Be the corporate chameleon

One of the greatest compliments I ever received from an old boss was…

Josh, you’re a corporate chameleon.

At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. I’ve always had an inquisitive personality and love to learn from others. In my personal life, I have many varied interests including fitness, cooking, snowboarding, drawing, underground music and travel. My hobbies have fortunately introduced me to many different people with diverse backgrounds and views, and I’ve learned something from all of them. I believe that a day is wasted if you don’t meet someone new, try something new or learn something new – and that goes for work too.

For this reason, I’ve always enjoyed working with other departments on projects. What you can learn from working with developers, operations experts and engineers is very different than what you learn from great sales people, marketers and designers. Without stereotyping people or departments, there is a difference in how you work with them as well.

As a product marketer, a lot of my job is working across groups and with many personality types. As many others in the role know, it’s not easy. And that’s where being a chameleon can be a real advantage. To some, this concept can carry a negative connotation because it implies that someone is pretending to fit in or win favor. But I would argue that a true “corporate chameleon” is not fake at all. Just like it’s in a chameleon’s DNA to change color and adapt, so is same for the business version.

What if this is not in your nature? Can you evolve your behavior to better work with disparate groups and different people? The good news is yes. It’s not in my nature, but I changed. Growing up most of my friends would have considered me to be the classic wallflower vs. a power networker. So how did I evolve? It just took a few simple steps.

1) Be curious and ask questions. Different types of people are damn interesting when you get to know them. The best part is the more you learn about them, the more interesting they can become. Whenever you’re assigned to a new team or working with a new group, go out to lunch with them, grab a drink after work, and do something that gets you away from just discussing the project at hand. The more you learn about people, the easier it is to work with them. The worst case is you have one boring lunch that you can soon forget. The best case is you may make some new friends.

2) Don’t be a jerk. This one seems too easy, but sadly it’s where many go wrong. The biggest issues I see with different teams working together is when someone decides they know best or are utterly disrespectful to members of the other teams because they have perceived authority. Don’t talk over others when they have ideas. Don’t bully your way into the project lead. Listen, learn and offer positive council to move things forward. A chameleon blends in and adapts to their surroundings. I don’t know any person who has been complimented for being the bull in the china shop.

3) Know your shit. You’re being brought into this multi-team project to provide guidance in an area where others are weak. While one major factor to being a corporate chameleon is blending in and understanding others, the other is building trust. Come to the meetings prepared and provide the expertise the others are looking for. Respect that others will do the same, and make sure you are not wasting anyone’s time.

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