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4 Smart Strategies for Building a Collaborative Culture

When it comes to creative collaboration, the difference between success and stagnation often lies in the culture we actively cultivate. 

After laying the foundation for your collaborative culture, the next step is ensuring its vibrancy and resilience with these strategic practices.

Establishing Regular Meetings

Hold regular meetings with clearly stated intentions. We have story meetings specific to a certain world, general story meetings where we can discuss narrative issues that any of us might be struggling with, productivity calls where we work to hack our storytelling selves (surfacing the best of our behaviors by eliminating the worst), marketing meetings, umbrella meetings where we update our storytellers with all the happenings in and around our studio, strategy meetings, and rallying cries that motivate us into conquering our little corner of the storytelling universe. 

Regardless of the meeting type, everyone knows they have the voice to say whatever they need to during any one of those gatherings.

Whether you have one collaborator or a dozen, don’t wait until there’s something to talk about. Touch base at least once a week. This is the glue that holds your collective together. 

Even when it was just me and Dave collaborating, this was an essential part of our strategy. Sometimes he would get reclusive or insist he had it all handled on his own. So we would go for a couple of weeks or more without a meeting, which made it easier for him to stumble.

Regular meetings across all departments have woven us into a tightly-knit family of storytellers, where collaboration magnifies our collective output, and our synergies make 1+1 equal 11.

Creating a Collaborative Home Base

Your collaboration also needs a home base of some sort. For serious discourse or casual exchanges, you need a place to regularly communicate. For us this means Slack. But be careful. IM services that are always on can be a massive distraction. 

This is my personal kryptonite and something I have to constantly watch out for, moderating my own worst behaviors by making sure the app is inaccessible to me while I’m trying to work. 

But that’s my bad habit to navigate. Having a place where the entire studio can sing praises, ask questions, vent, dream, and explore their best storytelling with their partners, collaborators, and friends is nonnegotiable.

You might think you have this already. Maybe your collaboration has a page on Facebook, and you regularly message back and forth. But this isn’t ideal, and we suggest you strongly consider creating a dedicated place for your collaboration. 

Social media sites are too distracting, and they make it far too easy for your squirrel brain to see something that diverts your valuable attention. Instead, create a home for your creative work and honor it with daily or regular check-ins.

This kind of consistent attention will help you to determine if a collaboration isn’t going to work, allowing you to instead make incremental changes and have the conversations you need to be successful.

From the opening bell each morning when one of our storytellers waves hello with an intention-setting post, usually long and with lots of emojis, Slack is more than just our digital workspace; it’s where fun meets function, where we grow closer as a team, innovating and achieving more in a spirit of true collaboration. 

Capture Your Culture

Make an effort to capture your culture as it evolves. Something to help you and your collaborators immediately steep in our studio culture. Like our rooster story.

When things are going well in these parts, or one of us is especially excited about something, we will give our comment a rooster. Invariably, this will lead a new storyteller in our studio to ask: what’s with all the roosters?

This will trigger Slack to automatically generate the following copy for our newest storyteller to see. 

Here’s the rooster story, as told by Johnny: Well, it all started (I say as I stroke my beard, sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair and drinking iced tea) when I was replying to a Slack comment from someone using the mobile app. I wanted to end one sentence with an exclamation point because it was awesome or something. But I was typing fast, and instead of hitting the “123” button (to change my keyboard from letters to numbers and symbols), I hit the emoji button beside it instead. Then my other thumb stabbed at where I knew the exclamation point to be … but because I was on the emoji screen instead of numbers/symbols, I hit a rooster emoji instead. Then I said something like, “I accidentally hit a rooster instead of an exclamation point, but it works for me so I’m going to leave it.” And with that, somehow, the rooster became “a thing.” Since then, it’s become the universal S&S symbol for “okay” or “cool” or “that works for me.” It’s sort of like the big thumbs-up you can use on Facebook Messenger to end a chat. If you’re excited, you can also add many roosters in a row. Also, someone at some point made a “roosters” icon similar to the already-built-in “hearts” icon Asana already had, so that if you like a comment, you can “rooster” it. Good Slack comments often get many roosters.

One of the essential elements to making all this work is setting the appropriate tone. That stupid little story is playful. And fun. Seeing all the roosters and then reading that story makes a new storyteller feel instantly more at home, like she’s with friends and family, depending on which she values more. 

Exactly how we want her to feel.

This rooster story encapsulates the essence of our studio’s culture: a blend of spontaneity, camaraderie, and creativity that turns everyday interactions into memorable moments.

Bond in Person Whenever Possible

Cultivating a collaborative culture extends beyond online spaces, into the invaluable experience of in-person connections. 

We celebrate Sterling and Stone’s birthday on July 17th, for reasons beyond the scope of this post (I’ll write about that soon). Last year, we finally brought our  storytellers together in person for our first (and now annual) Summer Camp.

Considering our studio is a haven for introverts, this could have been a nightmare. The thought alone was enough to make many of us reach for our nearest book as a shield. But that weekend at a ranch just outside of Austin was  magic.

After an excruciatingly awkward meeting, where many of us were seeing each other for the first time in person, tentative greetings bloomed into lingering conversations, laughter, and shared dreams. Barriers we had built around our creative selves, fortified by miles of distance and screens of separation, crumbled.

Shep presented us all with AI caricatures, Ninie stayed in what we lovingly referred to as the “murder cabin” across the way, and Manny brought donuts from Round Rock that were roughly the size of a saddle.  

By the end of the weekend, one hundred percent of us returned to our respective corners of the world not just as creative collaborators, but as a family forged by shared experiences and a renewed commitment to our collective future. 

Gathering in person helped to transform our work from something we do into something we live. All of us are looking forward to this year’s Summer Camp with open hearts, ready to welcome the awkwardness, the laughter, and the growth that comes from truly being together.

In the symphony of our collaboration, each note — from the strategic cadence of regular meetings, the digital camaraderie of Slack, and cultural imprints like our rooster story, to the tangible warmth of our annual Summer Camp — resonates with the ethos of our studio. 

We’re not just building a business together; we’re cultivating a legacy of innovation, unity, and boundless creativity. 

See you next Wednesday,