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Tips for Improved Artistic Collaboration

Regardless of the talents, skills, and creativity of an individual, to be successful in school and a career, the individual has to be able to work collaboratively with others. Most employees who are terminated are unsuccessful, not because of lack of technical skill, but because of unsuccessful relationships with others. To prepare students for the challenges of working in teams and departments in the workplace, BEAU’s instructors assign projects that require students to learn to work well with others. These projects help students to solve problems and meet the challenges that invariably arise when people have to work together to accomplish their goals.

When individuals are assigned the task of collaborating on projects, they go through a variety of stages with developing a working relationship with others. The first stage is that the group members meet and get to know one another. In this stage of the group collaboration, it is important that the group have frequent interactions. If possible, face-to-face interactions are best, but a second best is to communicate via Skype or Facetime or some other technology with a visual aspect. Emails and texts should be clear and provide opportunities for clear communication with other group members.

Following this forming stage, the group begins the task of collaborating on the project, of getting the work done. Before the group can work at its optimum level, however, the storming stage occurs. This stage of development is the forging of the group’s identity through compromises and decisions affecting the group as a whole. This stage occurs when group members have different opinions about the direction the artistic work should go, and the role of each member of the group is established. Leaders emerge during this stage.

Other group roles that typically occur as a group begins work are facilitator, recorder, peacekeeper, and timekeeper. The facilitator helps the group focus and often gets the group started on the task. The recorder is that individual who writes down what is decided upon and keeps notes of the plans. He or she is often a good listener who can accurately summarize and paraphrase what is being said. The recorder can remind group members of what has been decided as the project continues. The peacekeeper is the individual who likes things to run smoothly and for people to get along with each other. If the storming stage gets too heated, the peacekeeper may suggest compromises or timeout periods where the conflicts can take a backseat and the individuals can cool off. The timekeeper is the one who keeps the group moving in the right direction. If progress stalls or a stage of the project is taking too long, the timekeeper gets the group back on track. He or she will gently remind members who begin to have side conversations and get off task to “get back to work.”  A leader may play any of these roles in the group project activities, or he or she may even switch roles as needed. This plateau of performance is often called “norming”, when the groups operating procedures have been established and group cohesion is achieved.

As the group has gotten comfortable with the decisions and group dynamics, it is time for the performing stage, where the actual work is getting done. Problems may arise in this work phase, but the rules for interaction and problem solving have been established, so the group will work out the issues and continue on the project, working efficiently and effectively for the most part. The leader will usually set meetings and stay aware of the progress on completing the project. He or she may assume various roles to keep the project moving forward. One element of collaborating on creative projects in the arts that is not always present in other group activities is that of passion. Artists are usually very passionate about their work, and may not always be comfortable in collaborating with others. Different group members may prefer different techniques, and individuals may insist on different levels of quality. Some artists will spend an inordinate amount of time getting something just right, while another artist may be comfortable with moving on to completion of the project, and then moving backward to modify or perfect a part of the creation. The most difficult part of collaboration is learning to work with the diversity that various artists display. Compromises are critical to get the project done, and artists must give up the idea that they will do it their way, and work effectively with others in the group. This letting go of control of the artistic project is difficult for many artists. Good communication is key in this effort to work collaboratively, and individuals must listen critically to others displaying empathy during this process. Individuals must communicate their ideas clearly, making sure to build the relationship with other groups members and being considerate of the ideas and styles of others.

Another difficult part of collaboration is knowing when the project is completed. It is easy to keep going back and redoing a feature or changing an aspect of the creative work, but at a certain point, it is best to stop and leave the project as it is. Artistic works are never final, and revisions and modifications are always possible. Perhaps a better creation will emerge as changes are made, and perhaps a lower quality will result. It is best to know when to stop and call the creation a finished project.

As the project is finished, the group’s final stage has to be completed. This stage is called adjourning, or mourning. As the work is done, some individuals will be relieved to be finished working with certain individuals and others will mourn the end of the collaboration. Some individuals will seek to continue collaboration or projects or to keep in touch with others in the group. Some individuals will continue the relationships formed in this collaboration, and some individuals will continue as lifelong friends, mentors, or sounding boards for others. This stage of the project collaboration is often bittersweet, with some sadness that the group is breaking up, along with relief that the work is done.