Everyone hates group projects. We are taught to despise them in elementary school and never change our feelings. It always seems like we got stuck with the stinky kid or the slow kid or the cool kid, who didn’t do any work whatsoever. And, it always seemed like we were the ones doing all of the work. Even in college this doesn’t get any better for the few group projects assigned—and we all supposedly were adults!
At Portfolio Center, I was nervous about the first group project assigned. I didn’t know any of my classmates and the project was very open-ended. It was pretty awkward. But I was in the copywriting program and copywriters were often paired with art directors and supposed to work together. So, for the rest of my time at Portfolio Center, I did each project almost exclusively with art direction students. And, it was pretty fantastic.
Throughout the 2 years I worked with art directors, I got to know them and learned their work styles. By the end of my time in school, I had art directors I liked working with and others I knew I’d have to adjust my work habits to be more like theirs in order to make the project a portfolio piece. I’m not a night person, but I’d meet up with a partner at 10pm at the local Starbucks to get work done if that was when they did their best work. Copywriters and art directors appreciated each other’s talent and what we each brought to the table. The art directors depended on the copywriters for zippy copy. The copywriters depended on art directors for splendid visuals. Everyone depended on each other for stellar ideas and concepts.
My portfolio school experience taught me the value of a multi-disciplinary team and I’ve enjoyed working with them in the “real world.” Art directors and designers bring the visuals to the table; writers are the verbal in the room; account managers loan their sharp business sense. The best work isn’t visual or verbal, it’s verbisual. Great verbisual work doesn’t change the world if the client doesn’t buy off on it or it doesn’t answer the business need or no one ever sees it, period.
It’s fabulous to share your work with someone who doesn’t do what you do for a living. Some of my best words have come from non-writers. We all get into creative and work ruts. Creative people are always encouraged to take a break, go for a walk, see a movie, get out and experience something different to find a new direction. Demanding deadlines don’t always allow us to do that, so running our work by someone gives us perspective and how sweet it is to see your words visually or from a business point of view. And how much fun to lend my verbal perspective to others!
Working well with others teaches some hard lessons, though. Trust me, I know. Sometimes, there just isn’t room for the heady copy I desperately want to write. Other times, design suffers because we must have 5 paragraphs of heady copy and, no, it can’t be size 2 type. More importantly, everyone has had an idea that at one point or another has to be taken out behind the barn—and shot. This never feels good. Just pay your respects: say a few words, let your teammates know how passionate you are, and move on. It doesn’t propel the team towards great work to do one of two things: debate or smooth over your or anyone’s bad idea.
Peter Senge talks about the tendency of groups to either debate or smooth over points of contention and thus get nothing done in his book, The Necessary Revolution. It makes complete sense. If you only focus on making your team see things your way, nothing will be accomplished. If everyone is focused on keeping the peace and not speaking up about their passions or interests, nothing will be accomplished—or worse a horrible idea will be presented to the client. My experience has been to champion my ideas within a group, if no one likes my ideas as much as I do, I ask why, so I can ultimately help to create the perfect idea. And then I take my oh-so-great idea out behind the barn and put it out of its misery. (Better yet, I jot down some notes about it, because you never know when it’ll be perfect for another project.)
In the end, work is better when it’s done by a multi-disciplinary team. While we all would like to fancy ourselves knowledgeable of those topics beyond our expertise, we can’t do or know everything. We need each other. We need perspective and the occasional willingness to let go of our pet ideas in order to push our work to greatness. And, it is quite nice not to have to scramble to do everything ourselves (or work with the stinky kid).
*The headline is taken from this little gem. I’m impressed with LeVar Burton’s dancing skills.