Creative collaboration: Everything you need to know about successful collaboration for creative teams

Creative collaboration: Everything you need to know about successful collaboration for creative teams

14 minute read

Creative collaboration: Everything you need to know about successful collaboration for creative teams

14 minute read

Creative collaboration: Everything you need to know about successful collaboration for creative teams

Nic Evans

Product Content Design Manager, Shopify
For many people, collaboration is nothing more than a buzzword. Some hear it and think of innovation and open-minded exchanges, while others envision stale boardrooms and ‘blue-sky thinking.’

Table of contents

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

We see collaboration as the natural first step of the creative process. It requires a handful of things to get off the ground, mainly a suitable environment and a bunch of open-minded folks. There are a variety of tools and resources out there that take collaboration to a new level, allowing teams to get the most out of the process.

What is collaboration? (And how to collaborate with different teams)

Collaboration is the act of working together toward a common goal. There are many different ways to approach and accomplish this. Every agency, start-up, individual, or company may collaborate in their own way, which can have different benefits and drawbacks.

Define collaboration
Collaboration can come in many forms, and it’s essential to team success. Image Source

Regardless of how a team decides to work together, collaboration requires:

  • Fostering a positive collective attitude.
  • Encouraging a new acceptance of ‘process’.
  • Remaining enthusiastic and curious about new tools and technology.

💡In short: collaboration has become less of a ‘step’ and more of a medium in itself.

Technology has come to play an integral role in widening the scope and definition of collaboration. Distance, time, and limited resources haven’t stood in the way of developing ideas.

Platforms for sharing and communication, such as group video calling, and online note-making or content sharing platforms have become part of our every day, and are used as prominently as email or Twitter.

Now, let’s look at how different types of teams collaborate.

Agencies

When it comes to agencies, many are reluctantly tied up in the politics of budgets, timelines, and restricted resources, making it difficult to collaborate in a way that inspires creativity and innovation.

For many agencies, collaboration flourishes when there is a willingness to embrace new practices and thinking. Many agencies have a commitment to their long-established processes. Forged as a mark of consistency, these processes often restrict fresh perspectives and fail to see each project for the unique collaborative opportunity they present.

Essentially, agencies can be stuck in their ways. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean collaboration cannot happen between team members, it does mean that it can be difficult to see and pursue new opportunities to collaborate in creative ways.

Need to Know: See how thousands of agencies are already implementing GatherContent for their clients.

Start-Ups

Often, the most proficient collaborators have become the less institutionalised start-ups. Start-ups often have smaller budgets, fragmented teams, and no concept of traditional working hours. That means they’ve got to be creative when it comes to collaborating.

Free from the traditional, agency-imposed boxes to be ticked, start-ups can be in an envied creative position. However, the success of a collaboration is reliant upon integrating it into every stage of the project’s development, a process-based less on creativity and more on introducing the right talent to the right tools.

💡 Read next: Discover our 6-step strategy for building strong content marketing collaboration.

Attitude: The good, the bad, and the realistic

When you think of start-ups and attitudes, a lot of folks think of giddy enthusiasm and creative freedom. As much as positivity is key, it’s the temporary acceptance and attitude towards failure that sets the good ideas apart from the bad.

‍The good

Collaboration offers possibilities. You’d think this freedom would require the most natural of attitudes, but remaining open-minded and free of competitive spirit can go against what freelancers instinctively behave like.

Collaboration is entrepreneurial at heart. It is driven, focused, and looks to do what hasn’t been done before. It may seem like a process more fitting to an individual than a collective of free-thinkers and varied experts.

The reason why this collaboration works is that everyone has a dedicated attitude that encourages conversation.

The team at the Dubberly Design Office states: ‘The creative process involves many conversations—about goals and actions to achieve them—conversations with co-creators and colleagues, conversations with oneself. The participants and their language, experience, and values affect the conversations’.

Their ‘Model of the creative process’ illustrates that conversation determines the big and the small. No topic or idea is off the books, it’s all there, in the open and up for discussion. These conversations affect every outcome, each one building on the foundation of the idea.

Conversation and collaboration
Effective communication is key to collaborating on any kind of project. Image Source

How to make conversation part of your process

Don’t type. Talk… live and in-person, if possible. The best ideas come to life thanks to instant feedback, and thinking too much can kill the essence of the idea itself.

Let your mouth run at the speed of thought. What you may deem as ridiculous and insignificant, someone else may see as gold.

The more people feel valued, the better their input will be. Conversations aren’t perfect, but they don’t need to be.

💡 Tools: There are a variety of tools available that allow teams to connect live online.

Being fragmented doesn’t mean you can’t connect and chat at any time. Whether you are a start-up or part of an agency team, the act of conversing itself is about giving every member the freedom and space to voice their opinion.

  • Zoom - Zoom is an online meeting platform that makes it easy for you to meet with collaborators face-to-face.
  • Skype - Skype gives collaborators an easy way to connect live and in-person for video chats.
  • Google Hangout - Like Skype and Zoom, Google Hangout is another tool that allows you to speak to your collaborators face-to-face.
  • Slack - Slack is used by a lot of dispersed teams who need a quick and easy way to message one another in real-time.

The Bad

Where there is a conversation, there will be criticism. And a culture of criticism means the exchange of honest thoughts and productive opinions is encouraged and holds a valuable weight.

This attitude towards criticism redefines the meaning of the word itself. Criticism is seen more as growth, a phase where an idea may not be formed completely and is adopted and nurtured by the entire team.

Ownership and the urge to be proven right aren’t given priority, there’s little room for the unproductivity of egos.

‍Regardless of the source, each idea or thought sparks a series of new ones, branching out and exploring fresh perspectives and concepts.

How to welcome criticism

Aside from attitude, the other thing you will need is a space to share and view notes. You need to have an adequate platform that encourages comments and can record daily musings and notes.

These records are not just about creating new ideas. They hold past thinking and angles that may have not been ideal then, but will most definitely be of use in the future.

Collaboration lives in a state of constant development so logging everything as it happens is an investment in the future.

Tools: Weaving this ‘logging’ into your everyday routine not only benefits the team as a whole but yourself too. Tracking trains of thought can help you visually observe how you approached an idea, and offer new ways of getting hands-on with a concept.

  • Google Drive - Google Drive not only allows you to collaborate on documents in real-time, but it allows you to leave feedback on documents as you collaborate.
  • Asana - Asana is a project management tool that allows you to organize and collaborate on tasks. Project managers or other team members can leave notes on tasks to ensure that all collaborators see them as they work.
  • Trello - Like Asana, Trello is also a project management tool. You can create “cards” with tasks and notes on them, giving collaborators the option to add their own feedback.

The Realistic

Sometimes ideas fail, and concepts lose their relevance. It happens every day.

One of the reasons why start-ups progress and move so rapidly is that speed tests the stealth of the idea itself. It is tirelessly workshopped, re-approached, and innovated to ensure it has appeal and a real place in the market. Momentary failure is part of this process.

Constant idea research and generation is hard work. People run out of inspiration, become sick to death of a concept, or lack the knowledge to turn the initial spark into a workable project.

Before you write one word, do your research. Your ideas, knowledge, and focus should come from research and knowing your subject inside and out. Idea generation and market research are no different. How can you be sure your website, product, or app will be successful or even needed if you haven’t studied who will use it, or what already exists?

How to revolutionise researching

You don’t need to spend hours digging through jargon-filled consumer reports or bulk emailing potential targets. Researching is as much about what you don’t find as what you do.

Don’t limit your research to one practice. Get off the internet and talk to local creatives and peers.  You can also check out what educational studies may be in the pipeline by contacting industry experts and institutions.

If you do use the web, find a way that works for you. There are plenty of apps out there that make research thorough and easy and enable it to be as simple and addictive as hopping on Twitter.

Tools: Your phone or iPad can be invaluable for sourcing and storing your findings. I’m a stickler for writing by hand, a habit, and a hassle, so get into the best routines from the start. Categorise as you go and make sure what you find can be easily shared.

  • Evernote - Evernote is a note-taking app that makes it easy to gather, collaborate on, and organize your notes and ideas. This is an excellent tool for compiling and sharing your research.
  • iBooks - You’re more likely to do the research when it’s easy and convenient. Use iBooks to find books and articles for your research.
Collaborative research: Idea sharing
If you want to make the research process collaborative, it’s essential to have the right tools. Image Source

Process: From the brief to the boss

We’d argue that collaboration adds a natural structure to the less traditional creative process. In fact, the entire generation and development of ideas and concepts is a back and forth of problems, solutions, and honing — a fat-trimmed alternative to the industry hoops many companies find themselves having to jump through.

