Making Collaboration Work, Part 3: Creative Catalysts Janet Riehl & Stephanie Farrow

Riehlife’s February and March blog-of-the-month theme is Collaboration, that most excellent of love relationships in our lives and work. This series features two interviews by two collaboration duos plus a conversation with a distance educator.

In our first 2-part interview Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler told us how they met and shared five tips for successful collaboration.

How Stephanie & I met and began our collaboration

Today we offer the first of a second two-part interview on collaboration between Stephanie Farrow and myself. It’s a working relationship within the context of a long friendship that’s been going on for 37 years, longer than many marriages.

Stephanie and I have collaborated on many writing and training projects. Most recently we’ve joined up to write our Creative Catalyst column for Telling Her Stories, the Story Circle Network blog.
In our column from February-March-April we’re running a 3-post Creative Catalyst cycle.

5.1 Collaboration: How to Make It Work
5.2 Collaboration: Trust Floats the Boat

Stephanie lives in New Mexico while I live in St. Louis. We haven’t seen each other for four years. Our collaboration takes place via phone and email.

For this interview we experimented chatting by Gmail. Our phone time tends toward delightful jazz conversations as we branch out discursively and then pull it back in to a point. We found we enjoyed the Gmail technology to capture conversation. It allowed time for on-the-spot reflection.

We first met in Ghana in 1973 when we were both teaching in Peace Corps. She lived in the South while I lived in the North. When I traveled to Kumasi during school breaks, we’d spend time visiting over tea. Those conversations began building the foundation of our collaboration back in the United States in New Mexico, and then continued when I moved to California and then to Missouri.

#1 Shared experience to build upon.

Janet: Stephanie, I remember sitting in your house outside Kumasi visiting and sipping tea as we first got to know each other. It seems to me that beginning started building the foundation of our collaboration.
Stephanie: I remember first meeting you when we got in country the first day. You and your husband came to our room and we lounged on the beds. Everything seemed so new—Africa, that is—and here you were—old Africa hands with experience in Botswana.
Janet: With your perspective of coming from Honduras and Guatemala, you and your husband John quickly became old hands yourselves. You spoke flawless French and Spanish. Coming from Botswana we knew Setswana. Those two perspectives gave us a point to start our long conversation of 37 years.

Stephanie: You’re right, in some ways Ghana didn’t seem strange at all—it was just different—another 3rd World country. I think that previous experience made it easier for me to adjust and feel at home straight away.

When you share an overseas experience of any sort—even just going to France to visit the Eiffel Tower or whatever—it changes your perspective on the world. Others who’ve been outside the country understand what this means in a way others can’t.

#2 Knowing and liking each other. Work as an extension of friendship and the other way around.

Stephanie: I can hear your typing over the speaker phone. It sounds like there’s a demented mouse gnawing away.

Janet: Gnaw, Gnaw! We were so fortunate to meet up again in New Mexico in 1979 when we’d both been back in the States a short time going through cultural transition and getting settled in the United States. That reconnection became one of the most important shaping influences of my life. For one, it gave me one of the longest-term friends I’ve ever had in my life.

Stephanie: It’s rare these days to have such a long-term friend. Connections seem much more tenuous these days. We’re such a mobile society that it’s hard to stay connected—especially those of us who don’t even stay in the country!

#3 Interlocking Strengths & Skills

Janet: In the 1980s in New Mexico working together emerged organically from our friendship and similar work interests.
You worked with a variety of nonprofit volunteer organizations—like Amigos de las Americas, Parentcraft, Partners of the Americas, and Coalition for Children. Mostly your work then centered on children and overseas, cross-cultural issues. I worked with community education and later in my consulting firm Clear Communication.

The underlying skills for us both were training and development and communication. With this bond in place we began designing and giving workshops together.

During our three years in the Kellogg Leadership Fellowship for Partners of the Americas that our relationship became closer and we collaborated more frequently as we traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean experiencing places and development issues first hand. I’d never participated in seminars like that before—or met socially with high-level officials.
Stephanie: I hadn’t experienced that before either, so our bond grew. The work we’ve done together since then sprung from that time. The joint understanding we have of the world and of each other informs our work today.

In the second part of our interview we’ll continue our discussion on how to make collaboration work.

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  1. Janet and Stephanie:

    Thanks for the conversation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Janet through our author conversation series and then in person at Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart Conference. Now, in reading this dialogue, I’d like to meet Stephanie. I begin to picture a network analysis and can see a new node forming.

    I especially appreciated your point about “liking each other.” Business relationships — and trust me, even writing together is a type of business relationship — are formed for many reasons. But when the liking-factor is missing, the relationship won’t survive the hard times.

    Thanks for your insights. I look forward to the next part.


  2. That’s such a nice conversation! Stephanie pointed out that today we have more evanescent connections; usually people move apart for pursuing a job etc. And in such cases, the friendship fades away. It occurs to me that if both sides keep exchanging cards, emails, and text messages, sometimes even phone calls, then the friendships won’t fly away. Or will it? I usually stay connected with my writer friends on the web and our connections remain strong as long as both sides keep writing to each other.

  3. Ernest,

    You are blessed to have such a strong network from so far away. I know you’ve worked at it by giving and receiving.

    I’ve traveled so much that my pals have come and gone. Interestingly, most of the ones I feel closest to are ones I worked with in Ghana.


    Yes…it was clear meeting you and Kendra at the SCN conference that you had a strong friendship. I feel this is crucial inside the collaborative unit.

    Later this month I’ll be running another 2-part interview that posits in systems/organizations/institutions and economies…that collaboration is driven by competition.

    Stephanie and I are pursuing the use of trust and lack of competition in our second and third collaboration posts on SCN’s Telling Her Stories.

    February: Making Collaboration Work.

    March: Collaboration:Trust Floats the Boat

    April: coming next month: Check your ego at the door.

    It’s good to know another collaborative duo such as you and Kendra.

    Janet Riehl

  4. This is a great thread of conversation, Janet. I agree that the friendships strengthen the collaboration, and, the inverse – that a joint effort can strengthen the friendships as well. And from a business sense as well, what I share on my blog helps other blogs and v’a/v’a. I am currently writing pieces here and there for another blog and the other author promotes me as well – both helping to sell her books and setting up ‘boosts’ for my future writing endeavors. Can’t wait to read the next installment in this subject.

  5. Dear Rhonda,

    You have lots of experience with collaboration. I’m glad you’ve seen how well it can work to benefit not only those in the collaborative unit, but also better work overall.

    You might also be interested in our collaboration posts on the SCN blog Telling Her Stories.



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