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Chapter 5: Collaboration

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    Anna Goins; Cheryl Rauh; Danielle Tarner; and Daniel Von Holten

    Learning Objectives

    Teamwork and Collaboration

    What do you think of when you think of working with a group? What past experiences have you had writing with a team? Were these academic assignments or have you also been a member of a team at work?

    The workplace requires collaboration; in fact, employers are putting a great deal of value on the ability to communicate and collaborate. As a result, there is a very good chance that when you enter into your professional fields, you will face tasks and projects that require collaboration. For most of you, collaborative skills will be a regular and significant part of your workplace communication. Thus, the goal of this chapter is to consider the skill of collaborating in the following ways:

    • The ways individual personality types as well as learning and working styles impact a group’s dynamic and ability to be successful.
    • Different ways of planning and structuring your team’s approach to a writing project.
    • Types of documents central to team projects. These include collaborative charters, project schedules, as well as meeting agendas and minutes.

    Analyzing Individual Skills and Group Dynamics

    Let’s consider a scenario in which you and several colleagues have been assigned a project. Your company is planning on opening a new branch and has asked your team to prepare a site inspection report. You are now a part of a collaborative writing team. Where do you start? Has someone been assigned the lead role? If not, it is a good idea to select a project manager whose primary role is keep the group organized, communicating, and moving towards the completion of the project.

    Before you get wrapped up in the details of the actual project, take some time to individually reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and then use your first time meeting as a group to share your individual skills and learn how each of your team members approach writing and group communication For larger projects, especially, or when working with new people, taking the time to consider each member’s particular skill set and communication style allows for a more efficient and successful collaborative experience. It is equally important to first establish ground rules for how the group will work and how the project will be completed. The steps that follow will also reduce frustration, and typically yield a stronger finished product; and in the workplace, this success also translates into time and money saved.

    Before your first group meeting, take the time to individually reflect and prepare answers to the following questions:

    • What strengths do you bring to the group?
    • What kinds of challenges do you see for yourself or the group in this project?
    • What kind of communicator are you? Are you more a listener or a talker? Do you tend to seek consensus or do you question assumptions? Are you the type to seek debate or do you avoid confrontational styles of communication?

    Then, during your group’s first meeting, plan on sharing your individual responses and discussing any possible points of concern that team members have about completing the project. Understanding and considering how each person in the team functions will help the group determine the best methods to use communicating and collaborating. To help you facilitate this conversation, try having someone take notes while going through this quick list of questions with your team:

    • Given the communication styles of your teammates, how can you make sure everyone is able to offer their opinions?
    • What modes of communication and interaction do you prefer? Which modes are you comfortable with?
    • Do you have any personal goals or areas for growth you can see for yourself in working on the project? What are they and how might the team help you with them?
    • How much time/effort are you willing or able to contribute to the project? (If there is a significant difference between team members, you should discuss what effects this might have on the individuals, the team, and the project.)

    Structuring Collaboration: Three Approaches

    This section will introduce three common structures for collaborative writing: face-to-face, skill-based division, and progressive tiered. When thinking about how your group completes a project, keep in mind the fact that there is more than one way to write effectively as a group. In fact, we recommend you try all three of the approaches outlined below throughout a group project keeping in mind the advantages and drawbacks for each. Each approach is best suited for certain aspects of team writing We also advocate teams begin a project by first electing a project manager whose primary responsibility is to ensure the group is communicating and that the project is completed on time. The most effective project managers tend to be highly organized individuals who are able to keep the team communicated and consumed on completing quality work on time.


    As the name implies, this approach involves getting together as a group. Your group can and should meet in person (or using available technology like Skype) whenever possible early on in a project and again periodically depending on the size and scope of the project. Face-to-face collaboration is ideal for brainstorming ideas, planning the document’s goals, or discussing and addressing problems or concerns related to the project.

    However, think about three people sitting at the computer trying to draft a document. One person is typing, perhaps another person is dictating his or her point to the typist, and the third individual is following along, making comments and suggestions as the draft unfolds. There is also a decent chance the person who is neither typing nor dictating becomes disengaged from the project when he is unable to see the screen or have his ideas also dictated into the draft.

    As this example illustrates, it can certainly be harder to try and write a draft during a face-to face meeting. However, in projects that have a quick turnaround or on which team members have limited availability, this may prove your best option.

    Skill-Based Division

    It is not always necessary or productive to meet face-to-face at every stage of the writing project; there are times during a writing project when dividing and conquering the work based on team members’ individual strengths, skills, and availability makes more sense. In order for this approach to be effective, team members must be self-aware and disciplined, and the group must trust each other every step of the way.

    Progressive Tiered

    Lastly, think about the advantages of having one team member (perhaps someone who feels less confident in her skills as a writer) create the initial draft of a document and then forwarding it on to the next team member to add, delete, and ask questions. Depending on the number in your group, you may pass the draft to a second and third reader, each one adding to/taking away from the original draft. [Note: you should always keep a copy of each draft so that content is never lost for good.] Finally, perhaps one person, designated as the general editor, will act as a final reader.

