Earlier in my UX career, I used to dislike sketching on a whiteboard with a group of colleagues. I preferred working alone, making everything pixel-perfect on my screen and having complete and total control over my deliverable.
I didn’t like the messiness or seemingly slower pace when working with others on the same deliverable—plus, ideas no longer felt like mine.
Then I learned to let go.
Not only did I shed my need to be the sole owner of an idea, I now proactively use a collaborative approach in all my work.
What the old me didn’t know yet was that collaborating is tremendously gratifying and clients benefit from significantly smarter thinking.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”Rick Warren
Collaborator Personas & Strategies
In preparation for a recent talk at a one-day UXPA+AIGA conference about UX and UI design collaboration (with my good friend and visual design collaborator Patrick Maun), I interviewed several past and present colleagues about their collaboration experiences.
In my research (and 20 years of experience), I learned collaboration isn’t always a two-way street. Ego, different work or communication styles, and lack of time are common culprits. Plus, not every company culture (or business model) supports a collaborative work style.
Here are 5 collaborator personas Patrick and I identified and strategies for working with them:
Collaboration Style: Mind Meld
Everything clicks with this person or team. Collaborating is fun, professionally-fulfilling, and you’re conquering the world together. Woohoo!
- Talk about and figure out why your collaboration style works, and then share your story with others. Be a case study for others on your team or at your company.
- Invite others to participate (and watch you in action). Lead by example and make collaboration contagious.
- Read “The five keys to a successful Google team” for insights about what makes a high-performing team.
Collaboration Style: Not
This person doesn’t want to collaborate with you, no matter how hard you try.
- Are you sure they don’t want to collaborate with you? If it’s someone you like and respect, invite them to coffee or drinks and ask about their work style and preferences. This may give you insight on how to take a different approach.
- Be vulnerable and ask for their input on your design concept.
- Don’t hide behind email or instant chat. Instead, set aside time to connect in person or over video chat to help break down barriers.
- [Sigh.] Find someone else to collaborate with. Even if it needs to be someone outside of work.
Collaboration Style: Holds Back
This person asks lots of questions and high-fives your ideas during collaboration sessions, but seems to be holding back on contributing their own suggestions. Later, you figure out that they want to be the “hero” who solved the problem all by themselves.
- Reserve your suggestions and ideas—and try to reverse roles. Ask lots of questions. Have the other person go first or facilitate a structured collaboration session. (Book recommendation: “Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers” by James Macanufo and Sunni Brown.)
- Instead of sketching or sharing work in progress, have a conversation.
Collaboration Style: Deer in Headlights
You’ve found a colleague that is super excited to collaborate with you, and then… it’s like pulling teeth to get them to contribute and actively participate. Maybe it’s shyness? Fear of saying something dumb? Whatever the underlying reason, you’ll need to be the one to put in extra effort.
- Try to observe this person working with other colleagues, when you’re not an active participant. Watch for ways they prefer to work or communicate—it might be very different from your style.
- Not everyone is able to think on their feet. Instead of collaborating in real-time, build on each other’s ideas over Slack, email, or a remote workspace (e.g., Miro, Mural, Google Docs).
- Go some place more private. If you work in an open floor plan, they might be intimidated by others overhearing your conversation.
- Give this person an assignment. Review the project together, and then see if they want to “divide and conquer” the list of tasks at-hand. You won’t technically be collaborating, but consider it a warm-up exercise to create trust between you.
Collaboration Style: Not on Same Page
You “think” you’re having a really great collaboration session, but then the other person returns later with something completely different than you discussed.
- Don’t just talk about the problem or solution, draw it. Ask everyone to spend quiet time sketching their own interpretation, and then tape them all up on a wall (or digitally post in a remote workspace).
- Establish a new rule that work cannot be more than 60% complete when brought to an internal design critique.
When There’s No Time or Budget to Collaborate
You both (or all) want to collaborate, but there just isn’t time or budget.
- Talk in the hallway. Each time you see a teammate in the hall or between meetings, use those 90 seconds to bounce ideas.
- Chat over coffee or foosball. Use social time to collaborate. Hey, it’s not billable time, but at least you’re growing professionally.
- Metaphorically arm wrestle or beg your project manager to find even 30 minutes in the timeline to talk and share ideas as a team.
- Rather than conduct one giant brainstorm session, set up a Google Doc or digital work space to collaborate asynchronously. Research shows this approach results in both more and better ideas.
We each bring a critical perspective.
Some understand the user’s pain points and barriers. Some bring creative thinking. Others help users connect emotionally to the brand.
When we work together, we create transformational experiences.