Working Together: How to Form a Successful Collaboration
What makes a collaboration successful? How do we choose our ideal collaborator?
I’ve recently become interested in the concept of collaboration. I’m most intrigued by what makes us want to collaborate and how we can effectively collaborate. Over the next few months, I’m going to write and share a series of posts that explore various ways to collaborate, the benefits of working with others, and examples of stellar collaborations.
Psst. A version of this article was recently published on Bloguettes, and you are welcome to see the original post over there.
When Callie and I launched The Look & The Feel, we’d already been working together, in some way or another, for a few years. We even worked together while we were freelancing in our personal businesses. It didn’t take us long to realize that, if we officially combined our efforts and formed a partnership, we could maximize our creative potential, productivity, and offer more robust services to our clients.
Within a few short months of establishing our business, we became aware of how much we could accomplish when we worked together for a shared goal and vision. Then I started to become interested in how other organizations, partnerships, and teams effectively work together in collaboration to build better projects, products, and services for their audiences.
In a professional climate chock-full of solopreneurs and the creative self-employed single-handedly running their own businesses, the idea of collaboration and its value can often be overlooked.
But collaboration can greatly enhance your professional aptitude, and some experts even consider it vital to entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneur.com said, “If you’re an entrepreneur -- and especially if you’re just starting out down that path -- collaboration isn’t just important, it is as important as the idea itself. Finding a way to make collaboration part of your planning -- and incorporating it into your mindset -- will make you a better entrepreneur.”
What does it mean to collaborate?
According to Psychology Today, collaborating involves “substantial organizational commitment, a very high level of trust, and extensive sharing of turf.”
When I think of “turf”, I think of how to collaborate is to create a shared space of collective creativity. Creativity loves company. This is an idea that Keith Sawyer, psychologist, author, and leading scientific expert on creativity, explores in his book Group Genius. Sawyer says, “The most innovative organizations have figured out a way to capture this most basic human ability to collaborate and coordinate their action without central guidance, a manager or a leader telling them how to do it.”
One very natural and obvious example of how creativity and collaboration go hand in hand is how it shows up in the performing arts. Take jazz ensembles or improv theater groups. Musicians and improv actors thrive in collaboration: playing with others help them to be more creative. The interaction among other creative members that results is the creativity. To quote Keith Sawyer again, when working together in collaboration, “ideas emerge that no one person would have been able to think of alone”.
Simply put: to collaborate means to come together as individuals with a shared goal to achieve that which cannot be simply achieved alone.
As with any kind of relationship, not all collaborations are effective, so how can we intentionally work to build thoughtful, functional, and creative collaborations?
Although each collaboration and its collaborators are unique, there are some shared qualities that make up a successful collaboration. It starts with being intentional from the start about how and why you’ll work together.
If you’re currently considering a collaboration, or you’re already involved in a collaboration, you can refer to these foundational principles to help inform your work and guide your collaboration to its most successful and effective outcome:
It sounds obvious but this is a crucial component of building and maintaining a healthy collaboration. When you are developing a collaboration, or you are embarking on a new project within an existing collaboration, you’ll want to set clear expectations and identify individual roles. Schedule regular check-ins and team meetings to review goals and set new goals, assess projects and tasks, and explore new ideas. Establish communication priorities that outline how and when you’ll communicate, and allow for each individual to have the opportunity and freedom to ask questions, speak up when needing clarification, and share ideas.
Your collaboration will thrive when cared for with trust. The best collaborations are cultivated by people who share a mutual interest and investment in seeing one another succeed. Create space in your collaboration so that all members are given the freedom to explore and create, and that no individual is overbearing or controlling the creativity; it’s an understanding that your work is evolving and you’re always learning. This goes along with communication, but maintain a safe space where members can share concerns. Always assume good intentions and ask for their perspective instead of placing blame or criticizing. Keep good faith in your fellow collaborator when considering tasks that need to be done, and always trust one another when sharing and giving feedback.
This is self-explanatory but it’s highly necessary, if not the most imperative facet to a collaboration. With your fellow collaborator(s), you’ll want to establish a clear “why” you are working together and how you, as a team, see your work evolving. What are your shared goals? What is it you collectively aspire to do in the world? This answer sets the foundation for all that you do together.
Commit to showing up for your collaboration and that you’ll hold yourself and one another accountable for the work and the task at hand. Make your collaboration official with a contract or letter of agreement that outlines your vision, priorities, and roles. Own this work and celebrate that you found a kindred spirit with whom you can share your creative journey!
Compromise and Continuity
The reality is that it won’t always be easy to work together, but that’s OK as long as you, with your collaborators, possess the ability and determination to move forward, together. Learn to compromise and work together to collectively solve problems and issues that arise. Understand that you are learning and will continue to grow and evolve with each new opportunity to reflect and improve. Share a willingness to move forward without getting overly discouraged and distracted. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to building a sustainable working relationship.
It can be isolating and uninspiring to work alone or in a routine. That’s what’s so powerful about collaboration: it can change us for the better, so enjoy the process. When creative minds come together, opportunities arise. When in collaboration, we learn about the power of an idea to take shape. We learn how, with our skills combined, we can transform a seed of an idea into a full-fledged movement. We’re challenged, inspired, and motivated to do more and do better.
I invite you to think of collaboration as a tool to use in order to sharpen your entrepreneurial skills. Develop honest, inspired, and engaged relationships with fellow creatives and thoughtful professionals. Harness the collective creative power of those around you and then use that to fuel your work and the work of others. Have fun, work hard, and learn new things. You’ll be a stronger, better, and more fulfilled professional for it.
As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below or via email. Have you considered collaborating? What kind of collaborations do you admire and why? What would you add to this post?