Senior Musings March 2012

Posted 03.15.11

The Craft of Collaboration

BobbiWe've all worked with others to plan local events, everything from a small wedding, a church bazaar, or a family reunion.

But collaborating on a big project can be difficult. Often there are terrible fights, sometimes leaving feelings so bruised that relationships are damaged forever.

I've been involved with several very large events that went smoothly, and would like to share some advice based on my experience.

Having one person in charge, making all the decisions, would seem to be an obvious solution, but that has significant dangers. What if that person gets sick, has to deal with a sudden emergency at home or at work, or just finds him or herself overwhelmed?

Also, there's the danger that the primary organizer's vision of what this event should look like might not be feasible. It's important for that person to be willing and able to give up control, allowing the people working on individual items to bring their expertise to the table.

The key is delegation, but this can be tricky. Too often we select close family and friends to be our primary helpers, which can be dangerous when tempers flare because they don't agree.

Last year the writers on my Private List decided they wanted to produce an anthology of their work, and since the list belongs to me, I could have taken full charge of this (or turned them down flat).

Instead, I recruited the best editor from the group, and asked her to be the Primary Editor, giving her the last word on the text. That's giving up a lot of control, but I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and knew my best role would be on the format and layout of the book, and on liaison with the publisher. I recruited a third editor to deal with contributors and to serve as a second set of eyes when it came to proofreading.

We agreed from the outset that all three of us would read every submission, that decisions would be based on a simple majority (the advantage of having three people instead of just two), and that we wouldn't revisit past decisions later. That's a really crucial thing to agree on. It prevents resentments from festering.

We were fortunate to have solid professionals as contributors. All of them accepted our edits, and didn't argue with where we placed their pieces. We explained that we had to fit everything into the five sections, Misadventures, Rear-View Mirror, Love & Loss, What in the World, and Exit Laughing, and the sections had to be balanced.

This turned out to be more of collaboration than we anticipated, because almost everyone had extra expertise to share with the group. It's crucial to find out who has which skills you might need, and get them onside. And don't be afraid to enlarge your core group when you need outside expertise. It's a big mistake to think you can do everything yourselves.

One more thing: make sure you have a back-up plan. If the person at the top has to drop the project suddenly for whatever reason, you want to have a clear chain of command so time isn't wasted haggling over who will take over.

Collaborating on a big project can be a rewarding experience instead of a nightmare. Set egos aside, and enjoy the process!


The author of three books, Barbara Florio Graham's popular website, www.SimonTeakettle.com, contains lots of free information on publishing, promotion, and publicity. Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List is available from bookstores as well as on Amazon and in various e-book formats.

Copyright © 2012 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.12