While completing my master’s program, I was surprised by how frequently team projects were assigned. Collaboration was one of the most commonly used words at my institution, to the point that the manager for my graduate assistant position would excitedly (and sometimes sarcastically) refer to collaborative projects as “collabos.” It wasn’t until my final semester that I had an instructor, who explained her reasoning for assigning multiple group projects in a single course: as a librarian, she said, you will constantly be working with other people, and you need to make sure that you are prepared for that.
While, on a certain level I understood that I wouldn’t be working alone, I did not truly comprehend the degree to which this would be true. As a first year librarian at a small private college, I have spent my time working closely with each and every librarian on a variety of projects. I also work closely with teaching faculty across my liaison areas, faculty and staff in Information Technology Services, university administrators, faculty, and staff on committees, graduate and undergraduate students, and other librarians outside of the university.
I am still learning and adapting with each new partnership and project, but I would like to share a few strategies that I have developed when collaborating with my colleagues.
Establishing Working Norms
A colleague from another institution introduced me to the concept of establishing working norms before embarking on a collaborative project. We took about half an hour, opened a google doc together, and had an open and honest conversation about our strategies and tendencies for project management. In this conversation we explored the best pathways for our future communication, the flexibility of our timeframes/deadlines, the best ways to schedule our meetings, our tendencies to work ahead or last minute, and our ability/willingness to work outside of traditional work hours. This conversation was somewhat challenging for me, because I frankly had never verbalized some of these norms. As we discussed, we recorded our preferences for future reference. Establishing these working norms has been extremely helpful over the course of our project.
Finding a time to meet with a group of people who have varying schedules can be a nightmare. There are a number of ways to simplify scheduling, and I have found it helpful to establish what is best for all parties, as early on in the collaborative effort as possible. If you are working within an institution and everyone keeps an up-to-date calendar on a shared platform like Outlook or Google, it is much easier to schedule. When this is not an option, I rely heavily on websites like Doodle or When Is Good. None of these are perfect and the main drawback that I have encountered is that they all require team members to take time out of their busy schedules to record their availability. My least favorite, but sometimes the most effective, approach for quickly getting everyone’s input is through an email or text chain–or just good old fashion conversation. Then the problem becomes compiling that data and figuring out the best option.
Similar to scheduling, people have a variety of preferences for communication. If you are working within an institution that has an official method for communication that is great, but it is still best to check and make sure that the institutional method works for the team members. While the official method for communication at my institution is email, and I prefer to use email, it is not best for everyone nor for every task. A quick conversation with team members to decide on primary and secondary forms of communication can go a long way in helping to select from the plethora of communication platforms we have available.
Finally, I have found it important to establish personal boundaries on flexibility. In what circumstances am I willing to be flexible on communication methods? When will I adjust my availability for meetings? When, if ever, is it okay to work during lunch or even after regular work hours? By establishing these boundaries for myself and holding to them, I am able to preserve my mental health and energy so that when it is time to work and collaborate I am able to be fully present and contribute.