3 Top Tips for Happy Collaborations

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Busy times at PS Programmes Towers: the contracts are signed, the editors are furiously blue-pencilling adjectives, and the inky-sleeved printers are awaiting the first pages of copy to be sent down for typesetting. We are writing a book.

‘We’ is crucial. The process is entirely collaborative with parties pitching in ideas, shaping text, doing the paperwork. A good collaboration should be more than the sum of its parts, yin and yang creating a harmonious whole (critical opinion pending).

Collaborations are, however you cut them, business agreements, and it’s smart to get things clear from the get-go. Unhappy collaborators are only too happy to share their horror stories, and from these, we are delighted to present our three top tips for happy collaborations.

1. Divide Tasks

Know your strengths. Know what the Venn diagram of you skill sets look like, and appreciate the talents your partner brings that you don’t. Some of us build jet engines, and some of us demonstrate how to use a life jacket. Do the things for which you are best suited, and let the other person do likewise.

The crossover in the Venn diagram is where you need to discuss the aims of the project as a whole, because this will be where creativity is generated to feed back into the parts of the project where you work alone.

Be pragmatic about your deadlines: if nobody else shares your area of expertise, how are they supposed to know how long it takes you to perform a task? Avoid setting unrealistic deadlines purely to impress other members of the team; bringing a completed component to the project might be more useful than everyone working with something that requires running repairs.

2. Divide Credit

If you don’t appreciate what your collaborators bring to the project, how are you supposed to cope when their name appears on it? Remind yourself that the project would look very different without them.

If you feel you have brought more to the table than anyone else, whether in terms of money, organisation or status, then you may argue for ‘top billing’. Otherwise alphabetical order looks fair, unless you want to have a ‘Towering Inferno’ situation: on that film’s poster, Paul Newman’s name is above and to the right of Steve McQueen’s, following a protracted negotiation between the actors’ agents and the no doubt harried producers.

If you can’t divide credit, don’t divide tasks and become an auteur.

3. Divide Money

A small amount of money can wreck a big amount of friendship, so however unpleasant, do deal with it, deal with it early, and stick to what was agreed.

Know how the profits (or losses) will be divided from the get-go, and don’t agree to anything you cannot live with.

Let the person who cares that it’s £1000.61 and definitely not £1000.62 be in charge of the money because pernickety as they may be, at least they are fair. If you’re not money-oriented, you’re not the right person to deal with it.

Get these things right, and you won’t be guaranteed a happy collaboration – but you will have avoided the three biggest dangers of working with others.

Don’t read too much into the fact that one half of our book’s writing team is in a different country to the other; we are in constant communication by phone, email and a hot shot lawyer one of us unexpectedly hired.

At least our book is already in a better state than Karl Marx’s ‘Capital.’ Some time after the publisher’s deadline, they sent him a note demanding to know where the manuscript was. ‘Good news,’ Marx replied, ‘work on “Capital” is virtually finished. And I am now able to start writing.’

Or in our case, carry on finding embarrassing typos.

PS Programmes deliver presentation skills, TV and radio media training and crisis media management, tailored to the needs of our clients. This article also appears on http://www.presentationskillsprogrammes.co.uk

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