The benefits of working collaboratively on creative pursuits are numerous. Stimulating new ideas, gathering resources and offering new perspectives are just a few ways that collaboration helps you.
But say you are in a team, or leading a team, how could you possibly gauge how much people are “working together?”
A somewhat older study into Architectural firms offers a concept that could prove a useful indicator: Collective Voice. It is descriptive enough that such an approach even exists: examining collective voice in relation to a firm presupposes the idea that individual performance is secondary. Often when creative firms are researched or examined, they are viewed as collectives. Thus, in these scenarios, research into creativity isn’t based on individuals. It is about how a group of individuals work together. One such study is that performed by the authors in Architects and Firms (Blau, 1984, 90 – see below).
This study uses the phrase “collective voice” to describe the amount which all individuals in a firm have input. In this ways, collective voice can be seen as a maker of true collaboration. In this study, this characteristic was rated in several architectural firms. These firms were then analysed and found to perform better in terms of industry awards, external critique, client repeat rate, client referral rate, profit, productivity and staff commitment (Blau, 1984, 42-43). So, for professional firms, working together works.
A common misconception – also highlighted by this study – that people use as an excuse to lower collective voice, is that “power” is zero-sum amongst a group of individuals (Blau, 1984, 39). This is an attitude that says for someone to have more influence, I would have to lose some of my influence. Even if this misconception were true, it would still mean lower levels of collaboration and thus performance in the areas described above.
So how did the authors measure Collective Voice? What are the characteristics of it? Several indicators were used, including: number of people who can directly contact clients, number of people who share responsibility, whether someone other than the principal was able to be in charge.
So, in terms of the benefits listed above, trying to implement these characteristics helps. Also, it may be unsurprising that all of these characteristics lead to or describe firms with flatter hierarchies. Introducing flat hierarchies has long been a tool in organisational change where a company seeks to become more “ad-hoc” in its operation. Adhocracy here being one of the four types of organisational culture.
The alignment with creativity in this scenario is very clear and the advantages should be also. However, not all creative endeavours will be arranged as an Adhocracy, where innovation is key and procedures are dynamic. They could easily be of the “Hierarchy” type, where rules and procedures, stability and efficiency dominate. The point in mentioning this is that while aiming to increase Collective Voice seems to work for professional creative firms, keep in mind that if a firm has a low Collective Voice, trying to increase it could have wide-spreading affects and fundamentally change your culture.
A&F: Blau, J.R. 1984. Architects and Firms: A Sociological Perspective on Architectural Practice. MIT Press
Feature Image Courtesy of: Su neko