Cross functional collaboration examples from Dan Stratton

Dan Stratton is the Director, Sales Acceleration & Enablement, at Cisco Meraki. In this session, Dan joined The Collaborator to share several cross functional collaboration examples, along with a great deal of insights and stories along the way.  

Cross functional collaboration is a cornerstone, or a keystone as Dan would say, of Enablement; give a listen.

While there was a lot of great advice, this is one I’m personally stealing for my own use 

Color code your meetings on your calendar so. you can easily look back at a week or month and see how you’ve spent your time.

Use it for customer meetings, internal meetings with various groups, and so forth.   

Keep listening and remain curious

Audio Transcript

The Collaborator
And the collaborator, and I’m here once again. today. I’m with Dan Stratton. Dan, how are you?

Dan Stratton
Wonderful. JOHN, how’s your week on?

The Collaborator
You know what it’s going phenomenal. This is my first live of the week. I’ve done. I’ve done collectively as part of this effort. We’ve done 52 new shows this year so far. And it’s just amazing. So it’s kind of I’m going through withdrawals and excitement here that I haven’t had a show yet this week to talk to somebody smarter than me that I can learn from. And I got to tell you, before we dive into it, I love the pictures on the back wall. What are those?

Dan Stratton
appreciate that? So over here we have Biggie, okay.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, okay,

Dan Stratton
we’ve got a big hip hop fan. And we actually have Jay Z over here. So you know, I’ve got the New York, you know, hip hop rap scene represented Well, I spent a lot of my time in New York and I get a lot of questions about those pictures, to be honest. So it gives me some good inspiration. You know, bring some creativity to the table in our home home workspace nowadays.

The Collaborator
Does anybody ever asked you to try to you know, answer or chat with them in a rap form? I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna get that one yet.

Dan Stratton
I haven’t got that one. But I have gotten you know, what’s your favorite album? What’s your favorite song favorite lyric? I have gotten those questions. So, you know, I’ve always loved it since I was a kid. So I figured why not bring it to the table. So I love that that’s the beautiful thing. Well

The Collaborator
bring it a little bit more of our personality to bear with each and every one of us about yourself beyond being a hip hop mogul that nobody knew about. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Yeah.

Dan Stratton
I would go mogul but go more enthusiasts. But yeah, so I mean, look, I’ve been I’ve been in Rocky now for it’ll be six years in July. It’s been a phenomenal trajectory inside the organization. You know, for those of you who haven’t heard about Meraki it was actually founded in 2006, as part of an MIT research project, a project called roof net, you can google it’s a very cool story. Cisco acquired it six years after it was founded for $1.2 billion. And they had really pioneered, cloud managed wireless and it’s evolved into now cloud managed it. So I’ve been doing that. For the last six years, I’ve had multiple roles across the business and in sales capacity sales leadership, now taking on more of a strategic and business development oriented role in sales acceleration, of course, enablement, but prior to that spent my career in mobility and actually telematics and connected cars. So I’ve always been in tech, I’ve loved tech, and I’ve been fortunate to have multiple opportunities in my career.

The Collaborator
You know, since I’ve been interesting, you know what, Meraki story is a fascinating one, that we won’t spend time talking about it today. But those are some hard years to build a business money was tight to you know, 892 1008 and nine and Cisco. I mean, Rocky did an incredible job. Just coming up and growing up during that hard time.

Dan Stratton
We’ve been fortunate, you know, it’s, um, it’s a lot of what we a testament to the simplicity of what we deliver, and how long you know, our customers go accomplish their mission, but it all it all comes back to that user experience. And when you get that right, then it affords you opportunities to grow and, you know, help them achieve their mission. So Amen. fortunate.

