Cultivating a Collaborative Culture in Your Team for Greater Success

Last Updated on April 6, 2022 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Is your organization leveraging collaboration for success? 

After joining a team of nine partners at AO, a full-service architectural services firm, Brendan Farrell’s top priority was to synchronize the organization’s operations. He created opportunities for the partners to combine their expertise through effective collaborations toward accomplishing the organization’s goals.  Brendan Farrell is the guest in this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast. He speaks with the host, Chad Franzen, about the impact of collaboration in achieving common goals.

Listen to the audio interview

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Key Resource List  

SweetProcess — Sign up for a 14-day free trial. No credit is required. 


LinkedIn Brendan Farrell 

The Tim Ferriss Show 

Armchair Expert 

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Show Notes    

[0:26] Intro    

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show including David Allen of Getting Things Done, and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth.  
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.    
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card.  

[1:25] Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Brendan Farrell. 

[1:49] Brendan gives an overview of what AO is all about. 

  • AO was known as Architects Orange for some time. The organization rebranded to AO about two years ago. 
  • Established in 1974, AO is a full-service architectural services firm. It has 300 employees with its headquarters in downtown Old Towne Orange in Orange County, California. 

[2:58] What’s an example of a commercial building built by AO? 

  • The organization has two commercial buildings in the Los Angeles area.  
  • One of the buildings is a retail center called The Point, at the corner of Rosecrans and Sepulveda. The other building is the Manhattan Village retail center. 

[3:35] Brendan talks about what makes the retail centers built by AO unique. 

  • The element of design is a unique selling proposition of the organization’s retail centers.  

[40:3] What does Brendan’s role as director of operations at AO entail? 

  • Brendan is the first director of operations at AO. 
  • The organization has several partners. Brenden oversees the daily operations and collaborations between the partners. 

[5:38] Why is collaboration between architects at the firm important? 

  • The ability to bring the best ideas of certain individuals into a room and come out with something even better is extraordinary and empowering. 
  • Collaboration requires the help and input of the parties involved to be successful. 

[6:54] Brendan gives insights into how he fosters collaboration among the 300 employees at AO. 

  • The first part of collaboration is getting the right people in the room.  
  • Building trust is essential for collaboration to thrive among teams. 

[8:11] When people are used to doing things a certain way, how do you open their minds to collaboration? 

  • People need to have ownership in the creation of whatever the solution is going to be. 
  • Ensure that the participants are on the same page as you, using the same vocabulary words to describe the situation.  

[9:23] Brendan shares some of the challenges of achieving clarity as an organization. 

  • Organizational clarity is difficult for any organization, but it’s simpler when you have one CEO who is the founder because the vision is very clear. 
  • When organizations develop historically and operate from an LLP structure, getting to a shared point of view is more difficult. 
  • It’s important to define where the team is unclear and resolve the lack of clarity with clearer definitions and descriptions. 

[10:27] Has COVID-19 affected the collaborative process at AO? 

  • Early works in the organization’s projects are very collaborative and design-oriented, so there’s a need for a lot of physical communication and interaction. Going remote makes the process more difficult.  
  • Some things can’t be done effectively over a screen, so the team has to collaborate physically.  

[12:13] Brendan mentions the workflow tools the team at AO uses. 

  • The team adopted Microsoft Teams 365 before the pandemic and it’s been an integral part of their operations.  

[12:59] How can people find out more about AO? 

  • You can visit the AO website to get more information about the firm.  

[13:19] Brendan shares his favorite podcasts and books. 

[14:07] How does someone with a background in theater get into operations of architecture? 

  • The theater is about telling a very clear story, making sure all of the parts serve the overall story.  
  • Brendan says he replaced the term “story” with “business” in operations.

[14:33] Outro

About Brendan Farrell 

Brendan Farrell of AO

Brendan Farrell is the director of operations and an associate at AO, a full-service architectural services firm. A versatile leader, Brenden has a knack for continuous improvement in process, collaboration, and execution. 

With several years of experience in professional service firms and consumer packaged goods companies, Brendan’s expertise cuts across corporate level operational strategy, risk management, contract negotiation, compliance, and supply chain (domestic and international). 

Transcript of the Interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of The EMyth, and many more.

Chad Franzen: This episode is brought to you by Sweet Process. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again and it’s the 10th time you’ve spent explaining it. There’s a better way and a solution. Sweet Process is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. Use Sweet Process, to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work.

Chad Franzen: Sign up for a 14 day free trial, no credit card required. Go to, sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T process .com.

Chad Franzen: Brendan Farrell is Director of Operations and an associate at AO. He is known for his ability to foster collaboration and build consensus. Known by those he works with for his keen ability to help organizations identify the incremental steps needed in the present to empower confident strides in the future. Brendan, thank so much for joining me today, how are you?

Brendan Farrell: I’m well, thank you. And it’s absolutely my pleasure.

Chad Franzen: Hey, tell me a little bit about AO and what you guys do.

