Creative collaboration is where we get a lot of our most innovative and exciting ideas. By combining their skills, knowledge, and perspectives, participants can enhance each other's creativity, explore new approaches, and produce unique and compelling results.
If a business can build an environment where creative teamwork thrives, that organization will benefit immeasurably.
However, creative collaboration can be challenging, even for experienced teams. In this article, we’ll cover:
- What creative collaboration looks like
- 7 common challenges and solutions for making it work
- Templates to help your team with their own creative collaboration endeavors
What is creative collaboration?
Creative collaboration is the process of individuals and teams coming together to generate new innovative ideas or solutions. Instead of a structured working process, creative collaboration encourages sharing and building on each other’s contributions and perspectives.
How is it different from traditional collaboration?
Unlike traditional collaboration, creative work is more focused on innovative ideas and solutions, so it may not have as well-defined tasks or objectives. Traditional collaboration may be structured and linear, while creative collaboration often involves a more fluid, organic process. Experimentation and iteration are important parts of innovating creatively, but they can also make a project disorganized and slow.
Most importantly, traditional collaboration focuses on achieving specific goals with proven methods, but creative collaboration encourages participants to take risks and explore unconventional ideas. When team members are getting outside of their comfort zones, it’s even easier for misunderstandings, conflict, and general chaos to take hold.
You can overcome all these challenges if you foster an environment where participants feel empowered to share ideas and work together to achieve a common goal.
Here are some of the challenges you might face and some of the solutions you can use to head them off before they even become a problem.
7 challenges of creative collaboration and how to overcome them
1. Conflicting priorities and goals
Participants can have very conflicting goals for a project, especially if you have a cross-functional team. Each person may come to a collaboration with different priorities, objectives, or ways of approaching tasks, leading to tension and disagreements.
Additionally, not every stakeholder will have the same level of involvement throughout an entire project. Some will be deep in the work every day, while others will come in only for certain parts of the project. This can cause resentment if teammates with different levels of investment in a project don’t take time to align.
The solution: Create shared objectives
To avoid misaligned teams, take time at the beginning of every project to set common goals and clarify individual responsibilities. Hold regular check-ins and updates throughout the course of the project to ensure everyone remains focused on your shared objectives.
A project kickoff meeting is the best time to start thinking about these things. The shared objectives you create will keep your team focused and give you a tool to resolve differences of opinion. Creating goals as a team will also serve as practice for communicating and building something as a team.
Get started with the Project kickoff template from Mural
Creating team agreements from the beginning can also ensure that you resolve any conflict positively and that your team maintains a positive and mutually supportive environment. A team should encourage open and transparent communication, mutual respect, and active listening practices.
2. Lack of trust
Good collaboration requires trust and strong relationships, but building trust can be challenging, especially in hybrid or remote teams. Without trust, team members won’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas, especially the risky, innovative, or outside-the-box ideas you need to be competitive.
They also may not volunteer needed critique because they’re afraid to upset their teammates. The creative collaboration you’re trying to build will go nowhere if a team hasn’t laid the groundwork for a mutually supportive environment. Creative projects need trust so that everyone contributes to their fullest potential.
The solution: Build team unity with group activities
Collaboration works best when you foster a positive work culture that values inclusivity, open communication, and respect. Encourage team-building activities and opportunities for team members to get to know each other face-to-face, even if it’s virtual.
Two approaches can help you build trust, and you should use both:
The first is creating opportunities for casual, low-stakes interaction so your team can get comfortable around each other. Plan some Zoom hangouts or fun team activities for the beginning of a project. We naturally build trust when we get to know each other socially, so interaction always helps.
The second part of building trust is actively working through difficult team tasks together. Try using exercises that prompt teams to share their challenges openly and work through them as a group. We might be tempted to avoid butting heads at all, but you build stronger trust by proving to each other that you can work through a challenging task with respect and mutual support.
Try it out with the Hopes and fears template
3. Communication barriers and team conflict
Communicating effectively can be one of the hardest things about working on a team. This is only amplified when you have members from different teams coming to the table with different assumptions and working norms. You may have silos from having separate workspaces in the past, and collaborative work can begin to break down those barriers.