The Collaborator
Amen. Amen. Hey, tell me this. I was so excited when you told me you wanted to talk about cross functional collaboration. I think it’s one of the cornerstones of enablement, if not the cornerstone, how I went so far as to change my brand name to the collaborator. how insane is that? how insane is that? I shouldn’t have been Biggie or something and got a poster or a picture or something like that. That would have been cool. But tell me why why collaboration for you? What, what, what excites you about that? Why is that so important? Well, I

Dan Stratton
think it is, to your point as a cornerstone, you know, I’m from Pennsylvania. So I use Keystone, right? I mean, I view it very much as like, it’s so integral towards the success of any organization, you know, for profit, not for profit. Because, number one, I think it’s actually very overlooked. I think people take it for granted to start there, right? They just figure that, hey, if I’m unintentional with my outreach, or if I’m having conversations, it’s in fact, you know, I’m going to go get what I need to get done. You know, I’ve just been, it’s been reinforced through my career, as I’m been working across multiple functions, partnering with teams bringing ideas from, you know, really this ground level to really execution. And then you see it work over and over again, and you start to take a step back and you say, Well, look, here’s what I’ve been doing through that journey through that in depth through that project. You know, and there is actually an African proverb which I sent you ahead of time I said, you know, if you think about this, right, and this really stuck with me early on in my career, and now even more so but you know, alone, you will go fast and together you will go far. And you really focus on this when you get heads down and doing your work. execution and saying, Hey, you know, it’s easier for me to just stay in my lane, right, it’s easier if I can just focus on what’s right in front of me. But when you end up doing that, what I found is you actually have to do some backtracking, you got to stop and say, I’ve gone too fast too far. Now, I’ve missed some things along the way. Whereas if you were just to make some pitstops, along the way, gathering some more information and continue to go and even bring some people along for the ride with you, and becomes a very compelling and your probability of success goes up exponentially. So for me, it’s just been something, john, that I think is really been, you know, a testament to where I’ve seen some success and really afforded me some opportunity. So

The Collaborator
that’s where I attended. I love that man, you know, one of the I, we shoot down this, this argument that sometimes people will make with me, they say, hey, collaboration means everybody’s in the room just throwing out their two cents, and nothing ever gets done. You know, I didn’t ask you about this ahead of time. But I’m curious on how do you respond to that, in terms of

Dan Stratton
what specifically

The Collaborator
in terms of being a reason not to do collaborative or, you know, approaches to work?

Dan Stratton
I mean, well, to the point that you made, it’s like, you can get things done on your own schedule, right, you can really deliver against what you need to be taken care of for yourself, which is a selfish effort. And I think sometimes you have to be selfish. And that’s okay. But there is elements of that. Whereas, you know, you’ve got all these competing work streams, and you sure others listening here and saying, look, you start your day with your to do list. And then you know, you’re an hour into your day, and you’ve got five more things that weren’t even on your radar, before that day started, every two of them have become extremely high priority, right? So you’re constantly in this tornado, or a whirlwind, where you’re balancing priorities. But what I found is that you’re not only building good equity inside of, you know, capital equity in terms of, you know, your relationships inside the company, when you’re collaborating, which affords you to get things done much faster, or helps you eliminate roadblocks, because they’ve got the path of least resistance that you didn’t even know about. It all comes down to just being better connected, and having people in your corner and helping them along the way. So that when you do need a favor, and you need that help, they can assure you the right way and help save you some time. And that’s kind of where I were I as I reflect on that question. Yeah.

The Collaborator
I like that. I like that. Yeah, one of the things I’m curious about to me, so many businesses today are still running, like, you know, manufacturing shops, from, you know, the early 1900s, where everything’s so siloed, because you’re trying to drive this optimization or this efficiency on building x or building widget y like we’re still machine, machine shops and manufacturing, how do you start to bridge those divides and break down those barriers?

