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Last year I collaborated with a director to rewrite a film script that he had taken to the first draft but needed another pair of hands on.
We met monthly at the Royal Opera House in London, where there was plenty of space and free water. Writers are easily pleased ‘eh.
It was a rewarding process, and after a couple of months of meetings, we blasted off a second draft in a frenzied feat of determination. We took turns writing six scenes each and then passing it over to the other, and so we ran until we finished.
The script is sadly back on the shelf due to lockdown limitations, but the positive experience of the collaboration has endured and given me faith in the power of the team.
And now, of course, barriers to collaboration have been entirely blown down due to the response of Zoom and others in allowing people to stay connected with video conferencing.
Our old script meeting process is redundant. There is just no need to leave my puppy and spend time commuting into Central London on an expensive rail journey for a two-hour meeting.
And Zoom is not the only company who has been gearing up for a stake in the digital sphere. Other products are also out there, and below I discuss my favourite three tools within the core elements of a successful collaboration.
But first, a quick note on the collaboration mindset.
The Collaboration Mindset
During my screenwriting collaboration, we achieved our goal, which felt pretty awesome on its own, but I also grew as a writer. I saw some of my strengths and weaknesses and learned the truth about good collaboration.
It is always more than the total sum of its parts.
And that’s why we do it. On the hope that we’ll create something better than we could make on your own.
In business, attempts at collaboration have been mixed, but even the ones that floundered provided valuable lessons.
Recent, fruitful collaborations have all centred around knowing the answer individually and as a group to questions like these:
- What’s the shared goal
- What can I learn from working with these people
- What can I contribute to working with these people
- How can we all make ourselves better through collaboration
- What are our rules of engagement — i.e. what we do, what we don’t do and who we don’t work for
- Who is our target audience?
Collaboration is not the only way to work with people. Sometimes you just want someone to do some work for you or vice versa. There’s no emotional attachment, and you’re clear on the parameters. That’s cool.
Collaboration is something else; it’s an investment and a scale-up for you and your project. I’d recommend discussing all of the above questions with the team and take your time; Zoom isn’t going anywhere.
When you get there with your ideal team it will be worth the effort spent, in the words of Michael Jordan,
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
Once you’re clear on why you’re collaborating, there are three critical elements to consider; communication, ideation and project management.
Communication starts from the moment you reach out to make contact with a potential collaborator. To be asked to collaborate should be an honour but a badly spelt email or Linked In DM is not going to give that impression.
And vice versa; if you’re getting a terrible looking message from someone asking you to collaborate, you should think twice.
Effort in smaller details means respect; laziness is the opposite, and if you can’t get this right in the beginning, then either the collaboration or the final output may not be worth your while.
Before a word or sentence ever leaves your email account or any form of communication; presentation, action, agenda etc.and enters onto an email, you should put it through a grammar checker. I use Grammarly, but I’ve heard people using Hemingway too.
There’s a free option, but the paid one is brilliant. I put every email I send to leads or colleagues through Grammarly, and depending on the time of the day, it brings up a range of errors or suggestions.
This is after I’ve read it aloud too. It’s not worth the risk for a quick ten-minute exercise.
I’m not grammar perfect, and a small mistake is tolerable, especially if the collaborator is a non-native English speaker but errors in your title? Repeated errors? Come on! I see invitations to Facebook pages with spelling errors, capitalisation issues. I’m not a stickler, but there are standards.
Grammar apps are not just for writing blogs; they’re for staying professional every time you communicate. Let your reader concentrate on your ideas, not your mistakes.
Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)
At some point, you’ll need a CRM to manage all of the leads and contacts for your project. I use Convertkit to control mine, but there are endless options.
Bring this up early on to show you’re thinking ahead with the collaboration.
Now we’re getting to the fun part; workshop collaboration software. I love workshopping. Even when I was a shy writer many years ago, I loved that magical process of getting ideas out of a collective brain and onto a whiteboard, and then, onto glory.
Like a caterpillar to butterfly, the nurtured idea takes on an entirely new form when extracted from your head and written down somewhere.
You’re probably aware of the writers’ room process of creating a television series. How on earth could one individual plot the intricate details that make up the award-winning tv show Breaking Bad?
They don’t; it’s a team effort and in that writer’s room, the team ideate, throw ideas up onto the board to ‘break story.’
The digital workshop tool Mural simulates the workshop environment with a giant digital whiteboard to draw all over.
It sounds simple, it probably is, but it’s so easy and user friendly. Multiple people can add to the mural during a meeting, so you don’t need to take responsibility for taking notes or worry that an idea has been missed.
You can write, draw, connect, add notes, add members, you can capture those amazing ideas in any form you like. It is my favourite digital tool. I even use some of the storyboarding templates to plan out blogs and scripts.
I’ve been using a blank mural, but there are other more complicated templates, from design thinking charts, storyboarding and heroes journey, meeting planning and project management.
Designer friends are drawing directly onto their mural and creating personas during their meetings for the ultimate visual collaboration experience.
Honestly, if you are thinking of working with anyone else, or even just have a meeting with someone you are pitching to you should sign up for this tool immediately. It’s fun and the perfect way to get all of your ideas in one place.
You can sign up for a free one-month trial to start with.
So you’ve grammar checked all of your emails and you’ve had your first workshop with your new collaborator, it’s time for some order and action.
Action capturing and tracking is essential for a productive collaboration.
Sure, you could type everything into an old school excel spreadsheet and even make it live on Google Sheets but a PM system is so much more.
And of course it might impress your fellow collaborators if you sign up to a Project Management Tool.
Excel might do, but if you’re going to the trouble of collaborating, why not go a little wilder.
You can automate reports, send reminders to your team and track and measure actions as you go along.
Trello is one that writers use to organise their blogs, and it’s user friendly and intuitive, but I can’t seem to find any tutorials. There is a free option to use Trello and invite collaborators too.
Monday, however, is increasingly attracting my attention. The built-in templates are easy to use, and the integrated methodology seems logical.
But most importantly for me right now is the access to tutorial videos so I can fully understand the scope. You can sign up for a free fortnight on Monday, but then you need to pay. There’s a package for small businesses that sounds cost effective.
I’d recommend starting on Trello to get your head around project management, if it’s not already, which, it’s often not with creatives or brand new ideas.
Then as you move onto more significant projects consider using a paid service such as Monday.
Ready To Go
Now you’re all set to go out there and arrange a few workshops. These three tools will separate you from the world of amateurs in the creative and entrepreneurial space. They’ll impress collaborators, they’ll woo clients, and most importantly they’ll help you achieve a higher level of collaborators.
How to Find More Collaborators
Maybe you’re all tooled up and looking for collaborators now. Remember the collaboration mindset; you’re in it to create something better than that which you could build on your own.
Don’t rush headfirst into collaboration. Take some time to engage with people. Read their posts, attend their networking events. See what motivates them and whether it chimes with what you want from business and life.
Be brave. Ask questions. Learn about other people’s craft. Find your inroad to connecting with people. Read their blogs and comment on them.
Give them a reason to want to work with you.
Always ask, they can only ignore you or say no. Or send you a fuming message on Linked In which is what one lady did to me when I asked if she wanted to go on my mailing list.
She didn’t, and she was angry, but these experiences often gift you more learning than they take away in confidence.
The reward of a positive collaboration far outweighs the risk of being cursed at by a stranger.
Linked In is your best bet for professional engagement. Don’t be afraid to connect with someone you want to collaborate with. Just remember to give a little too.
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