Remember back in middle school and high school when you were assigned group projects and you couldn’t pick your group members? Unless you were grouped with other highly like-minded individuals who strived to get through this easily and with a good grade, you were kind of screwed. Having to depend on others to do their portion of a job, and do it correctly, is always an x-factor that you can’t control. Your work is judged and graded upon how your group’s ultimate end project performs, not by individual merits. It’s not in our nature to openly collaborate with others, it’s something that is learned and constantly adjusted as we work with others. One thing that middle and high school got right was that you’ll find yourself working with others in the rest of your life.
This is particularly interesting for designers. While we are in school or doing our own studies, we are focused on developing our own set of skills and knowledge. Before we can entertain the idea of working together on projects student designers need to have a base understanding of terms, ideas and jargon used in our craft. Some schools have the right idea when it comes to group projects; pairing off together first to work with just one other person and learning the dynamic of working with just one person. Working with a partner can be extremely frustrating or extremely fruitful, depending on the personality matchup between the students. In class, the chance of pairing with someone whom you can work with comfortably is pretty high.
The business world is different. Many times when you work, either agency or in-house, you have to work with others on a team. Sometimes, in the case of agencies, you will be working with your internal team and with an in-house team for a joint project. This was the case with Invisible Creature in Seattle, Washington with their joint work with Target on their packaging and toy products. Many times, you will work with other designers of different specialties to make concepts into prototypes or comps so to bring them to the next level for production. Personality differences and perspectives can often cloud an otherwise healthy, productive working relationship.
What can you do help alleviate the potential stress and feuds of working with another designer on projects? There are a number of things that you can do to help yourself and your project partners collaborate successfully.
Establish clear leadership – This is particularly helpful if you are working with a project manager or art director on a project. Establishing leadership creates a focal point that team members can utilize to guide them through difficult situations. A great leader will understand that their job is helping the team become comfortable and productive while they put out high quality concepts and ideas.
Team meet and greet – This sounds a little hokey, but it can be setup in different ways to best work for the personalities involved. Setup a team meeting for the sole purpose of getting to know one another. This can take the form or a physical get together or a virtual meeting where everyone can join in and talk, share their background and their ideas about the project. It’s important that this is more of a team building kind of meeting to open the lines of communication.
Have scheduled meetings and deadlines – It’s important to have a schedule in place with various deadlines setups as points to measure progress to keep team members on track. When you have a schedule in place, you can keep team members on track and focused on the task at hand instead of focusing on the other team members tasks. When you have progress meetings, keep them short and moving. This is a time to focus on production and task management.
Leaders need to be open doors – Art directors and project managers need to be the sounding board for their team so they can get them back to work as efficiently and happily as possible. Smart leaders should know and treat issues that arise with individuals discreetly and promptly so as to help their team’s focus and goals. When major issues arise, the time for action to get teams back on track are at scheduled meetings.
Praise your team and your colleagues – After milestones, make sure to appreciate those on your team, regardless if you are in a leadership or not. People work better when they are appreciated; truly appreciate for their contribution and hard work.
Designers working together can conceptualize and create fantastic work together and history is full of partners, teams, firms and groups that have done amazing work. While group projects suck when you’re young, they become the essential when you enter the professional world. I am by no means an expert on this subject and I am constantly learning the best way to work together with different personalities, different team setup and specialties. I’d love to hear your experiences and advice on successfully working on projects with others.