Collaboration is essential for a creative team to thrive. But how do we as teammates and team leaders build an environment that allows us to harness this powerful force? While I have yet to discover a one-size-fits all-solution, I am fortunate enough to have a team who has been patient and open with me as I have explored opportunities to build upon and improve our team dynamics. Here’s three things that we have found effective for our team, that you might try on for size:

1. Creative trust is the key that unlocks creative collaboration.

When a team shares a mutual creative trust, it hums along like a well-oiled engine. And when it doesn’t – well it feels like you’re single-handedly pushing that car over the finish line. Trust may be the key, but we creative types don’t hand it over to just anyone. Much like any other key you acquire in life, it’s something you earn. And for good reason. Creative trust requires vulnerability and the ability to relegate your ego to the backseat.

With that in mind, individually a healthy dose of self-awareness goes a long way. Ask yourself what makes you tick? How do you work best? Communicating this to your team can help reduce conflict by building understanding. It also opens the door for team leaders to improve efficiency and agility within the workplace. With a fuller understanding of how the individuals within the team function best, we can capitalize on our strengths and support each other in improving upon our weaknesses.

In turn, make a point to approach team members with empathy, compassion and most importantly – curiosity. Asking a teammate why they think something, how they came about a solution or what they are looking to accomplish goes a long way to finding common ground and compromise. Approaching a creative problem with an open mind and teamwork mentality lays the foundation for the mutual respect required to form a deep creative trust.

2. Embrace thinking inside the box.

All too often people assume that providing procedure and parameters restricts and inhibits creativity. In fact, the opposite is true. In order to produce great creative, creative-thinkers need clarity and structure. Consistency and process allows the team to focus their efforts on the creative problem at hand instead of wasting energy figuring out how to best collaborate or where they fit into coming up with the solution. As a team leader, I often ask myself, “What function can I add to my team of creatives autopilot setting to free up this extra space to think and act creatively?”

Understanding the importance of having a clear challenge or goal to accomplish, kick-off meetings have become an essential part of our process at AlterEgo. Prior to the kick-off meeting I share a kick-off email that uses a template that has been honed to determine the essential info needed to get the project team on the same page. The kick-off meeting then establishes an opportunity to ask questions and define roles, expectations and parameters of success that relate back to our brand goals. This allows my team to operate knowing that they will have all of the information that they will need to successfully start their own individual creative processes before we come back together again.

Equally as important for improving creative collaboration is the project debrief. This meeting is admittedly difficult to schedule and prioritize when any number of new projects are demanding our attention (it is certainly an area that I strive to improve upon myself). But project debriefs create an invaluable opportunity for reflection that allows your team to figure out how to work better together in the future.

Revisiting project goals and assessing what worked and didn’t work from planning, execution communication and results perspectives has provided us with constructive insights that integrate the empathy and understanding needed to build upon creative trust. I’d argue that these meetings have led to some of the most significant learnings regarding creative collaboration on our team. They have impacted how we use our team resources to start projects, allowed us to identify specific educational opportunities to build on areas of weakness and served as a catalyst for creative scheduling tactics to prevent burn-out, just to name a few.

3. It takes two to tango.

And sometimes three, four or 20, in which case perhaps we’re all doing the Cha-Cha Slide. But the point being, whether you are a lead or a follow, in order for everyone to be moving in synchronicity we are all out on that dance floor, doing the steps and keeping time.

Like any relationship, creative collaboration among a team requires effort by everyone involved. It’s getting to know your teammates. It’s always keeping an open mind. It’s sharing your point of view and listening to that of others. And possibly most importantly, its finding constructive ways to address the elephant in the room when you find someone is off-beat. This is all often easier said than done, but at AlterEgo we acknowledge that each new challenge presents an opportunity to grow and improve in the pursuit of doing the best work while having the best time.

So with that, come on, cha cha now ya’ll.

This post was written by Erica Kern

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