Many agencies out there recognise that structure and constant exchange is an integral part of the collaborative process. And many facilitate this by creating their own methods of encouraging this back and forth.

One such agency is Cooper Design, a San Francisco-based Design & Strategy firm.

Better together; the practice of successful creative collaboration’ is a peek into the ethos of Cooper Design. They have observed how the industry praises the individual and neglects the ideas of teams, or pairs, in the creative sphere.

Cooper notes that:

"Many of the ways we talk about creative work only capture the brilliance of a single individual. But creativity also thrives on diversity, tension, sharing, and collaboration. Two (or more) creative people can leverage these benefits if they play well together.

Cooper’s pair-design practice matured over more than a decade and continues to evolve as we grow, form new pairs, and learn from each other every day. While no magic formula exists, all of our most successful partnerships to date share remarkably similar characteristics"

They model their collaborative partnerships and team dynamics on ‘Foundations, Grounding Principles and Practices’, matching these customised creatives based on similar characteristics and ways of thinking.

The What (brief), Where (environment) and How (collaborators) of a lot of companies; lifecycles are often in a state of flux. Getting results and meeting objectives isn’t about ticking boxes, it’s about finding the most inventive and innovative ways of hitting the target.

How to build on a brief

There is no one right way to create a brief. Some briefs may consist of pages and pages of scribbles and hand-drawn sitemaps, while some are just a two-line paragraph and still others just a name.

The brief is as unfinished and open-ended as the project itself is, merely because collaboration is actively encouraged. After all, what is collaboration if not a process of collectively filling in the blanks?

Before a collaborator can do their job, they need the right info. Simply sending nothing is not acceptable. You do need to be flexible in your demands, especially at an early stage of a project, but hold steady in requests for the basics.

For creative professionals like freelancers, putting together their own briefs helps their personal understanding and gets them thinking from the start. Being able to easily share and access files and docs is a huge part of the collaboration process.

Content Project Brief
The project or content brief is an essential part of keeping everyone on the same page while collaborating on a project. Image Source

Tools: Correlating and sharing info, thoughts, scribbles, or contracts needs to be standard practice between all collaborators. There’s a whole host of file-sharing platforms and software out there that make it easy to share with others.

  • Google Docs - Use Google docs to store notes, drafts, briefs, and nearly anything else with the ability to share with others instantly.
  • Box - Box offers a secure way to share documents and briefs with your team.
  • Hightail - Securely share files with anyone and gather feedback using Hightail.

The redefinition of the creative process has had a knock-on effect on its associated terms and practices. ‘Teamwork’ and ‘brainstorming’ conjure up all kinds of aged connotations of strip-lighting and trust exercises. But these are no longer an accurate representation of the collaborative process.

Although these elements are still very much present, they have been reimagined and reimplemented to offer a real creative and functional value. Popplet for example is a fun, smart, and simple way of displaying and working on ideas - brainstorming.

Molding these ideas into workable content is a challenge, but one that can be aided by the structure and categorisation of the content itself. Gaps present themselves and common themes appear urging fellow collaborators to jump in and get to work.

The act of collaboration

Talking, honing, and presenting aside, the actual act of collaboration needs to be facilitated by best-of-breed content collaboration tools.

The ‘tools’ aren’t always of the technological realm. Stripping back the act of collaboration can often bring existing components to the forefront. Freelancing can be less of a status and more of a tool for those looking to champion collaboration.

Freelancers often pick their projects just as much for the challenge as for the financial gain. By tapping into this wealth of specialty and flexibility, the act of collaboration is continually enriched and ever-changing. In the design industry, freelancers often collaborate with stakeholders and other freelancers to extend their skill base and draw on others' expertise.

With freelancing on the rise, collaboration is a great means of ensuring that all creatives implement teamwork into their problem-solving. Many have seen collaboration as a new means of establishing a business, and see freelancers as the greatest advocates of collaborative working.

This collaborative work is a process that can move fast and generate a lot of results and content. Planning, structuring, requesting, and sharing potential content doesn’t need to be the cumbersome, lengthy conclusion to the creative process. It can be as insightful and valuable as every other step.

Role of collaborators: Jack of all trades, master of the lot

Regardless of creative scope, setting goals and objectives is key to effective collaboration. Collaboration and the development of ideas could go on indefinitely, so as footloose and fancy-free as collaboration may seem, it needs to be a carefully monitored and focused endeavor.

