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Ethos / Positive News Syndicated article 6

by Andrew Beattie
Published 1 September 2022

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This feature by Andrew Beattie is in the Ethos / Positive News Magazine Spring Issue, explores the numerous benefits of working collaboratively on projects. His freelance career has meant that he has had countless opportunities to work collaboratively, and he shares his insights. Team work maketh the dream work.

I’ve spent the large part of my career working for myself now. The first couple of years of that, literally working on my own with very little other human contact, were some of the loneliest of my life. I was just getting started and I sat, mainly, in a bedroom office – trying to find enough scraps of work to keep me fed. I spent all that time dreaming about working on much bigger and grander projects and wondering how the hell I’d be able to pull any of them off. I think it was when I reached the stage where I actually started to talk to myself, that I decided to get a little office space that I could barely afford.

In the more recent bit of my career, the last six years, I’ve done more of the bigger and grander stuff that I wanted to do back then, but all of them have been a product of collaboration. Finding partners and building small teams to get things off the ground. My earliest collaborations saw me launch a craft beer festival, make a few films and take on a shared workspace for a few creative freelancers to work together. And we did. Over 2,000 people came to drink the beer we picked one weekend in June In 2013; thousands of people watched the couple of films that we made; and we sat in our shared workspace drinking coffee and dreaming of doing other bigger and grander things together. I was having more fun than I could possibly have hoped for. We’d imagined things, worked together to make them and then brought them into the world for other people to enjoy.

All of these projects were done with different groups of people, and within a few months at the end of 2013, they all turned to shit for me. Relationships quickly soured, I left the groups I’d helped to bring together, and suddenly found myself sans projects and sans collaborators. It was a swift and harsh lesson in how collaborations can go badly. It was also the first time I heard the phrase, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. It felt like a bad joke. Often, as in the case of the beer festival, film project and shared workspace (and all of the other projects I’ve done since – like this book)our paths in life crossover with other peoples’ paths and new things are made, new stories told, new projects launched and new realities created. Collaborative projects are consensual. They’re the result of a joint idea or an idea someone’s had, that you and your consenting partners help create.

Collaboration allows you to do things beyond your own specific skill set. Collaborating with a graphic designer or design agency means that a copywriter can have their words turned into powerful images or a combination of graphics and words to create something new and exciting– like books, magazines and posters. On any given day, a freelance copywriter might collaborate with animators, filmmakers, designers, coders, events professionals, makers or artists. Collaboration allows you to do more.

Collaborating also exposes you to new people and new teams which brings fresh perspective and new ideas. As a freelancer, that is invaluable. It means you can dream and create bigger things. It also means that you can remain nimble and flexible, to try more things in service of making interesting work, but stay small. And small is good if it means you can keep costs low.

As human beings, we all have our own hopes, fears, neuroses and dreams that we bring to bear on the things that we do in our lives. We’re driven largely by different things, want specific outcomes that match our own reality and, to a large extent, we beat our own path through life. Even our shared visions are witnessed through different lenses.

I took a few key lessons from those early collaborations that have formed the basis of how’ve set out to work with others again, and I’ve mostly stuck to.

The first of which is to be clear about what you want and expect out of the project; why you’re doing it and what your expectations are for the other people involved. As in, crystal clear – with no stones unturned. Talk early about your goals, why you’re doing it, and what you’d like to achieve. This also involves you being clear about how much time you realistically expect to be able to spend ona project, and what your other commitments are. If you agree on this up front, respecting everyone else’s circumstances – and still decide to press ahead with a project – you’re doing it with realistic expectations from everyone involved.

It’s also OK for these things to change over time –as our lives change, so does our perspective, and the amount of time we have for things decreases and increases as other events unfold. It’s also OK to change your mind on things as time progresses. If you no longer want to do something, or want to do something else, that’s fine. It’s your life and your time. Where this does become an issue is if you’re not clear about it with your consenting collaborators. Just because you can see your life– or needs, ideals and aims – are changing, is that clear to them? Have you actually told them, as opposed to assuming they’ll twig?