Dan Stratton
Well, it’s a good question. And I think, you know, early on in my career, you know, being in sales, you know, I had responsibility of working across the teams with my finance teams, I had responsibility, working marketing, so I was naturally exposed to some of those, you know, to your point, cross functional teams. Yeah, but I think about this is, you know, and the legacy way of like, organizational, especially big company structures is exactly that, you know, you’ve got your finance team, you’ve got your operations team, you’ve got your marketing team, so and so forth. But I think that’s, it’s it’s pivoting, I think there’s been a big pivot here in the last few years, where organizations are realizing that they need to be better interconnected with one another, they need to be flexible, flexible. I mean, if you look at what’s happened from a working perspective, and everyone being remote, you don’t really have the opportunity now to go tap on you know, somebody’s shoulder, you know, who sits 10 feet away from you in a traditional office and say, Hey, can you come help me with this are bumping into somebody. So you actually have to make an effort to really put that outreach in, and make sure you’re talking to the right teams and the right groups to give you a better perspective, as you go forward as an organization?

The Collaborator
How do you how do you in your opinion, because of because you’ve thought about this a lot, Dan, and you’ve been living and working this way for a while? How do you do those virtual taps in a way on the shoulder that are respectful? get people’s attention and their energy for whatever you’re trying to get them involved with?

Dan Stratton
Yeah, it’s a good question. Cuz everybody’s pressed for time. And frankly, like, you know, are you we’ve got this zoom fatigue, and you know, I will say WebEx fatigue, you know, I work for Cisco, but this video, this constant endurance of just meeting after meeting and video and video, it becomes it becomes daunting. I think you have to appeal to the fact that number one, everybody’s human right, which sounds really simple, but I think you have to understand is like, why does john want to talk to me, right? I always think about this and this I would attribute to my sales days where I was conditioned to think of how can I help my customer? How can I help you achieve what you need to achieve? So always think about that. It’s a very selfless approach. And I find by doing that, it actually gives me a better opportunity to open up to listen to really understand how I can help you knowing that I might not be able to so I look at Like, what do you care about? I actually do, you know, some research, I’m I spend a lot of time online, I do a lot of you know, I watch TED Talks, I listen to podcasts, I like to hear what people what interests people. And I’ve always kind of found that if you can bring something to the table, a new perspective, you know, people are gonna listen to you, if they, if they can agree with what you’re saying. And they can validate that, and it brings value to them to help them get their job done, or get their mission done, they’re gonna want to talk to you again, and again and again. So I always start with, you know, identifying, you know, really where I can help where I think I can help and say, Hey, john, I noticed, you know, you put something out last week, you know, you had a question about, you know, name your topic, you know, have you heard of this, right, or have you heard of so and so who spoke about it? Is there something that I think I can help you with? And that then becomes like, Okay, well, this guy, either a really wants something that I have, or be genuinely cares about helping me. And at that point, you know, we can continue to push it forward. So I use that as really a lynchpin, or an on ramp to having those discussions.

The Collaborator
Nice, nice. Now, one of the things that I will say, is, I discover so many things, when I have these, these conversations outside of my silo, I’m always discovering stuff, even if I go in, and I might be asking somebody about a project, or they help on a project or whatever. I’m also discovering cool things that they’re doing. And often, that allows them to influence what I’m doing, and it’s mutually beneficial. Do you tend to have these random discoveries as well?

Dan Stratton
Yes, it’s the best, the best part

Unknown Speaker
is, it’s fantastic.

Dan Stratton
There, you know, there’s actually this concept, it’s called shoshin. And it’s basically talks about, you know, how you are not an expert in anything, and you’re always learning you always are learning. And if you think about this mindset, and saying that, like, Hey, you could be doing something for 30 years, and that may make you an expert, or you look at the 10,000 hours, you know, in terms of the proficiency of an expert, you know, those definitions, yeah, think of it this way, if you approach everything, like, you know, you have a genuine, you know, curiosity about it, and you really want to learn, and you’re really, really interested in what this person has to say, or this group has to say, you know, and actually, in fact, you know, that you have a lot to bring to the table. It there’s something very endearing about that quality, in my opinion. And, you know, in fact, you look at the great leaders, you know, you know, business and and, you know, social organizations, they have this tendency, where they’re, you know, sure, they know they’re accomplished, they know that they’ve had success, but as they look at you know, leaning in and learning more and thinking about different viewpoints, it creates just a very easy conversation, when it’s telling me more, john, tell me more about this. So I think it’s a, you hit the nail on the head on that approach. And I think that’s one of the things for the listeners that, you know, as you approach those conversations, you know, understand that, you know, just soak it in and think about ways you can help solve the problem.