As with all projects, there needs to be some level of management. The roles of collaborators can be a fluid thing. Some of the smaller start-ups we’ve worked with have encouraged all involved to participate. This all-hands-on-deck approach is nothing if not good for morale.

Tools to manage the creative collaboration process

The role of a leader in collaboration can often be somewhat overlooked. Effective project management requires a load of plate spinning as well as the ability to always see the bigger picture.

Sharing credit, simplifying the complex, and balancing strategy and creativity are no easy tasks. Any applications or resources that aid in task-mastering and project management are highly valued. Here are a few great examples of tools you can use to manage the creative process:

  • GatherContent - GatherContent was built to make the content collaboration process straightforward and streamlined. With GatherContent, you can manage the entire content creation process from start to finish.
  • Basecamp - Basecamp is a project management tool that allows you to easily organize and manage tasks for your whole creative team. Create and assign tasks with due dates so everyone knows their responsibilities.
  • Podio - Podio is another project management tool that makes it easy for teams to collaborate.
  • Teambox - With Teambox, you can easily manage tasks and communication so that every project is completed on time and at specification.

💡 Read next: Find out how one web marketing agency used GatherContent to increase collaboration in the content creation process.

Need to Know: You can use GatherContent to get everyone on the same page with cloud based, real-time content collaboration.

Collaboration tips
Use the tips below to create an environment more conducive to collaboration. Image Source

Tips for Successful Creative Collaboration

There are so many elements that go into creative collaboration. Here are just a few tips for getting it right:

1. Create physical workspaces that are conducive to creativity.

The physical space in which a team is working can have a significant impact on their ability to be creative. Creating a workspace that makes it easy for team members to think outside the box while also collaborating will set them up for success.

To be conducive to the creative process, the physical workspace should be open with plenty of space and tools to work in different ways. For example, you might have different types of chairs that people can sit on as they work or tools like whiteboards and post-its that allow your team to work in new ways (ie. not on their computer).

2. Create teams with people whose skills complement each other.

When you create teams to work on different collaborative projects, choose team members whose skill sets complement each other. When team members have complementary skills, they’re able to offer their unique perspective on the project while understanding the other person’s creative ideas and how they might fit into the project’s needs.

Not only should these team members have complementary skill sets, but they should also have mutual respect for one another’s work and be able to effectively communicate with one another.

3. Avoid micromanaging your team.

While hovering over every team member may seem like a good way to streamline team collaboration, it isn’t. You need to give your team space to not only implement and experiment but also learn along the way.

Here are some simple ways to avoid micromanagement:

  • Give team members the autonomy to solve problems on their own without having to get the manager or team lead’s approval or input.
  • When giving feedback, explain why something needs to be adjusted instead of telling the team member how to fix it.
  • Empower your team to ask for what they need so that you don’t feel obligated to constantly check in with them.

4. Share your progress often.

Creative collaboration isn’t just about the end result. Your team can learn a lot during the process itself. For this reason, encourage your team to share updates and progress often.

Not only does this encourage team members to give input to others during the process, but it also helps boost morale. When your team starts to see their creative ideas come to life, it can infuse the experience with excitement that carries on throughout the project.

5. Hold shorter meetings to avoid burnout.

Creative burnout is real for marketers and other creative team members. With so much to do, the last thing anyone wants is another meeting that could have been an email. The team also needs time to process and implement what they discuss as well as time to rest.

While meetings are an important part of the creative collaboration process, they don’t have to be lengthy or frequent to be effective. Whether your marketing team is brainstorming, presenting, providing project updates, or something else, keep the meetings to an hour or shorter.

When it comes to the frequency of meetings, keep in mind your team member’s workloads and schedules. If your team is working remotely from different locations and time zones, you need to make sure that the whole team can find an agreeable time to meet.

💡 See also: A 6-step strategy to build strong content marketing collaboration

The Future of Collaboration

The evolution of the art of collaboration rests on the shoulders of agencies.

It will always be part of the startup frame of mind, but collaboration as a viable creative medium in itself needs to be better adopted by design studios, marketing firms, and creative institutions. If this is you, try GatherContent for free to enhance your creative collaboration.

💡 Read next: Learn more about content collaboration platforms and how they can help you scale your content.

Collaboration is an attitude, a new understanding of ‘process’, and a hunger for new technology and tools. It is a creative dialogue that distills traditional practices—such as the noble brainstorm—down to their purest form: conversation.

Regardless of budget, timeframe, or politics, the principles that form the basis of collaboration can be re-homed and personalised by organisations of any shape or form.

