You're Only As Good As Your Team
As we get closer to introducing you to the Bring on the Ballot Gen Z Team, a group of talented young adults who have been working hard on all of the upcoming campaigns and content that will roll-out in coming weeks in a last-minute effort to encourage their peers to participate in this year’s vote, I recently got asked why it’s so easy for me to assemble and build teams and so quickly.
I’ve never actually stopped to think about that, as for me, it is typically the idea that comes first and then comes the team as I quickly do a mental sweep of my community of peers and acquaintances to think through which of those are the right fit for the immediate needs of what I’m hoping to accomplish. I’m quite lucky as I have a pretty expansive network of friends and colleagues that I can usually pull from and I tend to have a pretty good sense of what people are good at after I’ve spent a little time with them.
Just by taking a look at the Consciously Studio team, you’d get a sense of that as that is just a sampling of the accomplished individuals that are a part of my life.
The process for assembling this Bring on the Ballot team was no different. I pulled in a core of responsible, multi-talented, multi-taskers, who I knew could wear various hats in this initiative, then I balanced it out with a few more additions of specialists who could round out other needs we might have. Lastly, as we’ve moved forward with the prep for various elements I’ve pulled in experts from my professional and friends circles to serve as advisors for the sub-projects within the larger campaign. Those experts in all of the various areas from video production to local and state government and social issues like human/civil rights and climate change, you’ll get to meet on a rolling-basis as
I’m pulling those in real-time as we need them. We’re moving quickly to say the least and all done in our spare time as these Gen Zers balance out school, other jobs, and/or internships and life in general and as I and some of the advisors also balance careers that are more than full-time.
One thing that those that have worked with me know that I think also contributes to my ability to build and retain teams and to get quick yeses when I call on members of my own circles to join in on one of my endeavors is that I would never ask anyone on a team that I am managing to do something that I wouldn’t do. Delegating definitely is necessary if you need to scale or accomplish something on a tight deadline, however I for the most part work just as hard or likely harder if it’s my vision than that which I request from my teams. I also take the approach of working smarter than harder and don’t let us just spin our wheels building castles in the sky, all of the levers in a campaign or initiative that we take on needs to have a return of some sort (ROI) and the return needs to outweigh the investment of our time, with the exception of those rare times when we are creating content or art for the sake of entertainment value.
Other potential factors in my ability to assemble teams are probably just innate qualities of my character, I’ve described myself as a starter and a finisher as I feel a lot of people are just starters so I do pride myself in my ability to see things through whenever possible. I tend to stay pretty organized and assign goals that we can work towards and deadlines that we can track against.
I also opt to build teams of hard-workers who will execute over teams of individuals who will serve as an ego-boost for me. I’m more interested in output than I am in someone saying yes to everything I say or ask. I don’t even mind those that will challenge my vision if it will make it better and allow that space from my teams to a certain degree to contribute thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for optimization. While I am quite creative and that’s typically where the ideas for projects stem from, I am glad to also possess a solutions-oriented analytical side that allows me to ground that creativity into something that can become reality instead of just a dream.
A question that I have gotten in the past though sometimes from concerned bystanders is around the responsibility of managing a larger volume of people on a team. In all honesty, since I started my career I’ve always had to manage many people to meet deadlines, etc. For example if you’re launching a television show and you’re overseeing the marketing campaign you need to manage many other elements aside from your own creative ideas which typically includes designers, publicists, press/editorial, photography/unity photography, corporate communications, on-air teams, the show creators, production, legal, web developers, talent, agencies, social teams, and so much more.
If there are events or live activations tied to your launch then you can triple the number of people you’re managing. Now imagine managing a whole fall season slate of shows… so, in all honesty, whether it’s managing 10 people, 20 people, 50 people, or sometimes even 100 people (you’d be surprised at how many people are involved in things like live streaming The Masters or The GRAMMYs, etc.) it all really comes down to having a clear vision or goal that the team can get behind and being organized (if you’re not the most organized of people, make sure to bring on a great project manager or producer depending on the type of project you’re leading).
It also comes down to human dynamics. I tend to assemble teams that tend to be drama free. Another thing that those who know me well can attest to is that I myself don’t spend much time gossiping nor involving myself in the lives of others in my professional life nor my personal life--In my opinion, there are too many other great things to occupy your mind with than how others are living their lives, and it’s also not really my place to pass judgment. As you may also deduce, I also like staying busy so it doesn’t leave much time for meddling or getting involved in anyone’s drama. I prefer teams who can remain professional and guide them towards that. Sure, we can be friends or even close and get along great all leading to great collaborations instead of recreating high school campuses (even then I wasn’t a fan of gossip, etc. it’s likely how I’m still friends with most everyone I was close to in elementary school and high school).
However, with all of that said we are all human and sometimes some of your team needs you in a capacity other than a leader. For example, I don’t mind being an ear if someone from my team is going through something that may impact their performance whether it’s an illness (this summer, one of my team members contracted COVID-19 along with the rest of his household) or a terrible break-up (another one of my lead team members just went through a really hard break-up--one of her firsts and even though I’m typically pretty private about my personal life, I ended up sharing my own tale of a terrible break-up that I went through in college with an overly jealous boyfriend who at the time had no reason to be so jealous since I’m pretty transparent and not into playing games to show her that life goes on). Sometimes your team needs that understanding and human side of a leader.
So while I don’t have an exact recipe for success when it comes to assembling the perfect teams, I do have a good track record of bringing together lots of very competent people who remain dedicated to the projects that we embark upon.
The best three pieces of advice I can give anyone assembling their first team or optimizing their current team is to:
1.) Develop your people-radar, intuition/gut instinct, and learn to spot the hard-workers, the willing-to-learn, and especially the collaborators who are also great at working independently. You also want to build not just a great team but a trustworthy and loyal team.
2.) Be transparent whenever possible with your team on your goals, on the reality of what it will take to reach that vision or goal, and on the obstacles that pop up along the way. If you’ve gone to the trouble of assembling great brainpower, you should benefit from it as much as possible for the benefit of all involved in the project or company. That was one thing that I really valued during my time at CBS, was my boss for most of my time there was our head of CBS.com and he was pretty transparent on the needs of the business, in all honesty if I had not had some of that insight I likely wouldn’t have contributed some of the ideas that led to greater revenue/profit margins. You never know where on your team those creative or ingenious solutions will come from.
3.) Always start and end with a clear vision of your goal (as one of my ex-Executive bosses at AT&T once told me and as I’ve followed many times before and since then “stay strong in your vision and everything else will fall into place”) and have confidence in yourself as a leader that will make the journey to the finish line much smoother.
A bonus piece of advice would be to allow for and foster the growth of your team, identify not only the areas that they are skilled in that will benefit your project but also and at times more importantly recognize what they are actually passionate about--the two are not always the same. Look for what lights up their eyes and fuels their enthusiasm. Allow for some professional development and let them work on mini-sub projects that align with those passions (maybe an 80/20 balance between what you need them to accomplish and what they love working on). I think most of us will agree that a person will show up and perform for a paycheck if they are just applying their skills, but if they’re applying their passion they’ll show up to make your vision the best it can be. Give them some of that onus and eventually they’ll be a stakeholder and not just an employee or team member.
I’m not sure that I really answered that question entirely, but hopefully this serves as some guidance to anyone wanting to build a team or who is currently managing a team.