest issues of toxic work cultures and why people would ever leave.

The world needs co-creative cultures.

Build one.

Chris Deaver and Ian Clawson are the co-founders of BraveCorea leadership consultancy that shapes the future by helping leaders be more creative and creative people become better leaders.