Three Plumb Lines for Collaboration

In our creative services and product development practice, we talk a lot about working together. We even launched a side project last year with Elliot Strunk called Make Good Work Great. The project focused on speaking engagements and workshops to help people learn to collaborate (better or for the first time). We’ve found after decades of experience, working together usually produces better outcomes.

After several months of little activity, we’re ramping things back up with a few speaking engagements and a product or two. More on those at a later date.

In the meantime, here are a few plumb lines I keep in mind when starting to collaborate with someone new.

1. Avoid the word “No”

No, is rarely needed when working with getting projects started. When comedy students are learning improv, one of the first rules they learn is the word “no” is a killer. What makes improv amazing is the performers’ ability to keep going. Collaboration works this way in the beginning. Let an idea, any idea, be heard. Who knows where it might lead you.

2. Be a good finder

The easiest thing to do to an idea that isn’t yours is to shoot holes in it. Rarely are ideas 100% bad. Sometimes it’s the smallest kernel of a terrible idea that leads to an amazing outcome. Trust your partners. They obviously think their idea has value. Look for the good in it and proceed to number 3.

3. Propose alternate solutions

If you don’t like something or recognize it’s not relevant, offer alternative ideas. Try “How about…” or “What if we…”. This provides constructive feedback and reduces the risks of egos getting out of line. The last thing a team needs is for someone to get defensive and disrupt momentum.

When I keep these precepts in mind, my collaborations go smoother and produce better.