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All Right Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Edward Shaddow in GLAM Blog Club, collaboration, Libraries, Learning

I’m back with a brand new edition…of GLAM Blog Club. Now that you can’t get that song out of your head, let us turn to the theme for this month, ‘collaboration’.

Ever since I first found out that authors collaborate and write books together I’ve wondered ‘how do you even do that?’ Do they write a chapter each and try to fit them together? Or do they sit in a room together with one of them typing and the other leaning back on a chase lounge, cigarette dangling from their limp hand, an arm folded dramatically over their forehead, dictating scenes across the room? One of my favourite series is the Petaybee books by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and Anne McCaffrey, possibly my first introduction to authors collaborating. I remember being very confused reading it as a teen as the books seemed to have a singular voice. It didn’t sound like two people fighting over a story, it sounded more like the dictation method (and hence my vivid imagery). Surely that’s how it had to be right? You either have one person running the show or two people fighting it out.

A few years ago I started reading the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Being a much wiser and older reader1 I knew by now that while collaboration could be a passive (child)/aggressive (parent) relationship it works much better when you have a constructive (adult) relationship. In my mind, a good collaboration (be it writing, working, or your personal life) needs a few things to get it right: a shared vision, good communication, and conflict. With those three things you are well on your way to achieving your shared goals. Although, I argue that you could both lie dramatically on chase lounges and still have a constructive working relationship.

In a good relationship/collaboration, having a shared goal is important. Being able to share the vision of the finished product or how you’re going to measure success keeps you on the same page, so to speak. It’s no good if one of you wants to write a sci-fi novel and the other one wants to write a rom-com, but coming together and saying ‘we want to write a rom-com set in deep space’, now that’s a shared vision2.

Having good communication is how you get to that shared goal, as well as how you achieve it. Being able to voice your fears and concerns, as well as your ideas and excitement helps the collaboration process. Just talking isn’t enough though; you also need to listen, something that often gets missed when communication is brought up. Sure you sent all those emails but did you read any of the replies? Did you ask questions of the other people? Being open to talking about things is only half the solution, being open enough to listen and really hear what the other person is saying is the hardest part. This brings me to my final point, conflict.

I’ve taken a large about-face when it comes to conflict in my life. I spent most of my life avoiding it at all costs, trying everything I could to make sure everyone was happy and nobody was the least bit angry or upset. Then I realised that we need conflict to have good, healthy relationships. Although, too much conflict and you’re not going to have a good time, so it’s a delicate balance between conflict and using communication to find a win-win solution (shared goal). While I still fight the urge to be a peacekeeper3, I’m trying to embrace conflict, using it to help build relationships and so far it’s working fairly well. So what does that all look like, how do you know what is a good collaboration versus a bad one?

When you find yourself in that perfect fit of a good collaboration you will know it, just like I find with the amazing newCardigan team. I’ve been working with newCardigan for just over a year now I think and honestly it’s one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. We all share the same goal of helping to make GLAM people awesome, we talk (and listen) constantly, and we argue. I think it’s the last part that I find so refreshing in a group, the ability for one of us to say ‘no’ or ‘I have a different take’ and the rest to take that on board, talk it out and come up with a solution that fits all of us. Sure, sometimes we’ll take the path of least resistance or we’ll argue for a bit and not actually change anything, but the fact that we’re open to conflict and want to work it out makes a huge difference. This group of amazing people aren’t afraid to share their concerns and know that their voice will be heard, acknowledged, and worked on. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation you’ll instantly know how terrible all your past collaborations have been and wish it could be like this always.

Like my coffee post a while back, you need the bad to give you appreciation for the good, and hoo do I have some bad collaboration to draw on. Being in digital services for public libraries, most of mine revolve around ICT departments. Libraries and ICT are often at opposing goals4, which can make working together very difficult. You want a high speed, functioning public PC network and they just want you off the corporate one. Communication can be difficult as well, I can’t count the number of times in a day where an email of mine has gone unread or skimmed, only to spend the next hour saying the same things over and over again to various team members5. The only thing these collaborations seem to have is conflict, however due to the lack of the previous two nothing gets resolved in a win-win scenario and you end up wasting time and money on terrible solutions.

I look at collaborations as relationships, and relationships as collaborations. In GLAM we’re often working on several collaborations at once, across various disciplines, departments, and organisations. If you know anything about relationships you know it takes work and effort to get it right, and if you know anything about polyamorous relationships you know that one is hard and multiple relationships are even harder, but often worth it. Its simple multiplication in the end, if you’re bad at one, you’re going to be terrible at three. Next time you’re starting a collaboration treat it like the relationship it is, talk, listen, and embrace conflict. Hopefully you’ll end up with a win-win scenario that you can be proud of and a high functioning team you’ll enjoy working with.

  1. mostly older

  2. and a book I’d be interested in reading

  3. not always successfully I might add

  4. if you’re not then you’re one of the lucky ones

  5. I recently found out this happens to ICT people as well, probably a systemic condition due to the overwhelmingly ‘maleness’ of IT culture. It’s a constant stream of mansplaining without anyone actually listening to each other. Again, your MMV but you’re probably an outlier if this doesn’t happen to you.

A writer with weird ideas and a polytheism fixation. My alter ego lives in the library, soaking up tech and designing pretty things.

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