    Can you see how having a series of different writers revising and strengthening a draft can result in a much stronger document?

    Common Collaborative Planning Documents

    When given a collaborative project, it’s tempting to quickly divide the work into individual tasks and then just get the work done. This strategy might be successful in smaller projects, or with a group that has already developed a process for working with each other. For larger projects, or when working with new people, taking the time to establish ground rules for how the group will work and how the project will be completed will save time, reduce frustration, and typically yield a stronger finished product.

    Team Charter

    You likely will want to meet face-to-face to create a team charter; this document acts as an official record that group members have agreed upon.

    A charter often consists of group as well as individual goals and objectives. More importantly, it will detail how the group will handle stressful situations.

    What will you do if someone misses or cannot make a deadline? How will your group handle work that is subpar your agreed upon standards? How will the group measure success? What will the group do when there is a disagreement? These are the sorts of situations groups in the real word are likely to encounter at times, so having a plan in place that all team members agree on for these issues is essential.

    Creating a team charter basically involves developing policies and procedures for how the group will work together. The self-reflection questions you and your group members answer at the beginning of your work together will help you with developing these policies. Creating a policy document does a lot of things for you and your group. It helps you all develop a clear idea of how the group has agreed to function. A good policy document will also have established policies on anticipated problems that group members can reference later on. Some things team charters typically cover include:

    • Team and individual member goals
    • Commitment of each team member
    • Methods for communicating including meetings and other modes of discussion
    • Conflict resolution
    • How to handle missed deadlines and unacceptable work

    Below is a sample team charter for a collaborative project in designing a brochure and writing an accompanying analysis of the group’s design. This example includes what we feel are important questions to address as a group.


    Team Charter

    Broad Team Goals:

    • Design a brochure that attracts and satisfies the audience
    • Have an organized and developed memo analyzing key design features of our brochure.

    Measurable Team Goals:

    • Meet all of the group task schedule and in class deadlines.
    • Fulfill the requirements outlined in the rubric.

    Personal Goals:

    • Joan – improve editing and computer skills
    • Skylar – improve media and design skills
    • Jerry – improve writing speed and management skills
    • All – Time management and equal distribution of workload

    Individual Commitment:

    • All members are will to put in maximal available effort and time to achieve the best brochure and memo possible.
    • Project Manager: Jerry Smith

    Methods for Communicating:

    • Will use email for distributing task schedule, agenda and meeting minutes.
    • Shorter communications will be over text message
    • Project documents will be drafted and revised using Google Docs.


    • Commitments outside of this project: class, work, and involvement in organizations
    • Unexpected assignments in other courses and/or work schedule conflicts

    Conflict Resolution:

    • First, attempt to meet and discuss the conflict. Attempt to reach a compromise.
    • Contact and meet with the instructor

    Missed Deadlines:

    • The member who missed the deadline will be contacted and will have twenty-four hours to submit an acceptable and completed assignment to the group.
    • If they fail to do this they will be contacted again, the instructor will be informed, and their grade dropped 5 points.

    Unacceptable Work:

    • The member who missed the deadline will be contacted and will have twenty-four hours to submit the fixed assignment. Upon resubmission the group members will have a twenty-four hour review period to add any edits.
    • If the work is still unacceptable or if they fail to correct their work on time they will be contacted, the instructor will be informed, and their grade dropped 5 points.

    Figure 14 Sample Team Charter

    Once you have written your group’s charter it is much easier to be accountable to one another. Such accountability often goes up the ladder in the workplace, as well, as the document gets shared with supervisors and other members of higher management. For these reasons it is critically important that everyone agrees to the charter’s content. For your own protection (and mental health), don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions and don’t sign anything until you are absolutely clear about the expectations.

    Next, turn your attention back to the actual project. This means designing a document that breaks down the larger end product into the series of tasks required to successful complete the work. This is where a project schedules comes into play. Here, the goal is twofold:

    • Breakdown the complex project into a series of more manageable tasks that take into account what you are learning about the writing process, planning, design, writing, and editing, for example. You want to include group due dates that allow plenty of time for revision before the final product is due.
    • Delegate these specific tasks among the members of your team in a way that is fair and that maximizes each individual’s unique strengths as much as possible

    Sample Task Schedule

    The sample task schedule below is incomplete: The team is still working on the project and not all tasks from start to finish are entered.


    Task Schedule

    Date Due


    Assigned to

    Contribution Value



    Team Charter





    Task schedule





    Brochure basic design draft



    In progress


    MS Research



    In progress


    MS Walk research



    In progress


    Contact Cassi D. for more information





    Draft of memo

    Everyone at 3/5 meeting




    Meeting Agenda





    Meeting minutes




    Total contribution


    Jerry Smith – Project Manager



    Joan Garcia



    Skylar Martin



    Figure 15 Sample Task Schedule

    Notice how the sample task schedule keeps track of each team member’s contribution total in addition to listing tasks and deadlines for each team member. This helps the team keep track of the workload and make sure work is evenly divided. Right now it looks like Joan is contributing a little less that the other two team members, but she will likely be assigned more work later in the project to balance things out.

