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How to Collaborate More Effectively: Uncanny Creativity 29

Teamwork isn’t always easy. Yet, we work with others because we know the final product will benefit from everyone’s unique expertise. We can’t work it alone. As a designer, I’m better off with an editor, a project manager, client input, and any other feedback that is available. Those perspectives and skills just offer more than I could on my own.

The first thing that I keep in mind when collaborating is to focus on giving constructive criticism. This means that I feel my input is helpful and positive. I try to exchange ideas without trying to change the other persons mind. These are my suggestions and I know others can take them or leave them.

Avoid arguing and interrupting others. The key to doing that is listening. Listen and let yourself understand that this person is saying what they feel is right from their own experience.

Suspend untested assumptions. Look and listen for the untested statements among your team. Ask the questions: how do we know? Why do feel this is true for this project?

Be honest even if it’s controversial. We have to let others our truth and let them react. They may have good responses to our concerns. Voicing them allows them to be addressed. Avoid negative thinking and nay saying such as adding it can’t be done, it’s been done, it’s too early, it’s too late. These are all easy to overcome by asking or answering why. If it can’t be done, state the reasoning you feel this is a difficulty.

Common Collaboration Mistakes

There are some fairly collaboration mistakes that we can avoid:

Avoid assuming you knowing the outcomes. Rather than assume, provide a next step that tests whether this guess will happen or not. The client won’t like the idea? Only the client knows that.

Avoid demonstrations that show you’re in charge without adding to the project. If you have the final say, there is no threat in listening to ideas. Use opportunities to direct and validate what you can, yet keep focused on the next steps for the project and not on the team structure.

Avoid changing everything. Look at what is working, the positives of how things already are, and keep what you are sure does work. There’s no need to reinvent every wheel completely. Focus on what is broke and how to make those aspects improved.

Avoid doing nothing out of fear to contribute. Every member of a team is there because their opinion is valued. Assert your value. Relax, there is some trust in your judgement just by your presence.

Avoid not getting to know people well enough. Whether the team is connecting for a short meeting or for years, it’s a good idea to have some personal interaction. See your team as human flesh and blood people. This can be the slight small talk at the beginning or end of a meeting, a brief mention of the weather, your hometown, or an experience. Those minor personalizations help others empathize with your ideas and make your points that much more effective.

Avoid not taking responsibility. Any outcome from a group project reflects on all of his members. When things go wrong, everyone is equally to blame. After all, the group has allowed it to happen. In any interaction, all parties are responsible for the ultimate outcomes. Sure the largest portions may have started as one person’s idea, yet it’s the team that implemented and enabled that to happen. Accepting responsibility will empower your involvement in all parts of the process.

You may also want to hear my story of how collaboration went terribly wrong: 6 Dos and Don’t for Killer Creative Teams: Confessions of a Bad Team Player

What are some of your experiences working with others? What did you learn in the process? Share in the comments!

Uncanny Creativity is an art productivity podcast helping you to be more imaginative everyday. Brian E. Young is a magazine art director and artist in Baltimore, Maryland. If you have a design and creativity question I can help answer, send me your letters by e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

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Brian E. Young

I'm a graphic designer (portfolio), classical pianist and artist in Baltimore, MD. I host the Uncanny Creativity Podcast helping to demystify the creative process and creator of, an online shop for apparel and games. Twitter: @sketchee

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