5.3 Ineffective Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing is not without its challenges. The work itself may prove to be difficult as members juggle competing assignments and personal commitments. The work may also be compromised if team members are expected to conform and pressured to follow a plan, perform a procedure, or use a product that they themselves have not developed or don’t support. Groupthink, or the tendency to accept the group’s ideas and actions in spite of individual concerns, can also compromise the process and reduce efficiency. Personalities, competition, and internal conflict can factor into a team’s failure to produce, which is why care must be taken in how teams are assembled and managed.

John Thill and Courtland Bovee in Essentials of Business Communication advocate for the following considerations when setting up a team:

  • Select team members wisely
  • Select a responsible leader
  • Promote cooperation
  • Clarify goals
  • Elicit commitment
  • Clarify responsibilities
  • Instill prompt action
  • Apply technology
  • Ensure technological compatibility
  • Provide prompt feedback

Group Dynamics

Group dynamics involve the interactions and processes of a team and influence the degree to which members feel a part of the goal and mission. A team with a strong identity can prove to be a powerful force. One that exerts too much control over individual members, however, runs the risk or reducing creative interactions, resulting in tunnel vision. A team that exerts too little control, neglecting all concern for process and areas of specific responsibility, may go nowhere. Striking a balance between motivation and encouragement is key to maximizing group productivity.

A skilled communicator creates a positive team by first selecting members based on their areas of skill and expertise. Attention to each member’s style of communication also ensures the team’s smooth operation. If their talents are essential, introverts who prefer working alone may need additional encouragement to participate. Extroverts may need encouragement to listen to others and not dominate the conversation. Both are necessary, however, so the selecting for a diverse group of team members deserves serious consideration.

Keep the following points in mind as you establish your team and begin working through the project:

      • Avoid the “Me” syndrome where too many people seek the role of leadership. When a clear hierarchy and roles have not been established in the group, the inevitable outcome is that you develop disjointed teams, thereby developing a disjointed project. This takes away from the collaborative environment.
      • Avoid the development of a multi-voice project where an agreed upon voice does not come through in the project. Having an agreed upon style sheet can help to alleviate this problem. Another strategy to avoid creating a multi-voice project is to establish a team member or members as editors who review the final draft, checking specifically for the voice and tone of the message.
      • Avoid the tendency to have one or a few people shoulder the load of the team. This is sometimes created when ethical standards are not maintained and when members feel de-valued. When this happens, other members of the team who feel alienated tend to lose motivation to work, often abandoning the project.
      • Avoid the tendency to engage in groupthink where members care more about getting along and becoming friends than they do about the goal of the project.
      • Avoid the tendency to side with certain persons based on traits held in common when a conflict arises. Always maintain the goal and purpose of the project so that conflict resolution is paramount for the good of the team and the project.

Additional Resources

"Ineffective Collaborative Writing." Open Technical Communication. [License: CC BY 4.0] 
"Teamwork." Communication at Work. [License: CC BY 4.0]


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Technical Writing at LBCC Copyright © 2020 by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.