Collaboration is a lovely concept in theory. The thought of great minds coming together, working towards a higher purpose and building off one another to reach a creative zenith is the business utopia to which we were all taught to strive. But sadly, the reality of human beings working together is somewhat less romantic.

As a small agency, we’re often called upon by our larger counterparts to collaborate, which essentially means them fobbing off all the rubbish jobs to us while they soak up the glory and bask in the client’s accolades. In most instances, this means being put in perpetual stand-by mode, stuck in neutral until our keepers deem it appropriate for us to contribute, usually when they’re too tired or busy to do the job themselves.

Whilst these partner agencies (and I use the word ‘partner’ very loosely here) regularly espouse the virtues of teamwork, and pat themselves on the back constantly for their collaborative foresight, they behave far more like difficult clients than comrades, feeling precious little need to respect your time or abilities. We’re working late, so obviously you should too. We’re a team right?

Ah, the ‘T’ word. Used in abundance when it suits, yet mysteriously absent in times when there’s credit to be dished out. Yep, you’re an ‘essential’ part of the team’s success when there’s a deadline barrelling in, but when it comes time for a client meeting, your invite somehow goes missing. Funny that.

What’s perhaps most frustrating about this is that collaboration IS a very good idea. You have skills, we have skills, and together we should, in theory, be able to combine them to achieve greater outcomes. The only problem: people.

We’re self-serving, rushed, competitive and inherently out to protect our own interests, none of which are attributes well suited to teamwork. So as much as we might like to pretend we’re working together towards the greater good, undercurrents of jealousy, pride and unbridled exhaustion are never far from the surface.

Here are a few types of mismatched team scenarios you might want to avoid if you value your sanity:

The Micromanagers

This is perhaps the most frightening of all collaborative pursuits, scuppered from the start by an agency bigwig reluctant to let go of the reins. They know on some level that it’s ‘best practice’ to rope in specialists to assist in a field about which they know little, yet they’re inherently predisposed to interfere, convinced that their creative pedigree supercedes any hands-on experience.

Typically, these spectacularly egotistical individuals prefer to keep partner agencies a well guarded secret, terrified that at some point the client might discover that they are not in fact fluent in every facet of business.

The result of course is that the smaller agency is reduced to little more than an on-call servant, expected to deliver expert advice that is usually blatantly ignored, and selectively proferred up to the client to pad the agency’s resumé.

Collaboration potential: 0/10

The competitors

Of course, much of the time collaboration is not something that occurs willingly, but rather as a result of client requirements, forcing mismatched agencies into a battle of wits as they jostle for favour.

Typically, large agencies don’t tend to respond well to being lumped with the underdog, and do everything in their power to subtly sully your reputation. They’ll casually submit their own social media plan ‘to help out’, or inadvertently undermine your work in an email sent to every possible client representative.

Luckily the bit player carries a bit more clout in this scenario, given the fact that their involvement has been expressly requested. The added bonus of a large agency’s inability to achieve anything in under 2 weeks also enables the smaller agency to retaliate with speed, usually resulting in the eventual establishment of a reluctant cease-fire.

Collaboration potential: 4/10

The glory seekers

This is perhaps the most uncollaborative of collaborations, involving an agency far more concerned with kudos than craft. And of course, the unlucky sods assigned as glorified personal assistants.

In this scenario, your expertise is willingly taken onboard, and flagrantly fobbed off publicly as their own, with less than no thanks offered up in return. Are you invited to the glamorous events and backslapping dinners? Not a chance. Why? You’re too busy doing the work your clients are currently thanking your collaborators for. It’s awesome.

Collaboration potential: 2/10

It’s important to note that there are some collaborations that actually work (and work well), but like any partnership, you’ll want to do your research before you sign up for something you didn’t bargain for.