We often have a pretty good idea about who we’d like to work with on a project: people we like, especially folks who have the skills and qualities the project needs but we lack. Yet finding the perfect collaborators is not a cat-and-mouse game.
Collaboration is about having a shared purpose. Everyone involved in a project brings a unique perspective and they agree to take part based on their understanding of the purpose for the project.
Good collaborators—no one is purrrfect—define the shared purpose for the project, work with everyone to refine it and get buy-in, and maintain a clear sense of the vision until the project is completed. If changes are needed, they work out a new shared vision with the team.
Example of a collaborative breakdown
I once worked with a small group on a document that took considerable time to produce and input from several experts who had a stake in the publication. A sign of future problems was that when the organization asked for staff to help with the project, only a few of us had time to give to defining what was needed, getting it written, edited, reviewed and preparing it for publication. As the project neared completion and the deadline loomed, one person who had not yet been involved brought a different vision of it to the table. She pressed for profound changes to the document. Her new vision called for rearranging all the content.
There could be sweat, tears, flying fur, and possibly some blood involved
The team was no longer held together by a common purpose. It was some relief to me, as a writer on the team, to be told that “no additional writing” was required. The experts pulled back from the review process, saying they no longer understood what was needed from them and were now too busy with other projects to assist. Editors and translators did not have time to do their job well. The designer was not available to revise the work at the last minute. The quality, and those who had to stay up late, suffered in the end. It’s not clear whether the document ever connected with any target audience; I can’t find it published anywhere.
Collaboration breaks down when the purpose changes and is not supported by everyone involved. There is an impact on quality and on everyone’s sense of achievement.
Purrrfect collaborators, and even good collaborators, share the same objective and get buy-in if and when the objective changes.
Video by Christine Hastie, using iMovie and a video clip called “Cat green screen” by Volkan Kutlubay, available through envatomarketplaces.com. The text and the images of mice Christine drew in Illustrator are animated using Keynote. The GarageBand jingle is “Pursuit.” No mice were harmed in making this video.