How to build effective collaboration

Collaboration puzzleAs a graduate student or early career academic you likely have a packed schedule. Trying to get published can be a daunting task, especially when you feel you have to do it alone. But maybe you don’t have to. If you can find the right person or persons to collaborate with, say doctoral students Tracey S. Hodges and Katherine Landau Wright, you are less likely to be stressed, and more likely to be productive and on the path to publishing success.

Hodges and Wright share the following advice for effective collaboration:

View it as a team endeavor. The foundation for a good team, according to academic writing coach Dr. Dominique Chlup, is to have one of each of these types of people as team members:

  1. A visionary—A dreamer and big idea kind of person. They often get everyone excited by their grandiose ideas;
  2. An opportunist—They have perspective and try to find the reality in what the visionary dreams; and,
  3. An executioner—A detail-orientated, checklist making, how-do-we-make-this-really-happen type person.

Their role in this team will mold and change so that each team member isn’t always “stuck” in one particular role. Instead, each transforms accordingly as the situation evolves and what the team needs at any moment to see the project through to completion. “As a graduate student doing my dissertation, I had to be a visionary for a while,” says Wright, a self-proclaimed executioner. “I had to come up with an idea and I had to figure out what that was going to look like. But that’s not my strength, that’s not my comfortable spot. But I can do it.”

Know your team members’ habits. According to Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Beforepeople fall into four groups—upholder, questioner, obliger, and rebel—based on habit tendencies and external and internal expectations. Hodges describes external expectations as, “things you have to do for other people” and internal expectations as, “things you do for yourself”:

  1. Upholder—A complete rule follower. They complete every task given to them whether external or internal.
  2. Questioner—Will complete tasks they see value in. They are more likely to complete internal expectations than external expectations and, ask many questions about the task given to them.
  3. Obliger—Although they will complete every external expectation, they fail to complete many internal expectations. They can be thought of as a “giver.”
  4. Rebel—A complete opposite of an upholder, they avoid habits and external and internal expectations. Likely if you impose a deadline on them they will be even less inclined to stick to it.

When working with a team you will have a mixture of these types of people on it, says Hodges: “If you’re an upholder and you’re working with people and they don’t get something done, think about why. Are they a rebel and you enforced some deadline that was ridiculous, and it made them not do it? Are they a questioner and you didn’t answer their question and tell them why this was valuable to the project?” Wright adds that knowing this about each of your team members “makes it really easy to divide tasks” because who does what is clearly defined. Clearly defining tasks is a necessary component to building an effective team, she says, because, “that person is going to be more motivated to take it on if they feel like there’s a reason why they’re taking it on. That’s their job, that’s their role, that’s the strength they’re bringing.”

Remember that collaboration is a professional team effort. You and your collaborators have a shared goal/objective. Use this as a professional networking opportunity. Connect and network with colleagues on your campus or across the country.

The best collaborations are built on trust and honesty, communication, and support. Writing is so often a solitary experience and you can often feel alone. “But if you have the constant communication and support from your team, then you’re not going to feel alone,” says Hodges.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to build an effective collaboration, you can be on your way to less stress, more productivity, and perhaps most important of all, knowing that you are not alone in your writing.