Ahead of our next Group Think event in May (co-produced with the Barbican Centre), on the subject of collaboration, we've been talking to some of our friends, colleagues and clients about how collaboration fits into their lives and work. So we sent out a little questionnaire and, over the next few weeks, we'll be publishing what everyone told us.
Here's number 4, and a former client of ours, David Rogerson
Who are you and what do you do?
I am David Rogerson - Senior Digital Producer at ico Design Partners - a digital, brand and design agency based in London that works with clients from the arts, property, leisure, interior design and museum sector.
I was formerly Digital Manager at Sound and Music - the UK's largest non-venue RFO. And worked on projects from collaborative software development for special needs education, major websites, festivals and content.
Why do you collaborate?
Doing it with others is fun.
Which collaboration tools do you like and why?
I tend to be taken in by new fangled tools - especially digital applications - but aside from Google Docs there are few that I have stuck with.
Nothing helps collaboration more than good, speedy communication - and sitting in the same room helps. Coffee breaks are good too. I like the Agile approach of being surrounded by your thought process (stuck to walls, on posters and index cards).
I find it hard to describe my thoughts without a pen and a bit of paper and I find standing up around a board gets any project moving.
When does collaboration tend to work best?
Perversely, collaboration works best when people are able to get on and do their own thing without too much back-and-fourth with the group. This is achieved by clear aims, vision and decision making process.
These parameters need to be set in the beginning and there needs to be regular opportunities to critique, problem solve and learn throughout the process.
Finally, trust is important. You don't have to like the people you're collaborating with but you definitely need to trust them.
What framework or rules do you need for successful collaboration?
There is no one framework I have found that works.
I do think Agile methodologies point to ways of collaborating efficiently and creatively but they come with there own limitations and isn't right for many contexts.
I do believe in starting with the two questions who and why before anything else. If you can't get beyond this - it will never work.
What and how come later.
Briefly describe a collaboration you admire and tell us why you think it works.
I was going to choose Wikipedia but Shirkey's covered that one much better than I could ever dream of. Instead I will go with freeform, US radio station WFMU.
It is a donation-funded radio station (no ads) that is run by volunteers mostly. They are dedicated to playing whatever the hell they want. They are irreverent, funny, experimental and hugely prolific. They stream 5 separate stations continuously online, they hold events, live sessions, have a massive blog, iphone apps etc etc.
They do this because lots of people dedicate a lot of their own time to something they believe in. It has clear leadership but is very much 'owned' by the DJs and public who listen to it. They have exposed me to more new music than any and all the music orgs and radio stations in the UK combined.
When has collaboration gone wrong for you?
Collaboration fails to some degree every time. It is how much it fails and how much it effects the results that matters.
On a grand scale, I was involved in the merger of four (at some points more) organisations. It involved the collaboration of staff from all these orgs to try and shape the new organisation.
It went wrong in many ways
1. No one knew (or could agree) what they were trying to achieve and how they knew when they go there
2. There was no trust - you were collaborating with people whose jobs depended on seeing through their own position
3. Lack of ability - people weren't skilled or experienced in collaboration and so didn't know 'the rules'
4. There were no rules
5. There were lots of rules, but most didn't know what they were
6. People were asked to be objective about subjective things
7. Pretending things were non-hierarchical but undermining it with hierarchy
8. No one was seen as being in charge
9. The decision making process was not clear