We see collaboration as the natural first step of the creative process. It requires a handful of things to get off the ground, mainly a suitable environment and a bunch of open-minded folks. There are a variety of tools and resources out there that take collaboration to a new level, allowing teams to get the most out of the process.

What is collaboration? (And how to collaborate with different teams)

Collaboration is the act of working together toward a common goal. There are many different ways to approach and accomplish this. Every agency, start-up, individual, or company may collaborate in their own way, which can have different benefits and drawbacks.

Define collaboration
Collaboration can come in many forms, and it’s essential to team success. Image Source

Regardless of how a team decides to work together, collaboration requires:

  • Fostering a positive collective attitude.
  • Encouraging a new acceptance of ‘process’.
  • Remaining enthusiastic and curious about new tools and technology.

💡In short: collaboration has become less of a ‘step’ and more of a medium in itself.

Technology has come to play an integral role in widening the scope and definition of collaboration. Distance, time, and limited resources haven’t stood in the way of developing ideas.

Platforms for sharing and communication, such as group video calling, and online note-making or content sharing platforms have become part of our every day, and are used as prominently as email or Twitter.

Now, let’s look at how different types of teams collaborate.

Agencies

When it comes to agencies, many are reluctantly tied up in the politics of budgets, timelines, and restricted resources, making it difficult to collaborate in a way that inspires creativity and innovation.

For many agencies, collaboration flourishes when there is a willingness to embrace new practices and thinking. Many agencies have a commitment to their long-established processes. Forged as a mark of consistency, these processes often restrict fresh perspectives and fail to see each project for the unique collaborative opportunity they present.

Essentially, agencies can be stuck in their ways. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean collaboration cannot happen between team members, it does mean that it can be difficult to see and pursue new opportunities to collaborate in creative ways.

Need to Know: See how thousands of agencies are already implementing GatherContent for their clients.

Start-Ups

Often, the most proficient collaborators have become the less institutionalised start-ups. Start-ups often have smaller budgets, fragmented teams, and no concept of traditional working hours. That means they’ve got to be creative when it comes to collaborating.

Free from the traditional, agency-imposed boxes to be ticked, start-ups can be in an envied creative position. However, the success of a collaboration is reliant upon integrating it into every stage of the project’s development, a process-based less on creativity and more on introducing the right talent to the right tools.

💡 Read next: Discover our 6-step strategy for building strong content marketing collaboration.

Attitude: The good, the bad, and the realistic

When you think of start-ups and attitudes, a lot of folks think of giddy enthusiasm and creative freedom. As much as positivity is key, it’s the temporary acceptance and attitude towards failure that sets the good ideas apart from the bad.

‍The good

Collaboration offers possibilities. You’d think this freedom would require the most natural of attitudes, but remaining open-minded and free of competitive spirit can go against what freelancers instinctively behave like.

Collaboration is entrepreneurial at heart. It is driven, focused, and looks to do what hasn’t been done before. It may seem like a process more fitting to an individual than a collective of free-thinkers and varied experts.

The reason why this collaboration works is that everyone has a dedicated attitude that encourages conversation.

The team at the Dubberly Design Office states: ‘The creative process involves many conversations—about goals and actions to achieve them—conversations with co-creators and colleagues, conversations with oneself. The participants and their language, experience, and values affect the conversations’.

Their ‘Model of the creative process’ illustrates that conversation determines the big and the small. No topic or idea is off the books, it’s all there, in the open and up for discussion. These conversations affect every outcome, each one building on the foundation of the idea.

Conversation and collaboration
Effective communication is key to collaborating on any kind of project. Image Source

How to make conversation part of your process

Don’t type. Talk… live and in-person, if possible. The best ideas come to life thanks to instant feedback, and thinking too much can kill the essence of the idea itself.

Let your mouth run at the speed of thought. What you may deem as ridiculous and insignificant, someone else may see as gold.

The more people feel valued, the better their input will be. Conversations aren’t perfect, but they don’t need to be.

💡 Tools: There are a variety of tools available that allow teams to connect live online.

Being fragmented doesn’t mean you can’t connect and chat at any time. Whether you are a start-up or part of an agency team, the act of conversing itself is about giving every member the freedom and space to voice their opinion.