Breakdowns in communications like this are often fatal for a project and, at the very least, cause extreme strain on relationships as things surface. It’s understandable to feel let down by someone who suddenly decides to leave a journey you’ve been on with them, but less so if they’ve expressed how they’ve felt for a period in the build-up to it. How often does your team speak? Do you have a regular check-in? How are your collaborators feeling? When did you last ask?

Doing what you say you will is pretty much the foundation of a good working relationship, or how can you build trust within a team? But it’s also worth stating, from my hard-won experience, that expecting people to do things that you’ve never asked of them will create unnecessary tension. Agree actions up front and expect them to be done within agreed timescales, but don’t assume that everybody can see inside your head and understand your wishes and ideas. If it’s not on the task list, it probably won’t get done. If you need something done, either do it, or ask for it to be done. Who’s responsible for each task? Whose decision is this? How do you know?

The last lesson is that teamwork really does make the dream work. In the immediate days after leaving those projects I envisaged writing the phrase on a big stick with a sharpie and beating myself over the head with it. But in all of those instances we actually did the thing we set out to do – and it exceeded our expectations in a lot of respects. And all of the things that I consider my greatest hits since those early days have been products of collaboration. Working in teams to manifest ideas is thrilling; late nights of intense working is much better when shared, and when you finally reach the end of the project – meet the deadline, do the thing – it’s a great feeling to have someone throw their arms around you, who’s been with you every step of the way, felt all the pain and overcome all of the obstacles at your side.

The good news is that there are more tools than ever available to help you more easily communicate with your collaborators, to share ideas, work, thoughts or discuss tasks, and set plans, task lists and project plans so that you get things done, no matter where in the world they,or you, are. The chances are you’ve used them already. Many are free to use for very small teams, like the various Google products, Slack, Trello, Skype. And many others, like Basecamp, are at least free to trial. Depending on how many different projects you collaborate on, you may even use lots of different tools for the different teams that you work with, but the tools you’ll need do exist, so you can stop building that new forum that will revolutionise the way message one another – it already exists, it’s called Slack, and it’s great.

How formal you make the structures you need for collaboration really depends on who you are, how many people are involved and the scale of what you’re trying to achieve. Any combination of the aforementioned tools will help for either the largest or smallest project. But for ongoing collaborations there are organisations like Enspiral to take inspiration from. Enspiral is a global collective of over 200 individuals, who join together in groups to take on contract work together and create products that enable teams to work together more effectively. The organisation publishes a handbook ( which covers everything from how decisions are made, the values of the collective, what technology the teams use centrally, codes of conduct, guides for how to look after each other and even some communal songs for the collective. The Enspiral model works because it allows the freelancers within its network to be more resilient. Yes, they’re self-employed, but they have 200 collaborators ready to support as soon as they need it.

Anybody who uses the “it’s not personal, it’s just business” line is to be avoided as a collaborator. Collaboration between people is personal and we all bring a bit of our lives to bear on a project when we decide to collaborate. Professionalism is important, of course it is, but the rest is all human. Do you switch off your humanity – emotions, feelings, humour and instinct when you leave your front door or switch on your laptop? I sincerely hope not, because it’s important. Your skills and work ethic are important for the work or the project you’ll work together on, but very few people want to work and spend time with an amoral dickhead.

Opening yourself up completely to others can be challenging, especially if you’re new to the party, joining an already established team or are naturally introverted. Manual of Me (, is an online tool where you can create and share a document of how you work, rather than what you do. As its website explains well and succinctly, it is, “sort of like a user manual for a person, the Manual of Me is a handy guide for others to help them get the best from you at work. ”It uses prompts and guides to help you get all of the things that are important for you to say out of your head. And if you come unstuck here, try doing the 16 Personalities online personality test tool ( – I found it much easier to understand how I work when I had it reflected back at me after using this tool. In fact, I found it so good that I sent it on to everybody I collaborate with. Although they didn’t all do it. Because hey –we’re all different.

It turns out that I’m The Advocate. Who are you?

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