The Collaborator
Yeah, no, really well sat down really well said, anybody, when somebody comes to me with the approach that they’re the expert already, the first thing I know I do, and it’s a flaw in my approach is I shut them off, I got to shut them off and, and don’t want to deal with them. But if you do lead with that genuine curiosity, to your point, I’ll tell me teach me learn, people almost always want to help out. They may not be happy, right? in that second, they may be too busy, but they’ll want to help you out. So smart, you know. And,

Dan Stratton
john, if I can just if I could just add replay, because I think I think it’s important for the listeners is that, you know, one of the best advice I ever got in terms of when I was starting my career early on was, you know, go identify the problem that the CEO was having. I was like, Well, wait a minute, I’m an account executive, like I don’t, you know, why should I care about the CEO is like, because ultimately, this is not only inside your organization, this could be for your customers, a partner, whomever, if you’re solving problems for them, you immediately are adding value, they may not agree with your proposal. But if you’re identifying and you’re showing that you care enough to really help them as well, that’s where you really add value across the board. So I think that’s a really important take on this is that, you know, if you’ve identified a problem, or you’ve heard of a problem, and you have an idea on how to solve it, and you’ve given it some serious thought, then I think it becomes an opportunity for you to do that outreach and really, you know, create that connection.

The Collaborator
I agree, and some people will not want to hear it. But the majority of people will and a majority of people will be excited. To your point, you’re very smart on point. They may not agree with you, but they’re going to really appreciate most times the fact that you’ve given some thought that something that really matters to them really love that. Now you’ve touched upon something we’re all well aware of, and I’m going to I’m going to be really nice and say WebEx fatigue. I didn’t mention the other one. I mentioned the other one I said when I

Unknown Speaker
mentioned

The Collaborator
what are the other challenges you’re seeing, you know, you touched upon these things were already remote. We’re all tired of being on camera. So we’ve touched that table that for now, what are the challenges are you seeing though? Damn.

Dan Stratton
I mean, you know, as I reflect internally on our own business, you know, we’ve got a large organization, over 2000 people in time rocky alone, but Cisco’s got, you know, 40,000 plus employees across the globe, you obviously have the time differences, right, which present challenges in terms of, you know, working hours, you’ve also got the systems differences. I mean, we’re certainly talking about one video conferencing platform. But this required me to set up another login, you know, because it’s not what I normally use, which is perfectly fine, john, I’m happy to make that concession for you.

The Collaborator
But I’m waiting, though.

Dan Stratton
And then you’ve got disparate systems internally, right? I will say this, and this is a plug for Google workspace that has revolutionized the way I’ve worked. The reason is that, you know, across Google Docs, you know, Google Sheets, you look at Google Slides, when you’re talking about collaboration in real time, people have different I’d say flow states in terms of when they really go on. And what I mean by that is 10am to 12, might be my peak, like I know about myself, you want to get me optimally, mentally contributing, like 10am is my peak time. So shout out if anybody wants a meeting. And that’s when when actually Jeff Bezos talks about this as well, he takes all those important meetings like early, but the other thing that I thought was, you know, if you’re not using these tools that are, you know, essentially a common ground for you to collaborate, it makes it very, very difficult. And in fact, like, delays your progress on how you push it forward. And we use WebEx teams, which is a chat, you know, function individual, you know, bidirectional chat, and then also group chat. You can collaborate on files in real time, you have the ability to actually do live whiteboarding. So it all comes into, like maximizing that interaction and doing it in real time. And I think I shared this with you earlier. But you know, even for me, personally, email is a dying medium, like, email, to me is a necessary evil because it hits everything and allows people to think and respond appropriately. But if you’re trying to get something done, and you’re in that moment, and you’re with that group who’s you know, maybe meeting together and hey, we need to talk to john, let’s ping john, I can get you live on an IM, versus waiting for you to respond eight hours, you know, or maybe more on an email. And that is a hugely, hugely valuable attribute. So I would encourage people to lean in, plus Intel, millennials, you know, and the next gen all want to collaborate now. It’s, it’s changing, changing the game. So I think we’re gonna see a lot more innovation on that front as we go forward.

