"No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you're playing a solo game, you'll always lose out to a team." - Reid Hoffman
I think many people outside of the creative world would be surprised to learn that most creative people are not natural collaborators. It’s not that we don’t like sharing ideas or talking with our peers – we do. It’s just that when you’re in the fast-paced trenches of in-house creative, collaboration seems like a roadblock to meeting deadlines. You look at that pile on your desk, of deadlines looming large, and the tendency is to put your head down and plough through it. Alone.
But we all know that the work will be better if we collaborate. We know that our co-workers and stakeholders can add value. It’s just that stopping and starting takes time. Sharing ideas takes time. Rethinking a concept because someone offered an alternate opinion takes a lot of time. Compounding the problem is that project management and scheduling rarely build in that collaboration time, or help teams collaborate efficiently.
In addition to finding time to build in collaboration on projects, it’s equally important to carefully plan when that collaboration happens. Feedback and collaboration can set a project back if it’s done at the wrong time. If, for example, you’ve spent a couple of days working on a project and your teammate points out something that will probably cause the work to be rejected by the client, well you’ve just wasted two days on something you can’t present. If, however, you shared the early stages of the project with your team, that would have been caught in time to make adjustments before you spent so much time on the actual work.
In order for a creative team to be both highly efficient and collaborative, you must find a way to build collaboration into your workflow. Here are five tips I’ve learned in my 20+ year career that are easy to put in place to keep collaboration flowing without disrupting your team.
1. Kick it off right
The time to begin collaborating is at project kickoff. Make sure you have your stakeholder or client, as well as all creative staff that will be involved in the project at the kickoff so everyone hears what the clients wants together.
2. Regroup with the creative team
Immediately after kickoff, I keep the creative team back so everyone can get a road map of next steps. This is a great time to begin a collaborative discussion and establish roles.
3. Put it in Writing
Make sure your notes from the kickoff, including next steps, are put in the project file of your workflow system. This is the team’s collaboration guide. Include details like who’s responsible for setting up the next touchpoint and what each person should bring to that discussion. Make it very clear who’s responsible for what, and what everyone’s next steps are.
4. Use a workflow solution designed for collaboration
In order to make collaboration a natural part of the flow, you need a workflow platform that allows you to communicate seamlessly throughout the entire project cycle. All notes and comments on the project should live in the project file in the workflow platform, including chats and @mentions to teammates. Additionally, reference files and proof files should all be included within the project so that all related discussions, notes, and materials are available in the workflow platform.
5. Review work early and often
Another key to collaboration is having an intuitive, web-based review and approval platform. Sharing your work early with your team is the best way to get collaborative feedback at a time when you can actually make the changes without going over deadline. Use your design expertise available to make sure your end result is absolutely amazing, but don’t wait too late to get feedback or you’ll be frustrated.
The days of sitting at your desk and doing your work in a silo are gone. Embrace collaboration by building it into your workflow and choose a workflow solution that is designed with collaboration in mind so you have access to all your project notes, comments, and feedback in one place.
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Creative Director for Capstone Production Group, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Durham, North Carolina. She’s been a power user and advocate of inMotionNow since 2014.