    Communication and Documentation

    You should get in the habit of documenting all group communication. Doing so greatly improves a group’s ability to work efficiently and lessens the chance of breakdowns in communication. Consider how much time is saved when a project manager creates and distributes an agenda to the group before a face-to-face meeting – team members then know exactly what to expect and how to prepare for the meeting. And, as we have been learning, clear expectations leads to more efficient and effective communication which leads to an overall productive (and pleasant) workplace. Traditional forms of documentation include memos and emails, but there are other available means of communicating that we’d like to look at now.

    Agendas and Meeting Minutes

    Writing and using agendas and meeting minutes are standard practice for groups, committees, and all types of collaborative work scenarios in the workplace. It is super important to remember that these tools only work if everyone in the group has access to them in a timely manner. Agendas are basically a list of announcements that need to be made, topics to discuss, and a plan for upcoming work and meetings. Busy schedules demand that groups are organized. One of the biggest complaints of students about working in groups is the lack of time and wasted time in unproductive meetings; a well written agenda can solve this problem.

    Also, remember that everyone needs to have a copy of the agenda before the actual meeting. The agenda allows for an organized and productive use of time. Too often student groups simply decide on a location and time for their meeting, but “wing it” when it comes to the actual goals and objectives for these meetings. As a result, different students bring different concerns and expectations to the meeting and more often than not, time is wasted as groups try and figure out what they need to discuss and address.


    Sample Agenda

    Hey Skylar and Joan!

    Below is the agenda for our meeting tomorrow.

    Skylar – I have received your information and put it in the brochure.

    Joan-I still need your information by the meeting tomorrow so I can edit it in to the brochure.

    The current draft of the brochure is posted on the google doc (link below)

    Agenda for March 5th, 2013 Meeting

    We will be meeting on First Floor of Hale Library at 11:30am

    1. Review the Current Brochure Draft by Checking for Edits/spelling/grammar/visual distraction
    2. Create Template and draft the Memo
    3. Assign printers for the Peer Review Day
    4. Assign who will print the Final Drafts

    Have a Great Day and See you tomorrow!
    Jerry Smith
    Project Manager

    Figure 16 Sample Agenda

    You may not be as familiar with the idea of keeping meeting minutes within team projects at work as you are with them in an organization you may be involved with, such as those of an honor or professional society, but the same fundamental purpose is served: a record of what was discussed and decided at every step of the project. These records can be invaluable if a team member becomes ill or gets unexpectedly replaced, or if the boss requests an update, as they provide concrete information and proof of progress.


    Meeting Minutes

    March 5th, 2013 Hale Library – 11:10am – 1pm

    Attendance: All Group Members—Jerry, Joan, and Skylar

    Edited and adjusted wording of each panel.
    Brightened the color and rearranged the Logo.
    Read the MS Chapters comments and made appropriate changes.

    Wrote the rough draft together
    Highlighted trouble lines for peer editors to focus on.

    Additional Actions/Decisions:
    Resent the new draft of the brochure to the MS Chapter for review.
    Members will print their own copies for peer review day.

    For Friday:
    Individually, read both rough drafts and choose 1 or more focal points for the peer edit on Friday.
    Each member brings a print copy of memo and brochure.
    Jerry – Bring MS societies response to new draft to class.

    Figure 17 Sample Meeting Minutes

    Collaborating is a highly valued skill; employers want professionals who know how to work with others in order to complete workplace projects. Taking the time to know your strengths and weakness as well as those of your teammates is an important first step. From there, it is important to utilize a variety of approaches to collaborating. And, lastly, a group’s ability to work together efficiently and to address problems is greatly improved by employing the team documents discussed in this chapter.


    1. In preparation for your work in a collaborative writing team, record your answers to the individual questions listed in the Analyzing Individual Skills and Group Dynamics section at the beginning of this chapter. Then, be ready to share your responses with your new group members as you.
    2. Your group has been assigned a large project that requires you to create a short survey and distribute it to a company’s 545 employees, write-up the results of your survey findings in a memo to your boss, and present these findings in a short presentation to your department a month from now. Create a project schedule outlining the breakdown of tasks, assigning specific components to individuals. Be sure to also include due dates for these tasks. Assume you have 8 weeks starting today for your timeline.
    3. Jayne, Inara, and Malcom are working together on a research project and all seem to be doing well with getting information. The day before team members are supposed to have their drafts complete for team review, Jayne sends an email to the rest of the team saying that he has been down with the flu and hasn’t been able to work on his draft for the past week. He attached an outline for his draft with a few notes on what sources he is using. How should the team handle the situation

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    Chapter 5: Collaboration by Anna Goins; Cheryl Rauh; Danielle Tarner; and Daniel Von Holten is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

    Chapter 5: Collaboration is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Goins, Cheryl Rau, Danielle Tarner, Daniel Von Holten, & Daniel Von Holten.