The Collaborator
I love the point about email, too. I mean, I know 1015 years ago, there were people pushing on emails, Dad emails, dad, and they were premature. But I think it’s definitely dying. a slow death in terms of not being used for everything anymore. You know, we use you know, I use slack all day long. And as far as my I am type of internal tool. And I prefer that for the internal conversations to your point, having that turi but Google Docs, same thing. It’s just so much more powerful, having one platform, whatever the platform is, and I love that that whole feedback there, Dan, because it’s so important, the ability for us to collaborate in both real time and a synchronously, just so powerful. Now what

Dan Stratton
Yep, one thing, john also add, which I’ve appreciated, because I kind of straddle the divide of like, you know, I’m a millennial, but I straddle the divide of, you know, understanding how my dad or my mom work, you know, and also how the younger generation works. But you look at emojis, like, it’s crazy. If I look at my chat threads, you know, we’ve got Thumbs up, thumbs down, smile, celebration hearts, that has become like a consistent theme. And I love that because it creates like a human element into the conversation. And then also like the gifts like working that into just like breaking up the tax like, it’s such subtleties like that, that I know the teams behind the scenes are all working on incorporating into the work streams that we all use and love every day. Yeah, it makes a huge difference. So I encourage everybody to use that where appropriate. But certainly, you know, it beats text for me any day or week.

The Collaborator
Yeah, I’m with you. I almost always either use, you know, a thank you kind of prayer hand or a martini, depending on how excited I am about what I just read. Because, you know, just in general, that’s a little bit of personalization. But I’m with you. I’m much older. I remember before I even saw email. When I started my career. Nobody had email, at least not where I was working, and just very different times. So But anyway, let’s not talk about how old john is and how young Dan is. Because that’s just going to be a conversation for me. Let’s go there. Do me one more favor when running 26 minutes in, but I want to ask you this. How do you when you’re talking to leadership or even trying to convince others on the power of collaboration? How do you measure it or how do you how do you talk to people Let the value of incorporating that and how they work.

Dan Stratton
This hard thing to measure. I’ll just go on the record, if anybody ever creates this, you know, and demonstrate and had this idea, you can come back to us. But you know, if you look at, you know, look at your calendar, okay, look at your calendar over a given week. And, you know, you’ve got, you know, 1020 3040 meetings, whatever made it. And you think about those meetings in terms of their association with the function and saying, Okay, well, here’s my our standing call with my sales leadership team, okay, how every Monday, here’s my call with my finance team to review the forecast. Here’s the call with the go to market team. And if you look across that entire spectrum, here’s a here’s a tip that I personally do. And I did, I started doing this actually, a while ago, I started actually identifying different teams as different colors. So if you look at my calendar, it’s like this rainbow. It’s a spectrum. Because what I find is when I look at and say, Okay, well, you know, if my marketing interaction is yellow, okay, maybe I have one of those meetings. Okay, one a week, that’s average. And then you double click out and you look at like the month, it’s really interesting, as you look at the recap over the week, how are you spending your time, because in fact, we would argue, in fact, that’s our greatest asset, right? So it’s something in which we try and protect them we preserve, and we have to make sure that we’re maximizing as much as possible. So I look at this and saying, okay, that’s how I personally evaluate my engagement across the board, I make a personal challenge myself to meet two new people a week inside my organization. The other thing that I think is really interesting, as you look about this, is that what if there was a way where we took a snapshot of John’s activity over a given time period could be a week, a month, whatever it may be? think of you as like the hump, okay. So you think about the outreach on this and say, okay, we had, he’s had 22 meetings with his finance team, right? He said, 10 meetings with this customer success team, great. He’s had 15 meetings with marketing Great. So you can kind of think about how this was evolved is like a model, which you have this interconnected web, and you can start to see inside the organization where these webs are forming. And I think what would be really, really cool, right? And I’m not smart enough to develop it. But maybe one day, if you think about having something visually represented and say, Look at how concentrated your efforts are, john, you’re spending 95% of your time within these four people. Okay, well, maybe you have to, because that’s your particular area of focus in your heads down on bringing a product to market, I get it. But the point being is that you start looking at and say, Wow, I didn’t realize how little of the organization I was talking to, and why do I need to talk to them? Well, here’s why. And that’s the leadership’s responsibility to encourage it. So I’ll leave it at that, to see if it actually comes to fruition. But, you know, it comes down to leading by example, and making your team feel comfortable with that outreach as well. Honestly, dad, that tip,