  • Zoom - Zoom is an online meeting platform that makes it easy for you to meet with collaborators face-to-face.
  • Skype - Skype gives collaborators an easy way to connect live and in-person for video chats.
  • Google Hangout - Like Skype and Zoom, Google Hangout is another tool that allows you to speak to your collaborators face-to-face.
  • Slack - Slack is used by a lot of dispersed teams who need a quick and easy way to message one another in real-time.

The Bad

Where there is a conversation, there will be criticism. And a culture of criticism means the exchange of honest thoughts and productive opinions is encouraged and holds a valuable weight.

This attitude towards criticism redefines the meaning of the word itself. Criticism is seen more as growth, a phase where an idea may not be formed completely and is adopted and nurtured by the entire team.

Ownership and the urge to be proven right aren’t given priority, there’s little room for the unproductivity of egos.

‍Regardless of the source, each idea or thought sparks a series of new ones, branching out and exploring fresh perspectives and concepts.

How to welcome criticism

Aside from attitude, the other thing you will need is a space to share and view notes. You need to have an adequate platform that encourages comments and can record daily musings and notes.

These records are not just about creating new ideas. They hold past thinking and angles that may have not been ideal then, but will most definitely be of use in the future.

Collaboration lives in a state of constant development so logging everything as it happens is an investment in the future.

Tools: Weaving this ‘logging’ into your everyday routine not only benefits the team as a whole but yourself too. Tracking trains of thought can help you visually observe how you approached an idea, and offer new ways of getting hands-on with a concept.

  • Google Drive - Google Drive not only allows you to collaborate on documents in real-time, but it allows you to leave feedback on documents as you collaborate.
  • Asana - Asana is a project management tool that allows you to organize and collaborate on tasks. Project managers or other team members can leave notes on tasks to ensure that all collaborators see them as they work.
  • Trello - Like Asana, Trello is also a project management tool. You can create “cards” with tasks and notes on them, giving collaborators the option to add their own feedback.

The Realistic

Sometimes ideas fail, and concepts lose their relevance. It happens every day.

One of the reasons why start-ups progress and move so rapidly is that speed tests the stealth of the idea itself. It is tirelessly workshopped, re-approached, and innovated to ensure it has appeal and a real place in the market. Momentary failure is part of this process.

Constant idea research and generation is hard work. People run out of inspiration, become sick to death of a concept, or lack the knowledge to turn the initial spark into a workable project.

Before you write one word, do your research. Your ideas, knowledge, and focus should come from research and knowing your subject inside and out. Idea generation and market research are no different. How can you be sure your website, product, or app will be successful or even needed if you haven’t studied who will use it, or what already exists?

How to revolutionise researching

You don’t need to spend hours digging through jargon-filled consumer reports or bulk emailing potential targets. Researching is as much about what you don’t find as what you do.

Don’t limit your research to one practice. Get off the internet and talk to local creatives and peers.  You can also check out what educational studies may be in the pipeline by contacting industry experts and institutions.

If you do use the web, find a way that works for you. There are plenty of apps out there that make research thorough and easy and enable it to be as simple and addictive as hopping on Twitter.

Tools: Your phone or iPad can be invaluable for sourcing and storing your findings. I’m a stickler for writing by hand, a habit, and a hassle, so get into the best routines from the start. Categorise as you go and make sure what you find can be easily shared.

  • Evernote - Evernote is a note-taking app that makes it easy to gather, collaborate on, and organize your notes and ideas. This is an excellent tool for compiling and sharing your research.
  • iBooks - You’re more likely to do the research when it’s easy and convenient. Use iBooks to find books and articles for your research.
Collaborative research: Idea sharing
If you want to make the research process collaborative, it’s essential to have the right tools. Image Source

Process: From the brief to the boss

We’d argue that collaboration adds a natural structure to the less traditional creative process. In fact, the entire generation and development of ideas and concepts is a back and forth of problems, solutions, and honing — a fat-trimmed alternative to the industry hoops many companies find themselves having to jump through.

Many agencies out there recognise that structure and constant exchange is an integral part of the collaborative process. And many facilitate this by creating their own methods of encouraging this back and forth.

One such agency is Cooper Design, a San Francisco-based Design & Strategy firm.

Better together; the practice of successful creative collaboration’ is a peek into the ethos of Cooper Design. They have observed how the industry praises the individual and neglects the ideas of teams, or pairs, in the creative sphere.

Cooper notes that:

"Many of the ways we talk about creative work only capture the brilliance of a single individual. But creativity also thrives on diversity, tension, sharing, and collaboration. Two (or more) creative people can leverage these benefits if they play well together.

