Your 5-Step Guide To Creative Collaboration (+ Examples)

Arrigo Lupori
Last Updated:
February 13, 2024

The creative process can be misinterpreted as a purely artistic or "visual" workflow, but creative collaboration is the root of all innovation—whether technical, strategic, or operational.

When creative minds collaborate towards a common goal (e.g. launching a new product, organizing an event), they eventually go beyond traditional thinking in a way that's unique to them.

That's the ideal outcome of all creative collaboration:

"To solve challenging problems with elegant, original methods."

For the past 6 months, I've been on a creative collaboration journey myself, iterating on a startup with my co-founder. We spend countless hours every week thinking about existing and new ways to solve specific problems, like how to bring software design and development closer together.

Today, I'm taking you on that journey with me.

What Does "Creative" Collaboration Mean?

"Creative" is a big word.

It can include almost any concept under the sun.

The most traditional way to think about creative collaboration is the concept of brainstorming; effectively dumping as many ideas—even dumb ones—on a specific topic and then filtering them.

Alex Faickney Osborn, who popularized the term in 1942, has a pretty interesting view on creativity:

“We are all students of creativity, and what a path we walk! Best wishes to those who share my grandfather’s belief that each of our creative gardens can be grown in this soil of life.”

He believed that creative approaches to problem-solving could lead to more effective, innovative, and impactful solutions, inspiring generations to pursue their "creative power" in business.

That to me is a pretty good summary of what creative collaboration means:

» Brainstorming with others over multiple sessions to achieve ambitious goals.

A standout example of creative collaboration is often associated with global ad campaigns, although there are many other avenues of creativity.

Of course, brainstorming is only one of the many concepts that exist in the realm of creative collaboration, but most of the others that sprouted in the late 90s / early 2000s use it as a foundation to build upon.

A non-exhaustive list of creative collaboration methods is:

  • Design thinking, a problem-solving approach that encourages teams to focus on the people they're creating for rather than the technical requirements or internal understanding.
  • Agile methodologies, originally developed for software development but now permeating every aspect of business with evolutions such as Kanban boards and Scrum sprints.
  • Iterative design, a methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process. Facebook's "move fast and break things" mentality is an example.
  • Peer review, a technique used in scientific research to ensure that a paper is as accurate and trustworthy as possible thanks to feedback from various experts in the field.

As you can see, "creativity" isn't just applied to media work (e.g. copywriting, graphic design, advertising, etc), although the line is often blurry in business terms and it is seen as such in most cases.

5 Steps for Effective Creative Collaboration in a Team

Working in a team is challenging but also highly rewarding. There are no set rules to collaborating with creative peers effectively, but there are guidelines that can support most scenarios.

Here are 5 steps every creative collaboration process should follow:

Step #1: Communicate until you're sick of it—and then some more.

Over-communication can be a bad thing, especially if nothing of substance is communicated and it leads the team astray. But it's certainly a lot better than under-communication.

The best advice I can give you here is to communicate often (daily is best in a team environment) but always with intent. If you don't have much to share, say so. Don't leave your team hanging.

They might have suggestions on how to unblock a certain process. Or they could also be aware that you're dealing with a big task and simply acknowledge you're carrying forward with it.

Either way, letting them know where you are gives them the context they need to support you and, at times, deliver feedback. This is the foundation of every creative process—good communication.

Read more: How to manage a creative team effectively

How to communicate with intent in a creative process

It's ok if communication is a bit messy at first during a creative workflow, but you should pay attention to record the context and outcome of each session. That way, you can remember and refer to it.

Using a platform for creative agencies like ManyRequests, it’s easy to keep the context of conversations with customers across team members.

Communicating with intent means seeking outcomes relative to:

  1. What you want to achieve
  2. What's been communicated (and done) already

Let's say you were contracted to deliver a website design within 3 weeks.

Early conversations with your team will be primarily around what can be done with the resources allocated to the project—your team member's time and the budget of the client.

  • If the budget is high, you can discuss a fully-custom solution that is unique to the customer.
  • If the budget is lower, you need to agree with your team on what compromises to make.

In both cases, communicating with intent means taking the context of previous knowledge (in this case the customer requirements) and setting a fixed agenda with your team to produce clear outcomes:

  1. What that knowledge means from both the customer's perspective and yours.
  2. What steps to take to address the problem and in which time frame.
  3. What issues does the team foresee that need to be addressed.

The next step would follow up the outcome of the above.

It could be a brainstorming session or a direct implementation due to lower budget.

Either way, communicate the outcomes to achieve with each conversation.

It’ll give your team purpose and resolve after finding the answer.

Step #2: Make effective use of brainstorming & prototyping.

Brainstorming is not about coming up with the "right" idea from the get-go. It's about unleashing a torrent of ideas around a specific topic, no matter how outlandish they may seem initially.

The key here is to create a safe space where every team member feels comfortable voicing their thoughts, fostering a range of ideas that—blended together—help deliver compelling projects.

Brainstorming is most often associated with white boards and sticky notes, with multiple groups of people sharing ideas on a topic and cutting the fluff.

The best creative collaborations take 2-3 best ideas from that session and turn them into quick prototypes. Those are often called "proof of concepts" as they show how that idea could play out in the real world.

