Making Collaboration Work, Part 4: Creative Catalysts Riehl and Farrow

Here’s the second part of the conversation between my New Mexico collaborator Stephanie Farrow and myself. Check out the first part of our making collaboration work discussion.

In our column “Creative Catalyst” on Story Circle Network’s blog Telling Her Stories: The Broad View, we have posted the first two of a three-part cycle on collaboration:

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

What makes a good collaboration?

Janet: In part one we talked about how we met and began our collaboration that drew on:

1) Shared life and work experiences that formed a personal and professional bond between us;
2) Knowing and liking each other. Work as an extension of friendship and the other way around.
3) Interlocking Strengths & Skills

What else has worked for us?

#4 The same only different: Balance

Stephanie: We’re good partners. In addition to the complementary set of skills we bring to the work, we have different personalities and ways of working. That somehow balances out what we bring to our work together.

You’re more directive than I am. You jump right in to shape a situation where I tend to work around whatever is going on. You’re more “out there” while I’m more reserved. You’re the frog, leaping into the water with abandon. I’m the one on the shore delicately dipping in a toe before making the decision to enter or not. We both see the whole picture, yet enjoy analyzing. I like to take a problem or piece of writing apart and make it work better as a whole. Imprecision irritates me.

#5 A shared sense of purpose, work ethic, discipline, humor, and desire for quality work.

Janet: It was sad really…when Stephanie became irritated by my imprecision.

Stephanie: Yes! This phrase of ours has helped us gain perspective and laughter over the years. Because of our time together, we can use verbal shorthand—no explanation necessary—because we have a history

Janet: It’s like a long-married couple who speak in code. Now that is really sad!
Carol Lloyd categorizes several different types of creativity. What I like about our collaborative relationship is that we not only have differences, but also over-lapping strengths.
We both are good at brainstorming and get a kick out of it, but that’s probably the phase of the creative process that’s my best shot. Carol calls that generative creativity.

While I’m analytical, you are even more so. We can both shape and structure, but you are clearer, pared down, and rigorous in what to leave out and when to push for clarification. In Carol’s term, I see you as a “realizer.” You move our work into form and hold it to a high standard. On my own I tend to be rather a seat of the pants gal and improvise as I go along.

#6 Knowing and Honoring Needs

Stephanie: “Rigorous”—I like that word. One of the reasons we can work together so intensely is that our communication is mainly by phone and email. This lessens the intensity so it’s not so overwhelming. That has made it possible to meet for longer periods of time—and sustain our working relationship over time.

We both find face-to-face interactions tiring. We’re good about honoring that. When we’re together for more than just a quick visit, we build in alone time to have a cup of tea, relax and rest. The sensitivity of good friendship.

Janet: You are more inward that I am, but we both need that rest to recover and regroup. We share many of the INFP [Meyers-Briggs Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving], and those qualities and patterns helped us tune in more accurately and with greater understanding. Since the INFP profile is only 1 percent of the population, we’re lucky to have found that in a working partner.

Stephanie: Only 1%. We are rara avis indeed!

Janet: The underlying qualities in our relationship that melds our collaboration are a shared sense of purpose, humor, desire for quality work, a shared work ethic and discipline. We’ve both done extensive work for hire which requires working to client specifications, on deadline and within budget. These common values yield good communication, expectations, and trust.

#7 Truth, Trust, and Resolving Conflict

Let’s talk about trust a bit. What is the nature of trust? How is it built? How does it feed into collaboration? How is it sustained?

Stephanie: True trust can come only through experience. Unless you’ve done things together, how do you know if you can count on someone? The more you interact the more comfortable you’re able to feel.
Trust also involves being able to be truthful without feeling as if you’re putting yourself in danger of being knocked down. Nothing worthwhile ever proceeds with some sort of snag, so it’s critical to be able to talk about the snags and figure out what to do about them.
Without trust true collaboration isn’t possible. If you’re holding back because of unease, then it isn’t collaboration. It becomes a hierarchical work situation in which one holds power over the other. Trustworthiness itself sustains trust. Being trustworthy means doing what you’ve promised, respecting your partner, and resolving differences when they do arise.

Janet: Yup. Yup. Resolving conflict—either through exploring it directly or just laughing about it—is vital. And, yes, for us being willing to stick with it has allowed trust. I feel secure because I believe this is a friendship that will go the distance rather than crumple at the first wrinkle. Perhaps for others that security and depth can come through shorter acquaintanceship, but it’s the longevity that seals it.

Stephanie: Yes, stick-to-it-tiv-ness.

Janet: Yup.

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  1. Janet and Stephanie:

    It’s been fun for me to read parts 1 and 2 of this blog in the same day. I’ve been able to go from your background to your current work style.

    I imagine that Kendra (Bonnett) and I work in similar ways. The experience would be hard to replicate in a solo situation. For example, Kendra and I talked yesterday morning about something we were going to do. I became just plain cranky because of the amount of work it would require on a day when I already had a long list I needed to get through. I wasn’t mad at Kendra; I was just mad at the situation. We both knew that. We finally decided to postpone a decision until today. About an hour after I got off the phone with Kendra, I came up with a better idea for the resolution to the situation. She emailed back with still another idea. We were now up to 4 ideas. Today, we talked on the phone (we log about 2500 hours per month on our cell phone conversations and lately have been up to 3000 hours) and agreed that we needed to made a final decision.

    Suddenly, Kendra came up with a fifth idea. It was the perfect solution. If I had been thinking the situation through on my own, I would never have had such a great resolution and one that will be much better for our business. My crankiness meant we postponed the decision. That gave us time to think more about it. Then today Kendra came up with a real winner.

    Ah. The wonders of a great partnership.

    Perhaps someday the four of us will get to meet.

    Thanks for this post.


  2. Dear Matilda,

    I love your story about a particular collaboration process in the moment. It works because:

    1) There’s no blame about your crankiness. Through knowledge of self and others, it falls within an understandable context. This is part of liking each other and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

    2) Waiting = creative gestation…trusting the process as well as each other.

    3) 1 + 1 = more than 2 in a good collaboration.


    Janet Riehl

  3. This partnership is truly based on trust and respect. Each of you allows the other to express and grow; therefore both of you benefit from the maturity of the relationship. I love the article.

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