Group Writing Pros and Cons

 Group writing is definitely not the intuitive approach to tackling a document.  But as we discussed in the last post, collaborative writing is a strategy that makes a lot of sense in the professional world.  After all, if you have an organization, you should use it, right?

And in most organizations, writing projects are already proceeding through multiple layers of review.  That’s a kind of collaborative writing, although it’s not terribly efficient.  In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about how to streamline that process.  But first I think we should consider the question, why?

Decision making, problem solving, marketing strategy, research projects are all regularly tackled as team projects in the business world.  And those teams frequently receive some resistance from those assigned to them.  As a college professor, I’ve heard all the complaints team members have when they are assigned to work in a group.  And I personally have endured my share of frustrations when forced to work with a group.

I mean, there goes Bill again, spouting off about some imaginary problem that we could easily fix if he would just enter the 21st century and start using PowerPoint.  And is Jill ever going to get this meeting started?  Did we really need 3 conference calls this week just to set the schedule for March?  Why do we have to get input from Mark—he’s not even contributing to the first draft.  If I could just get back to my computer and ignore these losers, I could hammer the darn thing out in an afternoon!

Sound familiar?  What about this:

What do you mean the Director wants the decision rewritten?  And he needs it when?  But I submitted it a month ago.  And we’ve already revised it twice internally!  Well, did he tell you what needs to be changed?  The whole thing!!!  There goes my vacation…

Writing collaboratively from the outset has its share of frustrations.  But at the end of the day, it’s a far more productive and rewarding process than the way most of us are working now—in solitude, blindly, through multiple layers of revision that often seem contradictory, redundant, and demoralizing. 

If you’re new to the process, it can seem like collaborative writing tasks take longer than solitary ones.  That may be because you’re being brought on board at an earlier stage than normal.  It might be that you’re finally seeing research and brainstorming as part of the writing process for the first time. 

Or it could just be that collaborative projects are by their nature larger than individual tasks.  Managers should keep this in mind when making group assignments.  They can motivate staff by allowing them the time they need to participate fully in the project, rewarding them for the time they spend, and keeping them focused by associating all project meetings with a clearly defined product. 

Writing in collaboration is also a great way to gain perspective and experience.  When good writers work, they tend to visualize an audience and imagine themselves in a dialogue, but there’s always a certain artificial element to that conversation.  In a collaborative writing situation, the dialogue is real.  Writers are forced to consider the reactions of others, to be diplomatic, to create context, and to respond to other points of view.  That makes a better document.

And writing collaboratively provides experience for both novices and senior staff members.  It’s an organic training experience that requires no additional investment of time or resources on your behalf.  Younger staff members tend to have more research, writing, and technological experience because of their proximity to the university.  Older staff members have the diplomatic, political, and technical expertise.  In a collaborative writing environment, they can train one another naturally without any loss of efficiency to the organization. 

So use your organization more efficiently.  See writing projects as opportunities for collaboration.  And create teams early in the process.  We’ll talk later this week about how to do that effectively.  I’d love to hear about your best (and worst) experiences working on a team.  What strategies can you share to help others through similar experiences?

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