Brendan Farrell: So AO had been known as Architects Orange for quite some time, we rebranded just about two years ago. But AO is a full service architectural services firm. We’re 300 souls strong with headquarters in downtown Old Orange in the County of Orange in California. And we’ve been around since 1974 and we provide services to all the different sectors, all public sectors, all commercial sectors, multifamily sectors. The only thing we don’t really have major inroads with is federal government work but we do all the rest.

Brendan Farrell: Our headquarters here in Orange consists of the campus of four buildings. Then we have some satellite offices in Northern California, in San Diego, in Atlanta and New York with our eyes on different regions. Our staff makeup is, we’re a very diverse organization, but we grew up in an organic way. It started in 1974 with one guy who over the course of time, either developed or partnered with other partners leading up to a peak of about nine partners a few years ago and the diversity that we have today,

Chad Franzen: Can you give me an example of a commercial building that was a product of AO?

Brendan Farrell: Sure. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, there two pieces of work that we’ve been involved in. Right at the corner of Rosecrans and Sepulvada there’s a retail center called The Point. Then there’s also the Manhattan Village retail center. Those are both large, multi retail units with restaurants, public spaces, lots of different complexes, things like that. Retail centers is a thing that we were known for as we grew and we’ve really taken the design of those things to a whole new level.

Chad Franzen: What would you say, maybe characterizes, what makes your retail centers unique as you’ve taken it to a new level?

Brendan Farrell: We like to believe, and we have been told, it’s the element of design that we bring to it. There’s a really boring way to do that and there’s a really accepted way to do that. If you add just a little bit of flare and a slightly different perspective, you can have an entirely different experience, not only of the building as a patron of the building, but also driving by or anything like that.

Chad Franzen: You are not only an associate at AO. You are also the Director of Operations. What do those responsibilities entail?

Brendan Farrell: So as the Director of Operations, I’m the first director of operations that AO has had. And my responsibilities are really when you’re dealing with a partnership like ours and when I came on board, we had nine different partners. As I alluded to earlier, sort of the evolution of the organization have been very partner and very product type specific. That had led to, over the course of time, sort of each individual business unit or partner, kind of developing their own systems and processes and that type of thing. In the year or two before I joined, it became very clear to them that they would do very much better moving forward into the future if they could figure out how to really collaborate and act more cohesively as an organization. Kudos to them, they were able to recognize the fact that they might not have the best brains or the time to oversee that type of a process in terms of bringing people together.

Brendan Farrell: That’s sort of what I’ve done and that’s my responsibility. We talk about the journey we’re on now is going from a group of nine tribes and building a nation state out of it. Which is colorful but really it’s just an extended sort of merger between these nine different ways of doing things. That’s what I oversee. So I have a great deal of oversight and input into all of the daily operations, the development of the other functional area departments and with particular emphasis on facilities. I work very collaborative with our director of finance, our director of IT, our director of marketing and our HR department.

Chad Franzen: Why is collaboration between architects at a firm important?

Brendan Farrell: Wow. Collaboration is a big, huge word. I think just about anybody who would be listening to this podcast or becomes interested in this type of work has had some sort of taste of it. I came up with a theater background so I was exposed to what genuine collaboration feels like very early on. It’s amazing. The ability to bring the best ideas of certain individuals into a room and come out with something even better is extraordinary. It’s empowering. But it requires help because when you’re doing collaboration, what’s really important is that everybody understands exactly what you’re collaborating on.

Brendan Farrell: Vocabulary has to be the same. There has to be a shared sense of understanding in what you’re trying to do. The gentlemen that I work for, the partners here at AO, are quite simply too busy to necessarily spend the time to figure that out. A lot of my job is making sure that everybody’s perspectives are heard and understood by me and then providing a synthesis is over time that everybody can relate to and seize onto and act upon.

Chad Franzen: How many people work in AO?

Brendan Farrell: About 300.

Chad Franzen: Tell me a little bit about your process of ensuring collaboration among those 300 employees.

Brendan Farrell: Well, the most important part in the beginning, when collaboration isn’t an endemic cultural system, the first part in building it, I believe, has to do with getting initially the right people in the room. And two, just beginning the process of trust building. And I’ll tell you over the four and a half years that I’ve been here, our levels of collaboration, keep getting deeper and deeper and deeper. You start on smaller things that are easier to understand and develop a shared meaning about, and then you go out from there.

Brendan Farrell: Starting with the right people in the room is the first step. What I mean by the right people in the room, it could be anybody who’s involved in the ultimate objective of what you’re coming together to collaborate over, but they need to have open minds. Dealing with architects and getting to that point, architects, particularly once you get to the level that the partners at AO are at, are very used to operating from their perspective the majority of the time. To be able to let go of that a little bit, step back and be open to others’ perspectives is really root of that collaboration. The people who get into the room have to be able to have that ability.

Chad Franzen: How do you kind of open an architect’s mind if they’re used to doing things a certain way?

Brendan Farrell: Whether it’s an architect or anybody, ultimately it has to be their idea. When you’re dealing with any type of, for lack of a better vocabulary word, Type A personality. It’s very important that they have ownership in the creation of whatever the solution is going to be. In terms of my particular process with that, usually there’s a gray concept of what your problem is. You spend some time tagging the grayness with more specific vocabulary terms and you have discussions and you tag those vocabulary words.

