Tonight I’m participating in a workshop led by my friend, Diane Gibbs, in which the participants answer the question, “What makes a great collaboration for you?”
At first glance, my answer reveals an old story that finds its roots in events that happened decades ago: “I don’t collaborate. I’m not a good collaborator. I’m not a team player. I’ve been burned too many times. I’m destined to be alone in my efforts.”
But as I sat with this question, I thought about my clients, side projects, and relationships. The more I sat in silence and listened to the quiet truth buried beneath the noisy lies, I heard it, a new story of collaboration.
So what makes a great collaboration? When the partnership is a true partnership, when each of us has a role that strengthens the other, and most importantly when we are clear on why we are collaborating.
I can’t help but think about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, in this context. However, you don’t have to “start with why.” As long as you define the why together, the roles can sing in harmony.
Like most students, I hated group projects in school. But as an instructor, I saw the value in them. Instead of blindly expecting groups to figure out what true partnerships looked and worked like, I guided them. There was an equality of effort across everyone involved. Even the weakest team member played a vital role, allowing the team to produce more substantial work.
Roles can be tricky, especially for people who have various strengths, talents, interests, and passions. That is where the “what” and the “how” enter the collaborative dance.
As a creative entrepreneur and guide, my clients often hire me in one of two capacities. The first way is when someone wants to create something—a video, a podcast, an email newsletter, a book—and they know what they want to say. They need help to best package those thoughts into a compelling, insightful, and sometimes entertaining product. The second way is equally interesting. They know how they want to show up in the world, their creative identity is firm, but they don’t know what to say.
My collaborations soar when I am fluid between the “what” and the “how.” There will be overlapping actions between the “what” and “how” throughout the creative process. But when I play to my strengths within the relationship and allow my collaborative partner to do the same, we create great work.
Finally, as we work with the understanding of what our “why” is, it becomes our guiding light as we move forward in the darkness of doubt, the fog of fear, and the blinding sun of success.