The Collaborator
the color coding of the types of meetings or the groups you’re meeting with, is so smart. And I and I was hitting my self over the head, when you first mentioned it in our in our prep, and I saw your notes, and I’m like, crap, imagine if I had the sellers or asked the sellers, every time you meeting with a customer make it some color. So you could actually just visually see, well, I’m only spending 10% of my time during the week talking to sellers, just visually hitting you in the face. Or even in the use case, you suggest them just around the collaboration internally with the teams. So much smart, so many smart uses for that. And I love that idea a lot. And I’m going to steal it right. And I’m going to trade market as the Dan Stratton method and and we’ll split any proceeds that come out of it.

Dan Stratton
I’ll take the royalties. But listen, it doesn’t take a lot of time, john, you know, I probably spend 10 minutes a week, I do it actually on Sunday night, I look at my calendar, and then I do a kind of a post recap. You know, either late Friday, or maybe an early weekend. But regardless, it doesn’t take a lot of time. And it’s really, really telling on you know, how you’re spending your time. And it’s helped me a lot. So hopefully, the listeners will find it valuable,

The Collaborator
really smart down now with 30 minutes in, and I like to keep these around 30 minutes, but I will ask you, you know, the final question that I always bring up is, is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’re like, geez, I really want to share this?

Dan Stratton
No, you know, I think luck when we get back into our return to work, right, or we have this hybrid work. We know some of us are going to be remote, full time. You know, some of us has really enjoyed it. Some of us have gotten an opportunity to spend more time with family and take away from the compute. Some of us love the office and miss the office. I know. Yeah. You know, in San Francisco, I’m based in Philadelphia, but when I’m visiting our office in San Francisco, we’ve got phenomenal office that overlooks the Bay Area, or the bay and I think you know, the free snacks are a nice kicker. But here’s the thing, john, don’t take it for granted. You know, don’t take it for granted in terms of your outreach and connecting with others because people in fact love they crave that connection. People enjoy learning about others. You know, how was your weekend like genuinely Like, find some find an area of something which you’re passionate about that you can ultimately explore within your group. And you’ll find that your your connections inside your organization will flourish. But don’t take it for granted when we do get back into the office. In fact, you may see this like unbounding explosion of, you know, pent up, you know, love for one another and whatnot. So we’ll see. But needless to say, I would just say continue to, to lean into it, and you’ll find that the rewards will be bountiful.

The Collaborator
I love that. And really fun talking today. And I really appreciate you taking the time to share this with everybody. And come on to some great tips, both on the idea of meeting multiple people during the week that you’ve never met before, the color coding of the calendar, and just so many other great things that you shared along the way. And Jay Z and biggie. I feel like they brought something special that I rarely get in one of these conversations. It’s rarely enough hip hop taking place on these conversations in the

Dan Stratton
gym, but I appreciate it. Well, thank you for having me on.

The Collaborator
Well, thank you. I thank everybody for listening in. If you have questions for Dan, he’s on LinkedIn. He’s obviously a fellow collaborator, and I’m sure he’d love to chat.