The Fine Art of Collaboration

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By John Oney, Art Director

One of the main reasons I got into advertising as an art director was the inherent collaboration in the creative process. I love making things with other people. And in advertising school, collaborating with creative classmates and teachers made all our work better. Way better.

But in the real world of advertising, the creative team also includes strategists, account managers, clients at multiple levels and just about anyone else with an opinion. Collaborating with large groups of people — all with their own ideas, tastes, egos and agendas — can make for a daunting, frustrating, chaotic exercise.

Is collaboration on such a large scale really conducive to good work? It is exceptionally difficult, but I believe it can be done with the right leadership, respect for all participants, and a strong understanding and adherence to professional boundaries. 

Embrace the process

Right off the bat, just know that collaborating with a large team to create an advertising solution will be hard work. The process can be chaotic. Team members’ schedules won’t always be in sync. People will change their minds. Goals might change. Good creative directors will push you to do better work. People might change their minds AGAIN! One must learn to embrace the process. You have to learn how to go with the flow, and always with a positive attitude. Negativity is counterproductive and, worse, it’s infectious. There is no place for negativity in collaboration. It poisons the well and kills the creative spirit.

Follow the leader

By its very nature, collaboration creates an environment where everyone involved feels like they’re on the same level. This democratic attitude can be a great thing. We all want our voices to be heard, to make a contribution. But it can also endanger the creative mission. Some collaborators are more expert in the field, bringing a level of talent and/or experience that must be respected and carry more weight.

Always be respectful

In a large group of collaborators, you’ll find yourself surrounded by all kinds of people with whom you may have nothing in common. They may think about things or see the world differently than you do. Respect their opinions. Don’t steamroll anyone. A good idea can come from anywhere at any time. When you show respect for your fellow collaborators, you’ll be more open to thoughts that may have never occurred to you. And your teammates will be more open to your thoughts as well.

Do YOUR job

Respect for your collaborators extends to individual duties within the team. Everyone has their own roles to play, and when players begin to overstep their bounds, it creates all sorts of problems. Imagine what might happen if a linebacker suddenly decided he was a better passer than the quarterback. The whole team falls apart. Good ideas can come from anyone, but when team members begin intruding on other peoples’ duties, that is actually the opposite of collaboration.

Collaboration among large groups presents many challenges, but can be very rewarding and allows many opportunities for personal and professional growth. If participants can find a way to embrace the chaotic process, listen to the leaders and experts among them, and respect the ideas and roles of their fellow collaborators, then the whole process will go a little more smoothly and yield successful results for everyone involved.