Cooper’s pair-design practice matured over more than a decade and continues to evolve as we grow, form new pairs, and learn from each other every day. While no magic formula exists, all of our most successful partnerships to date share remarkably similar characteristics"

They model their collaborative partnerships and team dynamics on ‘Foundations, Grounding Principles and Practices’, matching these customised creatives based on similar characteristics and ways of thinking.

The What (brief), Where (environment) and How (collaborators) of a lot of companies; lifecycles are often in a state of flux. Getting results and meeting objectives isn’t about ticking boxes, it’s about finding the most inventive and innovative ways of hitting the target.

How to build on a brief

There is no one right way to create a brief. Some briefs may consist of pages and pages of scribbles and hand-drawn sitemaps, while some are just a two-line paragraph and still others just a name.

The brief is as unfinished and open-ended as the project itself is, merely because collaboration is actively encouraged. After all, what is collaboration if not a process of collectively filling in the blanks?

Before a collaborator can do their job, they need the right info. Simply sending nothing is not acceptable. You do need to be flexible in your demands, especially at an early stage of a project, but hold steady in requests for the basics.

For creative professionals like freelancers, putting together their own briefs helps their personal understanding and gets them thinking from the start. Being able to easily share and access files and docs is a huge part of the collaboration process.

Content Project Brief
The project or content brief is an essential part of keeping everyone on the same page while collaborating on a project. Image Source

Tools: Correlating and sharing info, thoughts, scribbles, or contracts needs to be standard practice between all collaborators. There’s a whole host of file-sharing platforms and software out there that make it easy to share with others.

  • Google Docs - Use Google docs to store notes, drafts, briefs, and nearly anything else with the ability to share with others instantly.
  • Box - Box offers a secure way to share documents and briefs with your team.
  • Hightail - Securely share files with anyone and gather feedback using Hightail.

The redefinition of the creative process has had a knock-on effect on its associated terms and practices. ‘Teamwork’ and ‘brainstorming’ conjure up all kinds of aged connotations of strip-lighting and trust exercises. But these are no longer an accurate representation of the collaborative process.

Although these elements are still very much present, they have been reimagined and reimplemented to offer a real creative and functional value. Popplet for example is a fun, smart, and simple way of displaying and working on ideas - brainstorming.

Molding these ideas into workable content is a challenge, but one that can be aided by the structure and categorisation of the content itself. Gaps present themselves and common themes appear urging fellow collaborators to jump in and get to work.

The act of collaboration

Talking, honing, and presenting aside, the actual act of collaboration needs to be facilitated by best-of-breed content collaboration tools.

The ‘tools’ aren’t always of the technological realm. Stripping back the act of collaboration can often bring existing components to the forefront. Freelancing can be less of a status and more of a tool for those looking to champion collaboration.

Freelancers often pick their projects just as much for the challenge as for the financial gain. By tapping into this wealth of specialty and flexibility, the act of collaboration is continually enriched and ever-changing. In the design industry, freelancers often collaborate with stakeholders and other freelancers to extend their skill base and draw on others' expertise.

With freelancing on the rise, collaboration is a great means of ensuring that all creatives implement teamwork into their problem-solving. Many have seen collaboration as a new means of establishing a business, and see freelancers as the greatest advocates of collaborative working.

This collaborative work is a process that can move fast and generate a lot of results and content. Planning, structuring, requesting, and sharing potential content doesn’t need to be the cumbersome, lengthy conclusion to the creative process. It can be as insightful and valuable as every other step.

Role of collaborators: Jack of all trades, master of the lot

Regardless of creative scope, setting goals and objectives is key to effective collaboration. Collaboration and the development of ideas could go on indefinitely, so as footloose and fancy-free as collaboration may seem, it needs to be a carefully monitored and focused endeavor.

As with all projects, there needs to be some level of management. The roles of collaborators can be a fluid thing. Some of the smaller start-ups we’ve worked with have encouraged all involved to participate. This all-hands-on-deck approach is nothing if not good for morale.

Tools to manage the creative collaboration process

The role of a leader in collaboration can often be somewhat overlooked. Effective project management requires a load of plate spinning as well as the ability to always see the bigger picture.

