Quill Studios is a two person team, my partner Andrew and I, happily working from our home in Brisbane. Together, we bring website projects to life, and I think we do some wonderful work.
It’s great. When we go out for lunch we call it a team meeting. We brainstorm ideas over breakfast. But most of time, we’re tucked away in our own offices (or ‘studios’), working independently.
Being alone with our own thoughts, and computers, is when we’re most productive.
Occasionally, Andrew will call out for me to look at a design or I’ll ask him to read content I’ve written to get a second opinion. Checking in with each other helps us improve, but by far the biggest benefit is reassurance and motivation.
Ultimately, we trust each other and the skills we bring to the process—and we don’t have time to second-guess everything. For us, working together successfully is about letting go. Letting go of the desire to control every aspect of a project.
Thinking about the way Andrew and I work together made me ponder the way other teams work. Does our approach only make sense because we’re such a small team?
Involving fewer people does make decision-making and project management easier. I’m sure that’s why one of the biggest management trends today is a move towards creating agile ‘networks of teams’ within a company.
But effective teamwork goes beyond the size of the group.
Consider for a moment, the problems that arise from meetings (in terms of wasted time and energy). Large meetings are harder to run, but it’s more likely that a meeting will fail because the people involved:
- show up without any preparation;
- believe they have no influence on the decisions being made;
- generate lots of ideas but no plans to enact them;
- choose poor ideas because they feel pressure to achieve an outcome.
Andrew and I rarely sit down together with a blank piece of paper. We develop ideas independently then come together regularly: to talk, add to each others’ work, make refinements, offer new perspectives.
Brainstorming is fun and it can be a useful way to consider possibilities, but not all ideas are equal or easy to evaluate without investing creative energy in your own time to flesh them out. Then there’s the problem of how to recognise quality ideas. Who gets to decide?
Not all team members are equal. There’s a reason people have roles and authority: a reason you hire people with particular knowledge and skills. Cross-pollination is great, but if you don’t trust a person to make the final decisions within their area of expertise—why are they in the team?
I expect Andrew to own choices about design and development. He expects me to determine the right approaches to content and marketing. Each of us takes responsibility for those choices, and for getting the work done.
Giving ourselves space to develop concepts on our own means that when we share ideas, we do so ready and willing to receive criticism, answer questions and get help from the other person.
By relying on each other to be awesome and truly valuing each other’s input, while respecting the boundaries between our work, we can create things that are better than what we could produce alone.