Collaboration in the WOLF PACK
In relocating to London, I have found a space to work that is quite special: the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC). I could (and will) write a blog entry on this remarkable organization in the future; since the way C4CC is creating the space for magical connections between disparate creative start-ups needs mentioning. But for today I want to focus on one of those creative start-ups and what they revealed to me about the act of collaboration.
They are called WOLF PACK ; a "contemporary music collective influenced by performance art and theatre". Dedicated to finding what brings together different musical styles and genres they stage performance experiences in London based on one word themes. Led by Laila Woozeer, they are a group of musicians / artists from both Goldsmiths and Royal Holloway in London.
I began speaking to Laila and two others WOLF PACK artists (Laura and Danilo) one day to understand the way they view and approach the act of collaboration. This is always a strange question for people who regularly work together, since they are being asked to deconstruct what is often naturally ocurring. They spoke of the fact that there is always a plan for the way they will approach any rehearsal but it is understood that this will likely change in the course of the work. That the overall goal to which they are aspiring is sometimes quite impossible to achieve (playing the piece perfectly for example) but that the ideal inspires them to reach. They spoke of how the diversity of their musical backgrounds creates distance so that they can hear suggestions with a more open mind and are therefore more apt to act on these ideas. They higlighted the tension that naturally happens between the overall direction being set by a singular person but the need for each musician to contribute and collaborate on the pieces that make up the performance. The quality of the relationship between the Wolf Pack members was a big point of agreement on what fuels their collaboration: they all genuinely like each other and like working together.
When I watched them in rehearsals the next day with three other members of WOLF PACK, it was a great embodiment of what they had discussed. They took time to connect when arriving and to check in with each other before they began to play (at one point someone said "Time to get to work - who needs tea?"). They then quickly clarified the intent and purpose of the rehearsal and the later performance (they were getting ready to give a Skype performance as support for a conference presentation by other members of C4CC). Suggestions were acted on before they were discussed, which had them all reflecting on what actually happened rather than on what they thought would happen. They committed fully to the performance of the suggestion, giving it their best effort, then they would adjust and revise immediately (even if it was their idea).
The most interesting part of the collaboration process was the way they would challenge and clarify on a continual basis. Laila was holding a very clear role - setting the structure and overall direction - but each player was voicing their ideas and challenging decisions. Each of the Wolf Pack members are talented individuals and it is obvious that they each resepct the ability of the others. From that place of respect for ability they would challenge; asking direct questions and making bold statements. Laila allowed this flow without losing connection to the overall purpose and intent of the rehearsal. By allowing this creative tension to have it's time - and not closing it down too quickly - they eventually found the best options available and then set what the performance would be.
This time with the Wolf Pack exemplified some of the key factors that contribute to successful collaborative relationships:
- The quality of your working relationship is of vital importance. The way you are together will directly impact what you are able to do together so spend time cultivating these relationships on a regular basis.
- Have a goal/ideal not an outcome. Strive to achieve something that makes you reach, rather than something you can already achieve (since what excitement or drive is there is doing what you already know how to do?)
- Be optional in your approach. You make a plan so you have somewhere to start; after that you follow what works and what emerges as you reach for your goal/ideal.
- Bring together diverse points of view. The perspective gained from alternative worldviews can be just what you need to re-think long held beliefs.
- Tension is a reality - work with it not against it. Rather than trying to reduce or remove the tension, acknowledge it and use the dynamic quality to fuel your work.
- People must be able to challenge and offer. Without the full intelligence of the group engaged it just isn't collaboration, only execution.
And it is this last point in which the WOLF PACK excelled in a unique way. I am a firm believer that having status in the room is the easiest way to derail any creative or collaborative process. Once people are exerting or protecting their status the raw insights and challenges that are the hallmark of creative collaboration disappear. I spend a great deal of time with organizations getting them to remove status from situations so people can feel safe to challenge and offer. What the Wolf Pack revealed was that you could find the same safety through a respect for ability. If I know that you have deep knowledge of your area of expertise and feel that you respect my work, we can find a statusless connection through shared excellence. For organizations this could be a new way of supporting collaborative relationships. As well as removing status from the structure of the working relationships, by sharing the excellence of people - and the contribution this excellence will have to the overall project - rich relationships can be established. And this is not simply the listing of schools, awards, etc. With the musicians of the Wolf Pack they experience the excellence of each other - the challenge in organizations is to discover ways for people to experience the excellence of their colleagues.
So this coming week find a way to experience the excellence of someone with whom you work. This could be as simple as asking them to share the project or work achievement of which they are most proud; or show up at a presentation they are excited to deliver; or something totally unique to your situation. All I am asking is to find a way to experience someone being great and then reflect on what that does do to the quality of your relationship. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
** For those of you in London, WOLF PACK have a performance coming up this weekend. On June 1 you can join them for "Qizney" : an evening of live Disney classics, karaoke, a trivia quiz contest, sing along and much more. For more information go to: