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How to Get the Best Results From Your Creative Collaborations

You can produce great results all by your lonesome, but the results might be even better if you collaborated with a team.

Of course collaboration isn’t always necessary. For projects such as developing concepts for a new creative campaign or creating assets that tell stories in different ways, however, your work could generate significantly more impact when you collaborate.

That makes sense, right? More minds, more potential for discovering awesome ideas—and also uncovering why an idea may not work. In short, more potential for genius.

Unfortunately, simply setting up a meeting with a couple of key people does not mean you’ll be spinning collaborative gold. So how can you best collaborate? This is what we’ve found works best.

1. Make sure your team is diverse.

According to Tendayi Viki, managing partner at Benneli Jacobs, a firm that helps companies develop internal ecosystems that enable them to innovate, “innovation is a team sport.” In his Forbes article on how to improve creative collaboration within teams, Viki suggests bringing together people of different disciplines.

Basically, if your team is composed of people from different backgrounds, people who have different areas of expertise, you can stretch each other and lean on each other’s strengths. A Nielsen article backs this up with results from one of its studies: It found that teams with people from four or more functions (for example, brand, market research, agency, design, and strategy) produced concepts that performed 46% better with consumers than teams with fewer functional roles.

So the next time you’re looking to collaborate, consider bringing a few new players into the fold, people who will bring diverse perspectives and help the team become a true creative force.

2. Include a social architect. 

As Harvard professor and co-author of Collective Genius Linda Hill proposes in her TED Talk “How to Manage for Collective Creativity,” leadership in collaborative environments isn’t about being a visionary.

Instead, you want someone who can nurture a collaborative environment, aggregating viewpoints and making sure everyone—including disruptors—contributes. (See No. 6 for tips on how to do this.)

3. Add these key ingredients for real partnership.

You picked a great team—but, as digital illustrator and storyteller Mars Dorian and Unmistakable Creative podcast host Srini Rao discussed during a recent episode on expanding creative capacity through collaboration, your team needs to do more than just show up. Here are a few tips you can share with your team to enable a powerful collaboration:

  • Leave your egos at the door. This is a partnership to find the best solution; it’s not about personal gain.
  • Trust each other. Know that each person has the skills and knowledge needed to help deliver a great end result. (Trust may come in time, but it’s important to at least have this mindset from the start.)
  • Genuinely listen to each other’s ideas and ask each other strategic questions.
  • Be honest—in a constructive way—about what’s working and what’s not. Not all ideas will be great, but they may include a grain of greatness. And even if they don’t, discussing why something doesn’t work may be the springboard needed to discover that pearl.

4. Create a shared vision.

As author, motivational speaker, and organizational consultant Simon Sinek tweeted, “Vision is a destination — a fixed point to which we focus all effort. Strategy is a route — an adaptable path to get us where we want to go.” Your team will need a shared vision to help them focus and figure out the best, most exciting path forward.

Therefore, you should make sure your team knows the destination, the purpose, before you start the collaboration process. Based on data from Creative Difference, a digital IDEO tool that has been used to measure innovation in more than 100 companies, “teams that use their purpose to guide their decision-making have 61% more successful launches than teams that don’t.” And who doesn’t want a more successful launch?

5. Plan to iterate.

Don’t worry about finding the perfect solution from the start. As Tom Wujec, a leading design thinker, discusses in his TED Talk “Build a Tower, Build a Team,” you need to allow for iteration.

In Wujec’s marshmallow challenge, where the goal was to build the highest structure with dried spaghetti and one yard of tape that could be topped by a marshmallow, he found that kindergartners did best. Adults spent most of their time planning and drawing, trying to discover the “best” solution before building—only to find their structures collapse without enough time to attempt anything else. Kindergartners just dove right into building, which meant they could iterate and figure out what really worked.

So when you’ve landed on a path to your destination, keep in mind that the path will most likely need to be tinkered with and possibly even completely rerouted. Don’t think of this as a problem, though; it’s part of the journey you need to take to make sure your solution has the desired impact.

6. Flow between being alone and on a team.

Not surprisingly, creative collaboration requires some time. However, perhaps surprisingly, it also requires personal space. According to this Fast Company article, “human beings are most creative when we get time by ourselves and then time with one another. The way to maximize creative potential is to flow between being alone and being in a group, and back again.” That’s what Paul Paulus, a researcher of factors that influence group creativity, found in his recent experiment: Flowing back and forth produced the most ideas per person.

How do you do this? Perhaps you first create the shared vision or present the latest iteration, then you stick a pin in it, letting people wander away to ponder things before regrouping. You could also put this flow into practice during a brainstorming session. The Fast Company article suggests the following steps to maintain structure while keeping the group creatively energized:

i. Everyone writes down ideas on large sticky notes (one per note) for 10 minutes.

ii. Post the notes on a wall, with people getting three minutes to read them.

iii. Everyone writes new ideas for five minutes.

iv. Post the new ideas and have the group review them for two minutes.

v. Rinse and repeat, this time reducing the new idea portion to 90 seconds and increasing the review time to five minutes.

vi. Now discuss!

This process has a couple of added benefits, too: It ensures that everyone contributes and people don’t forget their ideas while someone else is talking.

7. Keep the communication going. 

It can be easy to communicate while you’re in person (especially if you have that social architect and use the sticky notes trick mentioned above). For longer collaborations, though, you’ll need to put forth some effort to keep the communication going.

First, create structure with milestones and deadlines. Make sure that you allow time for multiple iterations.

Second, set up a regular meeting to make sure the team talks to each other on an ongoing basis. While chat and email are helpful tools, they may also lead to misunderstandings. Face-to-face communication (including video calls with sharing capabilities) can also be ideal for talking through feedback and understanding next steps.

These tips are how we help amplify the abilities of our internal team as well as our clients to create the best possible assets and campaigns. Have a project you’d like to collaborate on or just want to share your collaboration tips? Connect with us.