Government agencies benefit from team writing for several different reasons. One is simply the sheer magnitude of certain government documents. Some projects are too large for one person to manage.
Another reason government agencies benefit from team writing is the expertise that the government has scattered across its departments and field offices. There’s only one way to take advantage of the powerhouse of experts that the government employs, and that’s by asking them to collaborate.
Still, if you’ve ever tried writing a document as a team, you know (probably all too well) that team writing presents a few challenges. Here are three of the most common, along with suggestions for how to manage them.
1) Time – there is a pervasive sense that collaborative writing takes longer than individual writing. The only sense in which this is true is the effort it takes to schedule all the team members to be in one place at one time. In reality, collaborative writing projects take about the same amount of time as individual writing projects.
Two reasons likely exist for this perception. One is that on a collaborative writing project, people are brought into the writing process much earlier than they would be if they were writing a document on their own. The team spends a lot of time planning; whereas an individual would do much of the planning work on the fly and would not consider such work to be part of the “writing process.”
The second reason is the perceived loss of control. In a team environment, consensus must be reached before the writing begins, while individuals are sometimes chomping at the bit to get started writing.
It is true that outside the constraints of a team, we have the freedom to write a document ourselves, the way we see fit, without waiting for consensus. However, in large organizations, an individual may write a document only to find it thoroughly revised or even vetoed by a superior. Once again, the decision-making is being front-loaded, which can make it seem that collaborative writing projects take longer than other documents to write.
2) Group-think – Our brains work differently in a crowd than they do when we are on our own. For some people, this can be exhilarating. For others, it can feel claustrophobic.
A good facilitator can help to overcome this problem by providing space for the team to reflect on problems individually and then regroup to discuss the problem together. It’s also a good idea for team members to keep journals recording their own thought processes and the ways in which they diverge from or are influenced by the group.
But remember that the value of a team is in its multiple perspectives, and these emerge through dialogue, which brings us to our next point.
3) Single-mindedness – Sometimes one (or more) member of the team has one perspective that tends to dominate the discussion and that tends to shut down other productive modes of inquiry. Here are three strategies that a team can use to deal with the problem:
a) Probe – It may be useful to ask probing questions to determine why this issue is so prominent in the team member’s mind. In this way the team may be able to redirect the discussion into other, more productive areas of inquiry.
b) Purpose – Teams should constantly be evaluating their discussions in terms of the purposes they defined at the outset. Ask the group member which of the team’s purposes his or her issue addresses. The issue can thus be re-framed into an area of inquiry that is relevant to the entire team instead of the one team member.
c) Postpone – The team may need to carve out time to address the issue and request that discussion be tabled until that time.
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Do you need a facilitator for your team writing project? Send me an email or give me a call: 304 283 4573.