The Art of Collaboration: Top 10 Skills for Creative Success

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5120100 71f7446b59 zThis semester, I am teaching a new course at the Yale School of Music using the collaborative project as the vehicle through which to teach arts entrepreneurship and innovation. Arts entrepreneurship involves coming up with innovative ideas that create value to society and actualizing those ideas.

Collaboration is more than teamwork, where there is a leader to set the agenda and resolve disputes. It can be time-consuming, risky and involve multiple and conflicting agendas. But at its best, it is the ideal format for dealing with complex and ambiguous problems that are at the heart of the creative process.

That’s why we spent some time in class this week discussing what makes a successful artistic collaboration.

Collaboration is how artists work together because it joins the creative voices of multiple equal partners who share a common vision and mission to create something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. This is not a new concept: think Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes who brought composers, painters, playwrights, choreographers and dancers, in works like Parade, a collaboration among composer Erik Satie, playwright Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso as the set designer and choreographer Leonide Massine.

Great collaboration starts with knowing your own creative voice and what you can contribute to the group. That’s why in the first few weeks of my class, we examined how to find and articulate that creative voice. The process involved the following:

Our students then shared their mission statements and project ideas and divided themselves up into groups based on a shared mission around solving a critical problem in the classical music space. More on that process next time!

Once you are part of a collaborative group, what does it take for the collaboration to succeed?

Here are the 10 top elements that we identified as the keys to successful collaboration.

1. A common vision and a common goal
Collaborators share a common vision and goal and work together by sharing knowledge and learning to build a consensus. It is the joint effort towards the common vision and goal that matters. The individual members of the collaborative group sublimate personal ego for the greater good of the end product.

2. Commitment to work together
Collaboration involves a commitment on the part of the members of the group to work together. Because they are bound by their common mission, the members of the group feel emotionally engaged in the project and are willing to commit to working together towards the greater goal.

3. Mutual respect
The members of a collaborative group bring their individual strengths and talents to the project and they have a high degree of respect for each other’s expertise and knowledge. This involves knowing how your strengths contribute to the success of the project and acknowledging the strengths and contributions of your fellow collaborators.

4. Strong relationships and trust
Great collaboration involves building strong relationships. Members of the group need to trust each other. To that end, it is important to encourage others, recognize their contribution, share the credit for good ideas, give respectful feedback and accept feedback graciously.

5. No leaders but a group effort among equals
In a collaborative group, there is no leader. Each member of the group has ownership of a part of the project. Members step up as needed. Think of Balanchine choreography where dancers come forward when it is their turn to shine and then they step back to allow someone else to come to fore. While it might be a challenge to give up control, the benefit is that the group effort produces a better result.

My students have found that they make decisions as a group based on what is best for the project, even if they do not totally agree with each other.

6. Assign roles and responsibilities
Each member of the collaborative group is a leader of his or her own segment and the group members need to be clear on who is responsible for what. In that way, collaboration leverages the strengths and talents of the individual group members.

7. Be flexible and comfortable with ambiguity
Creativity and innovation often involve ambiguity so the members of a collaborative group need to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. This involves being open-minded and willing to experiment. Collaboration is iterative and members learn by experience.

8. Communicate effectively
Successful collaboration requires excellent communication skills, a topic that our class is now learning. Effective communication includes understanding how to leverage communication styleslistening objectively and intuitively in order to develop rapport and mutual understanding, fostering dialogue, and nipping potential conflicts in the bud. Members of hte group feel comfortable asking for help when needed, they meet weekly to make sure that they are on the same page and they engage in healthy discussions to solve problems.

9. Manage conflict
Inevitably, there will be disagreements among members of a collaborative group. That’s why collaborators need to know how to manage conflict, another subject that we will be learning later in the semester.

10. Be accountable
Members of the group need to be accountable to each other and deliver on their assigned tasks for the benefit of the end result.

There is a lot more to being a successful collaborator than simply working together side-by-side. If you master these skills, you can save time, preserve relationships and build something new and valuable.

Stay tuned to hear how our collaborative process is generating new solutions to problems that we as a field are facing!