Facilitating Creative Collaboration – Lessons from a Creative Entrepreneur

Alison Coward’s seminar on Facilitating Creative Collaboration went down really well with the audience. If you missed it, here is my take on it.

Alison is the founder of Bracket Projects, a consultancy that specialises in helping freelancers, businesses and organisations benefit from effective creative collaboration (http://bracketprojects.co.uk/), and the newly launched Bracket Creative which runs a network of talented creative people, with all the skills needed to create a project from start to finish. (http://bracketcreative.co.uk/)

The particularly interesting thing about Bracket Creative is the way it puts together teams of freelancers to meet the specific needs of a client/project. Matching the skills and personalities required to form a creative team capable of collaborating through the duration of the project, on the completion of which the team disbands and again become independent freelancers. This notion of a pop-up business was on Business Week’s 20 Most Important Inventions of the Next 10 Years. With the recession pushing more people into freelancing and technology making it increasingly easy to work in a virtual office, it seems a logical next step for offering a “full package” of services to clients.

There are some key hurdles to note:

Finding the right people. This is not simply about matching skills – a team needs to be able to work together, so their personalities need to be at a balance with each other. This can be especially challenging with creative freelancers who are used to working independently and not having to answer to anyone but the client. They prefer to manage themselves, their time and value their autonomy. Members of a pop-up business must be able to collaborate and communicate. A team must have a balance of personalities, and Alison admits that when putting together teams she selects the team based on intuition, she knows what will work and what doesn’t. An option for the less experienced might be to use methods for determining people’s personality traits, e.g Belbin, Myers-Briggs and the like. They can give indicators to help have a spread of personalities to ensure that you have both implementors and idea people, coordinators and shapers. These tests are, however, not fool-proof.

Getting into the collaboration mindset. As part of her role in Bracket Creative, Alison kicks of a new team with a group session to get everyone on the same page. In these sessions the team members are able to develop common goals, sort out areas of disagreements, agree on processes, protocol, timescales and division of tasks. They need to find a common agenda, and get individual agendas out of the way. The team will also develop its own toolkit. This sets the tone for further collaboration down the line, as issues are aired and settled up front, making it less likely that the whole thing will fall apart due to a disagreement later on. Everybody knows what’s in it for them, and what is expected.

Key to the Collaboration Mindset:

  • Letting go of control
  • Leave your ego and your culture at the door
  • Patience
  • Sharing ideas
  • Communication
  • Motivation

The interesting thing for me is that this resonates with pretty much every creative process I’ve encountered, with some differences. One of the things that I really like about this approach though is the focus on tackling the individual agendas and elements that may cause conflict up front. Collaboration works better when people are well matched, but it still requires people to leave their egos at the door and find a common approach.

Another thing that struck home for me is the idea of People –>Process –> Technology, in that order. Get the people element right first, then decide collaboratively on the process, then match the technology to what you are planning to do. I’ve worked on many projects, especially with technology people, where the technology and process is decided, before the people involved in the project has worked through their issues to form a common and well understood and agreed on agenda. To often the agenda is set by people outside the project, or a small minority of people within the team, without the flexibility to acknowledge and work through the individual agendas of other team members. Let’s just say that these projects invariably has to regularly deal with conflicting views and expectations. Wouldn’t it be good to sort this out at the start?

The final observation is the need for a facilitator. Someone who is the force bringing people together, the negotiator in the early stages and the facilitator of communication and collaboration through the project. Without this person, in my opinion, the team would fall apart and the pop-up business idea would struggle to work.

Everybody has examples of collaboration that didn’t work, what are your examples when collaboration does work?

Author: Kristine Pitts


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Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice

The Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice is an interdisciplinary research centre in the Cass Business School, City University London. http://www.cass.city.ac.uk/research-and-faculty/centres/creativity