Just because some freelancers work independently, it doesn’t mean they always work alone. There will always be big projects that require them to be part of a group, to be a team player, and to work on a small part of a big product. But if you spend the bulk of your career working on solo projects, working with a group might be a tougher transition than you expect.
The first thing that needs to be established is that everyone on the team has to be accountable. The job distribution should be clear from the start, to avoid any overlaps or confusion. In fact, group projects should always have a detailed table of deliverables and deadlines per person.
It’s also important to have all communication in one interface used by all, such as a wiki, as opposed to private email communication between each member of the team. Basecamp and Web Office are other common tools used for this purpose. However, some rules must be established before everyone starts using these tools. What types of messages should be available for everyone to read? Are the contractors free to talk about their rates? Is the wiki or communication platform reserved for “business only” messages? These rules are needed to avoid miscommunication.
The out of sight, out of mind approach
In some team projects I work on, the client keeps each contractor “blind” to each other’s work. For example, if I’m working on a website’s copy, I don’t know who’s designing the website, nor do I see how everything comes together until the project ends. Each contractor works one on one with the client.
The advantage of this approach is that there’s less ‘noise’ for each contractor to handle. You don’t have to receive communication from too many people – the client is the only person you have to worry about. Less noise means that it’s generally easier to focus on your fraction of the project.
Of course, there are disadvantages. First, the back and forth communication with each contractor can prove to be taxing for the client. Also, if the client isn’t paying extra attention, it’s possible that the project will lack overall cohesiveness, since the people working on various elements won’t work well with each other. But these disadvantages are on the client’s side, and she is likely to be equipped to handle that, especially if they’ve worked on multiple projects this way.
When working with a team, whatever your client’s approach may be, your number one priority should be your job. That sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to get distracted from your actual work if some teammates don’t pull their weight – especially if their work will make your work look bad.
If some teammates are very difficult to work with, raise your concerns directly with the client, be as tactful in your wording as possible, and give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt. There’s a fine line between a tattle tale and a concerned web worker.
Also, if you’re allowed to communicate with the rest of the team, it helps to keep their contact info. This is more important if you enjoyed working with them. After all, you’ll never know when such a contact could come in handy in the future.
Have you ever web worked with a team? Was it effective? How did it affect your working style?