A hand is holding up a yellow lightbulb with leaves growing out the top against a yellow and orange background, symbolising inspiration and the role of a catalyst.
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Could your team use a ‘catalyst’ this year?

1 Feb 2021

Claire Mague of Brooks Bell explains why nominating a ‘catalyst’ in your organisation can break down silos and boost inspiration.

As business needs continue to evolve in 2021, employees will need to be flexible and ready for change. But according to Claire Mague of UX consultancy firm, Brooks Bell, there’s one team role in particular that can help companies make the most of transformation – the catalyst.

Mague is the company’s vice-president of strategic consulting and solutions. Here, she explains what working as a catalyst entails and why this role could be critical to working life in 2021.

‘When identifying a new team catalyst, look for someone who is ready and willing to inspire, motivate and drive change’

What is a catalyst’s job?

A catalyst is not a job title – it’s a concept. It’s the idea that in order to drive success, there needs to be someone championing the cause that has the relationships and knowledge to achieve and inspire growth.

The best catalysts are curious, emotionally intelligent and value building strong relationships across organisations. Having a growth mindset is also a critical element to being successful in this role. A great catalyst has a pulse on business goals and knows how to align actions to support these goals. They understand that experimentation and optimisation are crucial to achieving success and they advocate for it.

Further, these individuals are talented at simplifying difficult technical concepts and influencing important decisions. They get excited about opportunities to share accomplishments and paint vision. While every catalyst will have different strengths, these qualities should be foundational.

As for their title or place in the organisation, it varies. The catalyst, when given the space and opportunity, can move programmes forward. Often, when organisations take a mental audit of their teams, they realise that a catalyst is already present. Identifying this catalyst and empowering them is the first step in what will be a very successful strategy.

Why is 2021 the year of the catalyst, in your opinion?

Last year, unfortunately, saw many organisations furlough or eliminate staff amid the pandemic. This year, as many organisations begin ramping up hiring again and look to refocus on innovation, there’s a new opportunity to build stronger, better-connected teams that drive innovation, growth and are more in tune with their customers’ transformed expectations.

Historically, silos across organisations have inhibited department communication and consequently led to less collaboration. For organisations looking to build teams that are well-connected, nominating a catalyst – an individual who is devoted to bridging the gap between teams through education and value alignment – lays the foundation for breaking down silos and operating as an organisation that facilitates continuous productivity and forward-thinking growth.

The role of the catalyst is essential because they’re champions for building and acting on testing strategies and opportunities. More than ever, organisations are realising that experimentation is a key driver for business success and better customer experiences.

Which type of company benefits from this role most?

While Brooks Bell works exclusively with enterprise organisations, we have seen many examples of smaller companies benefitting from identifying a catalyst. Any organisation that is devoted to knocking down barriers to cross-departmental collaboration can benefit from this role.

A catalyst inspires a culture of experimentation. They elevate a great experimentation programme to one that is mission critical. And the organisations that truly value testing and weave it into every aspect of their culture will uncover insights that lead to transformational, revenue-driving customer experiences.

What are the characteristics of a great catalyst?

Eliminating silos and working cross-functionally has always been a challenge for businesses of all sizes. For many organisations, 2021 is a chance to rebuild and create teams that work together to solve complex business problems.

This is harder than it seems. While nominating a catalyst is one way to ensure communication is continuous, team needs are heard and met and business goals are achieved, true organisational transformation requires an assessment of an existing programme, identifying key metrics of success in a roadmap. and ongoing consulting to create meaningful change.

Every catalyst will have different strengths, but the common denominator is that they’re someone who is willing to bridge organisational gaps to create positive business improvements. When identifying a new team catalyst, look for someone who is ready and willing to inspire, motivate and drive change.

How would you advise businesses to identify and appoint a catalyst?

It’s possible that the perfect individual already exists within a team. Leaders should assess the skills needed to be successful in this role and choose a candidate who’s willing to step up to the challenge.

That said, once you identify the right fit, leaders must empower them with the training, coaching, technology, customer and industry insights, and opportunities to successfully demonstrate their catalytic abilities to inspire, motivate and drive change.

The catalyst’s reach is vast, not just bridging different siloed teams but also different levels within the organisation. They are able to synthesise testing insights at the team level and communicate them upwards to the C-suite in alignment with business objectives.

Depending on how vast your organisation is, you may have multiple catalysts focused on particular divisions within the business. It is important that those different catalysts still remain aligned and communicate with one another.

This role will continue to grow in importance so the sooner an organisation nominates a catalyst (or multiple catalysts), the easier it will be to build a culture that values experimentation.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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