Brendan Farrell: When you start to hear those vocabulary words back from the other people who are in the conversation, then you know you can build on something because we’re starting to use the same vocabulary for stuff. That’s basically how the process goes. So when we have a collaboration or an initiative, I will spend my prep time before we embark on the process, figuring out how we’re going to talk about this. Then once I start to hear words back, for me I know that that particular image or methodology or modality is working and then we’ll seize on that, make sure everybody agree on it, and then we’ll go a little bit deeper with it.

Chad Franzen: What are some of the challenges in terms of achieving organizational clarity in a firm like that?

Brendan Farrell: So organizational clarity I think is difficult for any organization. I do believe it’s a little simpler when you have one CEO, particularly if it’s one CEO who also happens to be a founder, then the vision tends to be extremely clear. When you develop historically like an organization like AO had and even operating from an LLP structure, which is really set up to protect the partners from each other, getting to a shared point of view is much more difficult.

Brendan Farrell: The organizational clarity, honestly, it’s the same process as the collaboration. It’s defining where we’re unclear and there’s a lot of places where we’re unclear, tagging that lack of clarity with slightly more clear definitions, descriptions, whatever it is, and then continuing to build on that. Then once you know you’ve got to shared understanding, then you can build a process that directly affects your frontline workers that’s in line with that clarity.

Chad Franzen: Has COVID affected this collaborative process?

Brendan Farrell: Yeah, of course. Particularly for a business like ours, where early work in a project is very collaborative and it’s design oriented and you’re normally in a room with a bunch of different stakeholders and everybody’s communicating and you get the entire body, you get the body language, the energy, the tension in the voice, all of that stuff, and there are a few distractions. Going remote made all of that much more difficult. It’s absolutely been a challenge. Does that answer the question?

Chad Franzen: Yeah. So how does it look compared to… Is it just basically the same? I would imagine if you talk about building trust, I would imagine that’s much more difficult when you’re talking to a small screen like this rather than kind of getting a feel for how the person actually is.

Brendan Farrell: It is, absolutely. In the beginning, when we first went remote, there was relief and almost a bit of a joy in figuring out that we could actually do it, that we could get it done. There was a honeymoon phase once you get to that point, you’re like, "Wow, maybe we could save a whole bunch of money on rent." All that type of stuff. But then you begin to realize, as you really get deeper into the work that no, there’s some things that can’t be done, at least not in our line of work, over a screen, you just can’t. You have to collaborate about it, physically.

Brendan Farrell: What we’ve done is try to get people back into the office as much as possible, as much as they’re comfortable. Throughout the course of the pandemic our organization has been very clear about the fact that we wanted to get back into the office. We’ve been in and out a couple of times depending on how the pandemic is going.

Chad Franzen: Do you guys use any software like Slack or something like chat?

Brendan Farrell: We live and die by Microsoft Teams at this point. That’s what we hooked our horse to. The company had been, when I first started here, the company was still on [inaudible 00:12:24]. So the decision that we made to move over to Microsoft 365 in the 18 months before the pandemic even hit really saved our bacon over the course of it. So, that was a huge gift. We have a joke at AO that everything at AO starts with a no, because there we’re very traditional sort of conservative organization. When I first brought up the concept of Microsoft teams, they thought I was crazy and then of course, now it’s our life blood.

Chad Franzen: I have one more question for you, but first, how can people find out more about AO?

Brendan Farrell: Our website is and it’s a wonderful representation of the work that we do. The website does a great job, represents not only our products but our culture very well, too.

Chad Franzen: My final question for you, do you have any favorite books or podcast that you find valuable in terms of helping you kind of do what you do?

Brendan Farrell: Oh, that’s a fantastic question. I listen to so many. Tim Ferris, depending on who the guest is, can always bring out some interesting stuff. The Arm Chair experts sometimes when they talk to business leaders can bring out some really interesting insights because the questions they ask are from a very different kind of perspective. And then some of the gentlemen you mentioned earlier, the gentleman who wrote the EMyth, that’s a fantastic book to read. Honestly, Thomas Payne’s Common Sense is a fantastic piece of work to return to every now and again. And then of course, just making sure you’re tuning in and paying attention to your own thought processes, whatever books may do that for you, you should continue to invest in those.

Chad Franzen: How does somebody with a kind of a background in theater get into operations of architecture?

Brendan Farrell: I wandered through a lot of fields to get here, but ultimately it’s the same thing. In theater, it’s about creating shared understanding and creating an experience where people may be able to change their minds and leave for the better. And it’s about telling a very clear story, making sure all of the parts serve the overall story and you replace the term story with business need and that’s exactly what I did.

Chad Franzen: Okay. Very nice. I really appreciate your time today, Brendan. It was great talking to you. Great to hear your insight.

Brendan Farrell: Lovely talking to you as well.

Chad Franzen: So long everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of Sweet Process. No credit card is required to sign up. Go to, sweet like candy and process like process .com. Go now out to and sign up for your risk-free 14 day trial.

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