When working with a team, there are always differences to sort out and things to work through. As individuals, differences may need to be resolved and if left unaddressed, may lead to unwanted conflict. This week we are looking at a question from a student about how to collaborate effectively.
STUDENT QUESTION: What is the key to effective creative collaboration?
JOHN-CLAY: As with any relationship, one of the biggest keys is communication so a lot of those same principles definitely carry over. It’s listening to the other person, which also means knowing how to ask good questions and practicing asking good questions. A lot of times I like to ask, how do do you want this to feel, as opposed to just what do you want me to do? You can ask other questions too. But oftentimes they start getting in the nitty gritty of, “use this specific setting,” etc. Those can be fine and it might be right. But to me, as part of being effective and being creative, it’s helpful for me to know bigger picture, what they’re looking for. And then it also helps me make smaller decisions in line with what they’re looking for.
Second, be willing to try things, not always just playing it safe. If you’re worried about looking bad to whoever it is you’re working with, that’s not very effective. There needs to be a safe place to try some things; I guess the key to being able to do that is often having a backup plan. If it’s not working, you have something that you can fall back on, which enables you to be willing to step out and risk something. You have to know your perimeters. How long can you risk and how much money can you risk in it before you have to step back and go, “you know what? Let’s go for something different.” But if you’re always playing it safe, that is not effective and you’re not pushing yourself creatively.
The third one would be understanding that tension is an inherent element of a creative collaboration. If you’re trying to work with someone else in a creative endeavor, there’s going to be disagreement. There are going to be moments where you don’t see eye to eye, or you’re out of time or you’re out of money or any of these things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think a lot of times people want to always be friendly and nice, and I’m not saying you have to be mean and angry and throw headsets on the ground either, but there’s always more to do than the limitations allow you to do.
So then it comes back to being able to listen and ask good questions. That helps you process those moments better. But if you’re expecting to just go in and have fun, you’ll be very surprised and probably have some hard situations that you weren’t obviously expecting.
I think back through scenarios where things did not go well or I didn’t respond well. It was a failure in a lot of areas, even listening and understanding what my responsibilities were. I’ll add a fourth piece. To have an effective collaboration, you need to know what your role is and what is your job to carry and what’s their job to carry, and talk through those things ahead of time. I’m not saying that you can’t help each other, but at the end of the day when you’re running out of time, you’ve got to know who’s in charge of what and what they’re expected to focus on.
So it’s okay to not agree, to push each other. Someone said that water is the clearest when it’s forced through a rock. There’s a filtering process. It helps you get to the essence of what you’re trying to make and create or what you’re trying to do. See that as a good thing, helping you make something that’s even better. Don’t let it harm relationships in the process. Don’t say things you regret. Try to keep the emotions down, focus on the task at hand, don’t blame people personally.
Instead of saying, “well you,” say “how can we, how can we solve this?” It’s a group problem because it’s a group project. It’s not a you versus me trying to get this done. You need to see each other on the same team.
Again, this is basic relationship stuff that applies outside of filmmaking stuff as well, but you’ve got to be able to see that you’re in it together and the other person’s not the enemy. And if they are trying to drag down the project or process, well then you need to have another hard conversation; but if you’re going into a collaboration with some of these things in mind, it can help weed out the people that aren’t going to get along with some of these areas or just aren’t a good fit for you. And different people and personalities click better than others. There are people that I don’t get along with that get along with great with other kinds of people. And that’s okay, that’s great. It’s whoever the team needs to be to get the work done.