biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: How to Pull Off a Stress-Free Collaboration

by Stephanie


There’s no shortage of tools and resources to help you pull off a team effort, but successful collaborations require you to use all of your communication skills as well. Jen Dopazo, founder of branding and graphic design studio Candelita, joins us today to share how you can avoid derailing your next collaboration with misunderstandings and miscommunication with five simple, key elements. -Stephanie

 Read the full post after the jump…

You’ve found the perfect group of professionals to make that new project enviable to the world. Each member of this collaboration is the best at what they do and available to help. And the best part? You all really want to make it work.

The stars are aligned, your tools are all set up and the correspondent invitations to all the calendars, management systems, to-do lists and conference calls are in each member’s inbox! Success!

That’s the picture we all paint when we kick off a new collaborative project, yet somehow things go awry.

Team projects don’t just require systems and technology. You also need to bring your soft skills to the table.

Here are the 5 keys to pulling off a stress-free collaboration.

1. Collaborative Clarity

Before you start working on your portion of the project, it’s important to clarify what special skill sets each of you bring to the process. This will help you decide who’s responsible for what, which areas will require two or more members of the team to come together to make it work and to outline a process where every building part will slowly come together to create a finalized project.

For example, while I’m usually working with a simple team to design a website for a client, a recent project called for a larger team to organize a live event for an art competition. The web design and development had to be coordinated with the event team responsible for securing a venue, working with affiliates and sponsors, recruiting a group of experts for the panel of judges and creating a marketing strategy around the main event.

While the aspects of the competition were sorted out, the design and development of the of website were in the works. As the logistics of the event were finalized, this way, we developed its online hub. It was a more complex project than just a simple website and having clear roles helped us push the project forward.

2. Effective Communication

It might feel obvious that communication is critical to successfully pulling off a team project, but what happens when things go awry? At the moment when it’s most important to communicate with your team, many of us go silent.

Delays happen. There are so many reasons that you might diverge from the project timeline, and they’re all acceptable if you keep your peers in constant communication to let them know what’s happening, so your team can either adjust or help.

Effective communication can also help you uncover areas where you weren’t as clear on responsibilities as you thought. While consulting for a media company, I was on a team that put together a marketing campaign to launch a new product that was under development for the Winter Olympics Sochi 2014. This was a massive project and there were many small parts that were connected to each other as a campaign. We had the content and assets needed to get going and the calendar was tight but doable, but there was a problem. Some deliverables had been tagged as the responsibility of a partner organization…and they had done the same. Several phone calls and emails later, we all realized that it was a mistake. We both assumed that the other was getting it done – a communication breakdown.

As we got closer to the launch date, both teams were so focused on finishing the items under their responsibility that these smaller pieces were completely missed. Regular meetings between the two teams would have been a great way to make sure nothing fell through the gaps.

3. Embracing Diversity

Some projects will allow you the opportunity to work with professionals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This is an opportunity to see the project from different perspectives and welcome new ideas based on other contexts and fields.

I’ve participated in month-long residencies that gather artists and professionals from around the world to work on a theme like obsolete technologies of the future, hack the city or neighborhood science. This environment is not only ideal for innovation, but it also gives all the participants the opportunity to learn how different cultures and communities deal with a certain problem in any given part of the world. These are complex environments where an individual’s opinions and approaches are tested by the entire group. It’s an experimental workshop setting that speaks different languages, comes from different countries and has many faces and shapes. 

4. Asking for Help

There will be a time where you might need an extra set of hands, an extra person to validate an idea or just someone to help the project move along. Take a step back and review the main goals and big picture with each member.

As creators, it is hard for us to ask for help. Working in a group, we can’t be stubborn and assume to have all the answers and solutions in our hands (and sometimes in our team). There will be times when that specific feature on a website or piece of an interactive garment won’t just work and we’ll need to come up with a plan B. 

Sometimes we can get caught up in details that will disrupt our timeline and deliverables. Work together to create and execute a plan B to move the project forward.

5. Empathy

What happens when a key member of the team is absent due to a family emergency, but the project is expected by a sales department and a portfolio of clients? After a short time of panic, it means rolling up our sleeves and getting things done to meet that deadline.   I had an experience with a project where the manager had to be absent in a critical week of development. We reached out to copywriters, sales representatives and even higher executives to craft a plan B, gather as much information as we needed to get back to work and deliver the project in the time expected.

It was exhausting and seemed that we wouldn’t be able to do it, but we did. More importantly, the client didn’t know how we had to pull together. They were just happy and satisfied with the product and ready to come back for more, which at the end of the day, is what we want, have our ideal client to come back for more.

Being open to seeing your project pivot and looking for better solutions in the midst of mistakes is crucial to working well in a group. No matter how complex your collaboration is, constant communication and honesty will be the keys to your success.

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  • Great tips! Collaboration is fun and makes creative sense in a lot of ways, but it can be a nightmare if these things aren’t taken into account.

  • This is nice — my group’s whole focus is on bringing together people from different disciplines to create a unique experience, and it for SURE takes a lot of organization and transparency, which really needs to be set up from the start. I think #2 – effective communication — is for sure one of the most important skills I’ve been honing in the last year or so.

    • Yes Meghan,
      Mostly when different disciplines are involved and we all have our own way of doing things. I’ve learn quite a lot of different processes and systems thanks to other professionals in teams. Creative curiosity all the way!

  • Brilliant! I had to learn how to collaborate the hard way for my degree. It seems simple but it’s actually full of nuances. Thanks for the article, it should be mandatory to read before a project!