The most important contribution of a collaborator is to serve as an enthusiastic audience

51ejbnxvrl._ac_us218_Today I wanted to post about collaborative circles. At work I’m part of the marketing team. All members have diverse talents. We collaborate together to make the team greater than the sum of its parts.

In collaborative situations, the goals don’t seem as clear as I’d like them to be. That’s why I enjoyed reading “Collaborative Circles – Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work” by Michael P. Farrell

The book starts out with the adage, nearly the same as Steve Jobs is quoted saying: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

“The best things come … from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding to the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation. Great things have of course been done by solitary workers, but they have usually been done with double the pains they would have cost if they had been produced in more genial circumstances. – Henry James”

The most important thing that prevents collaboration from happening is a closed off group that is dominated by a single gate keeper.

“If communication within a friendship group is open, if the members are not dominated by a defensive mentor anxious to preserver a particular vision of the field, the interaction in the group may start percolating toward a new vision.” – Farrell

The biggest insight regarding collaboration comes halfway through the book. Ever been paired off for group work in a class only to find that your collaborators were pessimistic Eeyores?

“One of the most important contributions of a collaborator is to serve as an enthusiastic audience. A respected peer who serves as admiring but demanding audience can be a powerful stimulus to creative work. When the mirroring other takes the creative person seriously, attends to small advances, and responds with appreciative criticism, the person becomes more centered and invests more in the creative process.” – Farrell

So what’s the formula for a productive collaborative circle?

“The center coalition consists of the members who consolidate the insights that emerge within collaborative pairs, integrate them into a coherent theory , and convey the vision to newcomers into the circle.” – Farrell

And finally, why can’t we meet online instead of in-person?

“Internet communication may facilitate the formation of circles, and it may enable them to maintain contact between meetings, but I do not think it allows for the kind of in-depth dialogue that leads to meaningful personal development and creative work. For this kind of interaction, there is no substitute for ritualized meetings and working side by side.” – Farrell

I hope these insights clarify the role you play in a collaborative group. To summarize the suggestions for better collaboration, stick to these goals:

  • Work in groups: Great things have been done by solitary workers but they have usually been done with double the pains they would have cost if they had been produced in more genial circumstances
  • Be open: Keep out the defensive mentors and anxious preservers
  • Be enthusiastic: Sometimes being the best collaborator is being an enthusiastic audience
  • Meet in-person: In-person meetings allow for in-depth dialogue that’s required for meaningful personal development and creative work.

Did this help clarify the role collaborative circles play in creative work? Contact me I’d love to hear about it.

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Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.