Taking the “labor” out of collaboration (part 2)

Pam SaxonIn Part 1 of this series, I spoke about the business aspects of collaborating with others on a project, and how to make sure everyone is on the same page.

I included an actual agreement for independent contractors and covered the “nuts and bolts.” But now onto the more “sensitive” area…


So, what about the human side of collaboration? When we’re dealing with human beings, there’s a lot to consider. The process of collaboration can go a long way towards enhancing your creative output, but can also be a huge source of stress and frustration. The key here is to attune yourself to be able to spot potential collaborators who will raise the quality of your creative endeavors, while avoiding partnerships that will simply raise your blood pressure.

Just because a person has a proven track record, does that mean they are a good fit for your business? There are several aspects to achieving success in the human side of collaboration:

  • aligned goals
  • complementary skills
  • compatible personalities
  • respect for different views and approaches

GOALS: Before entering into a collaboration agreement with someone, be absolutely sure that you both are working toward the same goals. If you want to create a commercial, award-winning piece while your partner wants a self-expressive work of art, it is going to be difficult to have a satisfactory final product. You may not want to formally collaborate with someone who is heading in a different direction than you are, but be aware that talking and bouncing ideas off someone who is of a different mindset can give you new ideas as well. Differentiate between a collaborative partner and people who are good sources of creative inspiration.

SKILLS: It is human nature to be attracted to those who are most like ourselves. However, in a collaborative scenario, does it really make sense to choose a partner who thinks just like we do, or has the same amount of talent in the same areas? In this case, it is wise to choose those who can do what you are weak in. Walt Disney surrounded himself with those more talented than he, which enabled him to launch the Disney Studios into what it has become today.

PERSONALITIES: People are obviously quite complex, but based on decades of extensive research, there are four types of people (according to a behavioral model called “Social Styles”), which explain a wide range of human interaction.  For people who communicate through design or any art form, give or receive critique and interact with the business aspects of design, these dimensions can play a crucial role.

Here’s a rundown of the four behavior types, taken from “The Art of Business: Use Personality to Close that Deal

  1. Analytics are thought-oriented. They are logical people who enjoy problem solving. They focus on accurate details and are more concerned with content than style. Analytics enjoy perfecting processes and working toward tangible results. They live life with consistency according to facts, principles, and logic. Analytics believe it is important to do things right. They control their emotions and tend to be reserved in demeanor. They act methodically and use time in a deliberate and disciplined manner. They focus on the past to give them direction for the future and prefer to work on a predictable schedule.
  2. Drivers are action-oriented. They are decisive, pragmatic, and efficient. They know what they want, where they are going, and how to get results. They are competitive individuals, motivated by a desire to control and achieve. They want to accomplish things efficiently, so they focus on practical approaches to bottom-line results. They are fast-paced, task-oriented, and work quickly. In demeanor they are forceful, decisive, and strong; they tend to have direct eye contact. They often speak rapidly. They prefer brief reading material, working alone, or directing others.
  3. Expressives are socially-oriented. They are playful, fun-loving, and spontaneous. They are energetic, enthusiastic people who enjoy being the center of attention. They are charming, persuasive, and animated. They make decisions quickly, express opinions strongly, and dislike routine. Expressives are innovators who generate creative ideas and excel at getting others excited about their vision. In demeanor Expressives have large gestures; they speak quickly, frequently, and dynamically.
  4. Amiables are relationship-oriented. They are warm, nurturing individuals who place priority on friendships, cooperative behavior, and being accepted by others. They like to achieve objectives with people, using understanding, and mutual respect. They are empathic and open to seeing things from the other person’s point of view. They are inclusive and ask for others’ ideas. Their demeanor is warm and friendly.

Obviously, one person can have more than one of these traits, but usually, there is one that is the strongest and stands out the most. If you know the personality type you are dealing with, it makes it easier to decide whether or not you want to work with the person in question, and if you do, how to best communicate in order to work together successfully.

MUTUAL RESPECT: Everyone knows about a certain television personality who got himself fired from his own show due to the lack of respect he has shown to the producer and every other cast member. His lack of social graces led to complete disarray and turmoil, not only on the set and within that small community, but everywhere else, as well. The bottom line is that it is always okay to agree to disagree, as long as it is done with mutual respect. Differing opinions are going to happen, especially in creative endeavors, but we are all human beings with deeply-felt emotions. Remembering to respect that ranks highly (if not #1) in the success of a collaborative project.


Collaboration is much more than just two creatives getting together. It’s a mutual effort among any group of people who share a common goal, getting together in a way so that each can use their strengths to shine a light where the others might have a blind spot.

Viewed in this way, reaching the pinnacle of reward will be a far less emotionally draining battle that it so often is. The design industry will be healthier for it, and the world will be richer for what will be produced.

What are the challenges you face in collaborating with other humans?