Sharing credit, simplifying the complex, and balancing strategy and creativity are no easy tasks. Any applications or resources that aid in task-mastering and project management are highly valued. Here are a few great examples of tools you can use to manage the creative process:

  • GatherContent - GatherContent was built to make the content collaboration process straightforward and streamlined. With GatherContent, you can manage the entire content creation process from start to finish.
  • Basecamp - Basecamp is a project management tool that allows you to easily organize and manage tasks for your whole creative team. Create and assign tasks with due dates so everyone knows their responsibilities.
  • Podio - Podio is another project management tool that makes it easy for teams to collaborate.
  • Teambox - With Teambox, you can easily manage tasks and communication so that every project is completed on time and at specification.

💡 Read next: Find out how one web marketing agency used GatherContent to increase collaboration in the content creation process.

Need to Know: You can use GatherContent to get everyone on the same page with cloud based, real-time content collaboration.

Collaboration tips
Use the tips below to create an environment more conducive to collaboration. Image Source

Tips for Successful Creative Collaboration

There are so many elements that go into creative collaboration. Here are just a few tips for getting it right:

1. Create physical workspaces that are conducive to creativity.

The physical space in which a team is working can have a significant impact on their ability to be creative. Creating a workspace that makes it easy for team members to think outside the box while also collaborating will set them up for success.

To be conducive to the creative process, the physical workspace should be open with plenty of space and tools to work in different ways. For example, you might have different types of chairs that people can sit on as they work or tools like whiteboards and post-its that allow your team to work in new ways (ie. not on their computer).

2. Create teams with people whose skills complement each other.

When you create teams to work on different collaborative projects, choose team members whose skill sets complement each other. When team members have complementary skills, they’re able to offer their unique perspective on the project while understanding the other person’s creative ideas and how they might fit into the project’s needs.

Not only should these team members have complementary skill sets, but they should also have mutual respect for one another’s work and be able to effectively communicate with one another.

3. Avoid micromanaging your team.

While hovering over every team member may seem like a good way to streamline team collaboration, it isn’t. You need to give your team space to not only implement and experiment but also learn along the way.

Here are some simple ways to avoid micromanagement:

  • Give team members the autonomy to solve problems on their own without having to get the manager or team lead’s approval or input.
  • When giving feedback, explain why something needs to be adjusted instead of telling the team member how to fix it.
  • Empower your team to ask for what they need so that you don’t feel obligated to constantly check in with them.

4. Share your progress often.

Creative collaboration isn’t just about the end result. Your team can learn a lot during the process itself. For this reason, encourage your team to share updates and progress often.

Not only does this encourage team members to give input to others during the process, but it also helps boost morale. When your team starts to see their creative ideas come to life, it can infuse the experience with excitement that carries on throughout the project.

5. Hold shorter meetings to avoid burnout.

Creative burnout is real for marketers and other creative team members. With so much to do, the last thing anyone wants is another meeting that could have been an email. The team also needs time to process and implement what they discuss as well as time to rest.

While meetings are an important part of the creative collaboration process, they don’t have to be lengthy or frequent to be effective. Whether your marketing team is brainstorming, presenting, providing project updates, or something else, keep the meetings to an hour or shorter.

When it comes to the frequency of meetings, keep in mind your team member’s workloads and schedules. If your team is working remotely from different locations and time zones, you need to make sure that the whole team can find an agreeable time to meet.

💡 See also: A 6-step strategy to build strong content marketing collaboration

The Future of Collaboration

The evolution of the art of collaboration rests on the shoulders of agencies.

It will always be part of the startup frame of mind, but collaboration as a viable creative medium in itself needs to be better adopted by design studios, marketing firms, and creative institutions. If this is you, try GatherContent for free to enhance your creative collaboration.

💡 Read next: Learn more about content collaboration platforms and how they can help you scale your content.

Collaboration is an attitude, a new understanding of ‘process’, and a hunger for new technology and tools. It is a creative dialogue that distills traditional practices—such as the noble brainstorm—down to their purest form: conversation.

Regardless of budget, timeframe, or politics, the principles that form the basis of collaboration can be re-homed and personalised by organisations of any shape or form.

Ready to get started?
Start your free trial now
Start free trialBook a demo
No items found.
nic evans

About the author

Nic Evans

Nic is a product content strategist at Shopify who collaborates with designers, developers, researchers, and product managers to design and build Shopify's user interfaces. Previously, Nic was a freelance copywriter based in Glasgow; she believes that no matter what the medium, brief or platform, using the perfect words in the best possible way can create a story, a natural communication between people, their ideas and the rest of the world. You can follow her on Twitter.