I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of collaboration lately. It’s something that higher education speaks of often- touted as the ultimate way to, as we say (with a shudder, in my case), “do more with less.” It’s seen as a way to conserve resources, heighten attendance and effectiveness by making a program or initiative accessible to a larger population, and help us get to know other individuals in our departments or divisions.

However, there’s a perceived dark side to collaboration too. The aforementioned benefits of collaboration as many of us have come to know it, come only to those who have a good methodology for their teamwork. For those who don’t, there are often fears of goals being compromised, work being shirked, and credit being unduly given or forgotten. In this comprehensive take on the troubles with higher ed marketing, Michael Fienen hit upon a really important point that we often worry about when we “get in bed” with other departments or stakeholders: everyone’s need to have a stake in a decision can lead to expertise being discounted at the expense of sound decision making.

Most of the frustration that we see with collaborative projects comes from the idea that their knowledge and expertise, their experience, their voice, will be sacrificed for the sake of expediency and completion. And whether those seeking consensus want to admit it or not, the work suffers as a result of that need for harmony. Why would anyone want to work in a system that operates in that fashion?


I believe another option may be out there. I thought about it last summer, when I went with a friend to see (most of- sorry Kyle, that’s on me) the Sullivan and Son Comedy Tour. It resurfaced this spring during the Undateable tour, which worked much the same way. What we may need to do is not collaborate, but co-headline. 

A co-headlined tour doesn’t have any one comedian billed above the others. It’s a group traveling and working together, but allows each comedian to maintain control over his or her own content. And while there may be moments or segments where content overlaps, for the most part people can work both independently and in concert with one another. Steve Byrne doesn’t get to take credit for Owen Benjamin’s jokes, and Ron Funches doesn’t have to worry about Brent Morin just not doing a set one night. The product is additive, but the process is individual.

For those who truly don’t have the trust or natural inclination to create a blended product, the co-headline could be an elegant solution. The acrimony that comes with sacrificing purity of work is replaced by trust for individual parties to bring their best work to the table. It takes humility to share credit with those around the table, but it also lessens the potential for discord if one office seems to be doing someone else’s work.

This method is also particularly respectful of existing initiatives. For example, earlier this spring, my office collaborated with Multicultural Programs, Mission and Ministry, and a few academic departments to group events that were already occurring on campus into a ten day “Social Justice Days” initiative. No additional events were planned, no events had undue interference as far as creative vision- we simply grouped them together in one place. All offices were credited equally, regardless of how many programs they brought to the table. And students got equal exposure to all of the events in terms of marketing, a persistent problem on our campus. Where we previously thought we wouldn’t have time to plan events to support this initiative last fall, we found that enough events and projects were already happening on campus during that timeframe to join nominal forces.

Where are the fellow artists on your campus or at your company that would be interested in coheadlining with you? As with the comedians on the tours I mentioned before, look to your work friends, to those who work as you do, to those trying to reach a similar goal. Voice your admiration and let them know you’re interested in teaming up. Then, position yourselves to share the glory while trusting them to do their own work. Lastly, celebrate for all involved (no group hugs required) when the grouped initiatives succeed.

One thought on “Don’t Collaborate, Co-Headline

  1. Really loving this. Because I’m in the mindset due to my current read (Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Powers of Two) I really think that there is a benefit in creative pairs that is often ignored in higher education settings. Too often we are looking at how to take credit or how it benefits a single party when the inclusion of a ‘co-headliner’ can broaden our perspective.

    It would be cool to see a follow up post with how to go ahead and make this happen on our campuses 🙂

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