Got the skills? Four key attributes for creative collaboration

Have you ever thought of collaboration as something that can be learned? Creative teams often pay more attention to generating great ideas than the skills they need to develop to work more effectively together.

Creative Skillset, the UK’s industry body for skills and training in the creative industries, recently published “Fusion Skills: perspectives and good practice” a report reviewing how the sector needs people with “a fusion of creativity, business knowledge and technological understanding”. Recognising that this has an impact at firm and industry level, as well as individual, the report described how complex problems (those with uncertain outcomes) require thinking across diverse disciplines to solve them. They pointed to examples such as Highwire, d.school and Hyper Island – education programmes that train people for this kind of thinking, instilling soft skills such as communication, presentation, leadership and teamworking for innovation and problem solving.

Even if only one person in a team is knowledgeable about what works, and they have the confidence to encourage others to try new ways of working, it can make a huge difference in the success of a project. Here are four attributes that individuals can develop for better collaboration:

  1. Being a T-Shaped person: Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO champions this type of individual, someone who has deep knowledge of their domain (the downward stroke of the ‘T’), but is also able to understand and work with people across a variety of disciplines (the horizontal stroke). T-shaped people are empathetic, able to take on board others’ opinions, and are genuinely interested in and appreciate other people’s expertise.
  2. Ability to deal with chaos:  Bringing people together to work on creative projects can be messy, particularly when handling lots of different viewpoints and ideas. People who are working in multi-disciplinary teams need to be comfortable with this, be able to make sense of lots of content, and find ways of moving from vagueness to clarity. Again, something the folks at IDEO are great at (video).
  3. Facilitation:  Knowing how to design and run productive meetings and workshops are essential in collaboration, but facilitation skills also apply to developing a smooth workflow and project management. It’s about keeping teams motivated, and knowing how to take ideas forward into action.  In The Progress Principle, Amabile & Kramer described how a large part of managers’ roles are to help smooth the way for team members to complete their work.
  4. Virtual team management:  The best people to work on a project are not always co-located, and technology will need to be used to keep communication and tasks flowing. But the technology doesn’t work by itself, so it needs someone who can get the best out of a geographically-distributed team – through virtual meetings, using the right online tools, encouraging contributions and aggregating information where necessary.

What other attributes would you add?

Image by mag3737 on Flickr

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