Nathan Bricklin

Title: Head of collaboration and social strategy, wholesale services
Company: Wells Fargo
Size: $277.15bn market capitalisation; 256,300 employees

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: Remaking a large institution with small, multidisciplinary teams

Nathan Bricklin says a passion for innovation has always permeated Wells Fargo. His mission, as the first head of collaboration and social strategy for the bank’s wholesale services division, is to speed that innovation by promoting more internal collaboration and exchange of knowledge and ideas.

Mr Bricklin, who is 51 and has spent 25 years at Wells Fargo in many traditional banking roles, took on the newly created position in 2010. One of his immediate challenges was to find a few key people within wholesale services who shared his vision for expanding collaboration using social technologies and principles.

“You had handfuls of people trying to solve social media, and I said: ‘Let’s create a centre of excellence and offer people the tools and support they need to succeed,’” he recalls. “We needed a way to deliver that was quicker and more efficient.”

So Mr Bricklin created small, nimble and flat internal groups that bring together experts in sales, development and implementation to focus on a particular problem or theme. He has encouraged these groups—which he says function best when they have no more than 50 people—to work collaboratively and to build trust across different areas of the bank. He helps them find solutions to the problems they are tackling and provides the data and tools they need to solve them and to deliver products more speedily to customers. Once a group is functioning well, he introduces new members with additional expertise as needed.

For example, one of these groups is helping the user-experience team to log bugs and consider design improvements for online products. That group’s contributions have helped ensure smooth operations, sped design improvements and put Wells Fargo at the forefront of its industry; it recently dominated the 2014 “World’s Best Internet Banks” awards sponsored by Global Finance magazine, winning best in the US and in seven of 11 subcategories, including site design and social media.

The approach to collaboration is also generating excitement among employees. “The frequency of the participation is increased, the number of different people participating is increased and the time it takes to get a meaningful conversation going tends to be decreased,” Mr Bricklin says. “Everything we do, we get done because of our relationships.”

Mr Bricklin says he has gleaned two important lessons from operating the groups. The first: don’t try to centralise social business efforts. “The biggest challenge was making sure that people knew that I wasn’t going to be a roadblock, but an enabler,” he explains.

The second: if you want to promote collaboration, you need to break down hierarchies and bridge expertise across disciplines. “I’m successful at Wells Fargo because I don’t let functional titles get in the way,” he says.




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