When to Collaborate, and When to Go Solo

June 27, 2018


Whether it’s brainstorming new business or pitching a big product launch, agency leaders know that the best work stems from employee collaboration.

When is it right for an employee to take on a project alone, and when is it better for cross-agency teams to collaborate? Here, we’re exploring these questions head-on with four times that collaboration is key, and two times that the solo approach is a good idea.

Collaboration is a must if…

1. You need big thinking. When it comes to conceptualizing out-of-the-box ideas, multiple PR brains are better than one. While each employee should be individually responsible for coming prepared to a brainstorm meeting, it takes a unified, collaborative team to grow an idea into a strong, creative PR initiative. You can drive collaboration by setting ground rules — think “no idea is a bad idea” — early on in your meetings. That way, everyone will feel empowered to participate.

2. You’re in the planning phase. PR planning should never happen in a silo; leaders and employees across the agency should come together to prepare everything from the big ideas to the nuts and bolts of the plan. Start collaborative conversations early to ensure that leaders and employees are aligned on the overarching plan direction. While senior leaders can build the strategy, employees involved in day-to-day tactics like influencer or media relations should inform and — depending on comfort level — create that piece of the plan.

3. It’s a massive project. In some cases, going solo can help employees feel ownership on a specific project but, as a team leader, you have to use your gut. You can’t expect one employee to lead a massive project or major client entirely on their own — that’s just setting them up for failure. Instead, let the employee lead a particular portion of the project (a mailer, or a pitch initiative), but make sure that there are teammates ready to help with, say, the event side of the business or the content creation. 

4. It’s a new piece of business. While you may have a specific employee in mind for a new project or client, you can’t let them work alone from the start. New business always requires an adjustment or onboarding period. You and your teammate need to collaborate from the get-go. The early stages of any client relationship set the tone for your relationship; as you grow comfortable, you can start to let go of the reins (within reason).

Employees can go solo if…

1. They need “ownership” for their own growth. The PR profession is full of go-getters; to keep your employees challenged and happy, you need to give them room to grow. In many cases, letting an employee lead a project from start to finish is a great way to test their skill set and push them beyond their comfort zone. As they transition from day-to-day tactician to project leader, they’ll learn ownership, accountability and organization because they have no one to rely on but themselves.

Relinquishing control isn’t as scary as it sounds. As a team leader, you’ll still meet with your employee regularly for status updates and problem solving — the buck stops at you, after all — but this gesture of transferring power and challenging employees will empower them to try new things and reach their potential, without the comfort of your larger team’s safety net.

2. They have a special area of expertise. Does your account executive want to become the agency’s SEO expert? The next time you have a content marketing project, task them with strategizing and executing so that you can witness their skill set firsthand. While it may feel scary, this solo approach is the best way for your employee to achieve their goal of subject-matter expertise. After the project, they can then collaborate by sharing their SEO knowledge agencywide.

Stephanie Vermillion

Stephanie Vermillion is a content marketer and journalist in the New York City area. She’s the founder of Stephanie Vermillion Studio, and you can follow her work at @StephanieVermillionStudio on Instagram.


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