Differing opinions and perspectives may lead to conflicts, making decision-making and problem-solving difficult. The creative process can also feel much more personal, making conflict easier to arise and more heated when it does. You may encounter misunderstandings, misinterpretations, project delays, and even hurt feelings.
The solution: Develop conflict resolution strategies to improve team alignment
Create a safe space for open and constructive dialogue by moderating meetings proactively. When conflicts arise, address them promptly and professionally, and seek solutions that satisfy all parties. Make team agreements around important issues that could cause conflict later, and even set up your own processes for a resolution that everyone feels good about.
4. Inability to communicate creative ideas
Creative communication can also be challenging because not everyone has the skills they need to verbalize their creative ideas to their coworkers. Even creative professionals struggle to communicate their vision clearly at times.
While a marketing team might be really used to describing how something could impact an audience, an engineer could need help. The reverse might be true when trying to explain how a feature is going to work technically.
The result of these communication barriers is misunderstandings, misinterpretations, project delays, and even hurt feelings.
The solution: Visualize your ideas together
Working through your thought process visually can help different teams understand each other more clearly and improve their design thinking skills. It makes sure everyone is on the same page — literally. Team members can collaborate in real time and build a shared vision that helps them progress with the project.
Get started with the vision board template
5. Poor time management
Balancing workload, deadlines, and commitments can be a huge challenge for creative teams, especially when collaborating with others who have their own schedules and timelines. The more different teams you add, the more chaotic planning becomes.
The solution: Share clear timelines
Good time management happens when you develop a clear project plan with timelines and milestones from the very beginning. Create a project management plan to help stakeholders track progress and allocate resources effectively.
If your team is hybrid or remote, even finding overlapping time day-to-day can be a challenge. Create a team charter to build a shared map of time zones and working hours so that team members know when to schedule meetings or expect to wait for a response on Slack.
Get started with a template: Hybrid team charter
6. Lack of autonomy and ownership
When you work together, so many more voices need to be heard and progress can often move slower. This can be frustrating, especially for team members who are used to having a lot of autonomy over their work process. Collaboration often involves compromise and implementing new processes, tools, or ways of thinking, which can be met with resistance from some team members.
The solution: Communicate transparently about plans and reasoning
Proactively communicate the “why” behind the processes, tools, and decisions you make during the collaboration. No one should feel like they’re taking instructions — you should actively include them in decision-making as much as possible.
You can also make space for smaller groups and even individuals to work independently for parts of the collaborative process. During workshops, you can create smaller breakout groups and delegate aspects of a project to individuals to bring back to the next meeting. This creates a good balance of teamwork and independent workflows.
Team alignment workshops can help everyone understand what their collaborative process will look like and what role each person plays.
Get started with the team alignment workshop template
7. Missing takeaways
Who hasn’t had an innovative, invigorating, mind-melding creative discussion…and then promptly forgotten all the incredible ideas you came up with as soon as you leave the room?
Following up with good notes are an essential part of gaining concrete progress from a meeting. However, the more exciting the creative discussion, the easier it is to forget to take them.
The solution: Better note taking tools
The solution is obviously to take notes, but it can really interrupt the flow of creative brainstorming when you have to stop to jot down every new idea. The best way around this is by making the notetaking an organic part of your brainstorming process. Mural is a great tool for building notes as you go, so you always have a thorough record of meetings and idea-generation sessions.
Have team members add ideas to an online whiteboard platform as you develop them. Then use those digital sticky notes to prioritize, filter ideas, and assign the next steps. This is the best way to preserve the creative flow of collaboration while still ensuring a productive outcome.
Creative collaboration gets better with practice
Once you’ve set up a positive culture of collaboration and the structures to support it, the last step is to just keep on collaborating. The more your team practices the better they’ll get. Incorporating the creative collaboration you need into your day-to-day work will build partnerships between teams and lead to better and better creative collaboration over time.