Creating useful prototypes & proofs of concept

A prototype isn't a finished product—it's usually a display of how things could be.

So why start creating so early on? Wouldn't other brainstorming sessions be helpful?

Yes, absolutely.

But creative collaboration is all about learning how to work together.

Without the action, you'd be reducing it to just theory.

For example, my co-founder and I spent countless days writing and recording our thoughts on a SaaS product to build, but we'd get stuck here and there without something tangible to look at.

So we built an interactive in just a few days, and sent it to our network for feedback.

A preview of Sagewill's SaaS prototype, use the link above to try it live!

That's when we'd always get the most useful feedback from stakeholders.

  • "I see the value of generating new content plans with AI"
  • "I don't think full content production is necessary, there are many products that do it."
  • "How does this plug into my existing content process? Where do I start with it?"

All of these questions were golden snippets of thinking for the next brainstorming session, or even for the actual product development stage. And then you'd hear themes, patterns of feedback that repeated.

Those are the ones you want to focus on the most.

(Check out steps #4 and #5 for how to manage feedback effectively!)

Read more: 100 examples of creative services

Step #3: Don't try to micromanage creative efforts.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned building a few startups is the importance of trusting your team with challenging tasks. Give them requirements, a deadline, and let them take ownership.

If you micromanage every detail (e.g. peeking into someone’s work and giving feedback before delivery), the value of the creative process is lost almost entirely. Each person should bring their own.

Sometimes that means you’ll find discrepancies between deliveries (that’s why communication is the first step!) But even then, it’s easier to re-align at the seams than to try to address every detail beforehand.

I’ve always liked the analogy of “trying to build a plane while you’re flying it.”

That’s what dictating every detail of your team’s work will feel like.

Step #4: Constantly seek feedback from stakeholders.

Feedback is the lifeblood of creative collaboration. I always make it a point to solicit feedback at various stages of a project from all people involved (customers, team members, partners, etc.):

  • After a sale, why did the customer choose to go with us?

This gives insight into what matters most for them and informs style of delivery.

  • During the first team meetup, what’s everyone’s understanding of the project?

This shows differences in thinking and allows to explore multiple creative venues.

  • After an external partner delivers work, does it align with requirements?

Reviewing deliveries early helps catch quality issues and address them.

Every delivery sparks the possibility to ask for feedback, and every piece of feedback helps you hone your creative process. In fact, I believe feedback is the currency of creative collaboration.

To use it effectively, you need to embrace 2 facts:

  1. Critiques will be part of the process, and you’ll need to build a stomach for them.

Learning to accept criticism is genuinely hard, our natural instinct is to go on the defensive and protect the work we’ve done. But making a big fuss won’t help anyone progress.

I lived it myself as my co-founder and I pivoted to a new business model from SaaS to consulting services. We had to communicate this to many of our early adopters.

Of course there was disappointment, with many doubters regarding not just the model switch but the entire business. It hurts a bit for one day, then you take it on the chin and learn from it.

The worst thing that can happen here is to immediately take on the defensive and reply with a fight or flight attitude. Let the feedback rest for a day, then tackle it with a fresh mind.

  1. There are no shortcuts, you need to ask for feedback consistently and often.

Whether with your team or with customers, you can’t expect others to wait for you if there are issues to be addressed. You need to communicate, communicate, communicate (step 1!).

The more you practice it, the more you get used to it. Asking and listening to others’ thoughts becomes enjoyable that way and it improves creative collaboration at every step.

I’ll say the “obvious” here but actively listening is required for all of this; you can’t embrace criticism without first understanding and acknowledging it, and the same goes for general communication.

Read more: Client onboarding best practices [Ideas & templates]

Step #5: Categorize and act on the feedback received rapidly.

As you gather feedback, prioritize it and act on it.

Sort feedback into categories such as "Immediate action," "Requires further investigation," and "Long-term consideration." Doing this allows your team to focus on delivering impactful user experiences.

A feedback board is a haven for creative team collaboration, allowing for ideas to flow from customers, partners, and team members.

For example, in a marketing project, if a customer says:

“I’m not sure this is the right buyer persona for our brand.”

That needs to be addressed by the team ASAP.

Buyer personas represent a foundational strategic asset for marketers; if you’re tipping your toes on whether it’s been approved when you get to creating content, that’s a broken process.

But if they say something like:

“I wish there was a way to see creatives outside of the ads platform.”

That’s fair feedback for the near future, but not critical to the project’s immediate success.

You can also get feedback for more complex but high-value issues, like attributing results across multiple marketing channels. These will need deeper considerations across every stakeholder.

Where possible, acting rapidly on feedback demonstrates to stakeholders that their input is valued and taken seriously, fostering a collaborative and responsive environment.

Read more: How to manage creative requests effectively in your agency

Bonus Step: Use a Platform for Creative Collaboration

The 5 steps I shared above are foundational pillars of great creative collaboration—they remain true across processes. But you can take them a step further with tools made for creative teams.

Using a platform like ManyRequests simplifies the entire creative collaboration process thanks to file annotation tooling, customer access, Kanban boards, and other purpose-made tooling.

It’s entirely free to try for 14 days, no credit card required.

Give it a shot, you’ll see the benefit from day one with 2 to 3 team members!