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Working as a Team in Television

Making television is team work. It doesn’t matter what and whose idea started off the development of a new show, what really matters is how that idea is communicated and how the team interprets it. If a team is not working together your chances of making a successful show may well be reduced and you can be sure that the experience won’t be fun.

A team is hugely affected by its leader, of course, and chances are you won’t be able to do much about that. But every member of a team has the power to communicate honestly and clearly and to check they understand what they are being asked to do. Whatever your job is, it’s your job to do it to the best of your ability and do so effectively alongside others in the team.

Communication

Sometimes it feels that the most difficult part of any production is the lack of effective communication – ironic given that is the purpose of our business! One of the golden rules is: NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.

  • Don’t assume someone else has done the job.
  • Don’t assume someone else will have thought of the consequences of a decision.
  • Don’t assume someone else (not even your boss) will have spotted the glaring mistake.
  • Don’t assume someone else will take responsibility.
  • And most important – don’t assume you are all imagining the same outcome.

That last one is a tricky one. Put five people in a room together; let them all read the same proposal, talk through the same ideas and agree on what a programme should be.  Then send those five people to make the programme separately. I’m willing to bet they’ll come back with five different shows.

A producer or director, maybe the executive producer – whoever is the person driving the vision of a new show – has to be able to communicate the idea, take on board suggestions and adaptations and communicate that idea to the team tasked with making it.  But that is not enough.  That person need to check that what he/she has communicated about the show – how it looks, how it feels, the concept and the content – is understood clearly.

Too many new shows hit the dust because of the failure of a vision clearly communicated.

The Vision

I’m going backwards here but in my personal opinion a new programme or series won’t work unless there is a clear vision as to what the show is.  And someone needs to drive that vision forward. One of the biggest problems with working as a team is the danger of diluting and confusing the original concept.

The original idea is rarely the one that makes it to the screen. Often it is developed along the way from paper proposal to transmission. Many people in the process will suggest ideas and adaptations. Such is the process of development and done with the right motivation it should enhance an idea.

The trouble arises when that original concept is pulled apart and nothing better is put in its place.  Making television is a commercial business as much as a creative process.  If the person who has the power to buy a programme suggests a show about dogs should feature cats, how many independent producers will agree simply to secure the contract?

The good news is not many. Because an experienced producer knows that if they agree to changes believing they will damage the result it is their name that will be mud when the show turns out to be a flop, and it will be that much harder to get another commission.

A good producer holds on to their vision but is open to suggestions to improve it.  Communication between producer and commissioning editor, between producer and the production team, between production and presenters is crucial.

If you don’t understand what you are making, whatever your role in the production, put your hand up and ask for clarification.  If your boss can’t clarify, chances are he or she has lost, or never had, or didn’t receive, the vision.

When Things Go Wrong on a Team

One of the worst things you can do when things start to go wrong (and they will) is to cast around for someone else to blame.

It is an unfortunate part of human psychology to try and avoid the brickbats – understandably! The best thing you can do if you are responsible for something not working is to put your hand up, admit your role in the problem, apologise, and point out you’ve learnt your lesson.

Now this is easier done when you have a supportive boss who understands that experience comes from making mistakes and learning from them. If yours is the kind of boss to chop your head off at the slightest hint of a mistake then I can understand your inclination to keep quiet. But the biggest threat to good team work, in my experience, is the desperate attempt to cast the blame elsewhere.  And even tough bosses respond better to someone admitting their mistakes than someone trying to hide them.

As a freelancer you are only as good as your last job. Unfortunately the fear of losing your job or getting a bad reference at the end of it drives some people to point the finger at someone else when things go wrong. This just leads to recriminations, denials, resentment and the destruction of trust in a team.  Please don’t do it. Be brave. If you cocked up, say so, learn from it, and move on. Don’t stick the knife in an innocent person’s back!

A team that works together laughs together and trust me you are going to need those laughs.

Team work is about being supportive to each other, helping out when others on the team are struggling, being honest, making the effort to communicate clearly, being confident enough to speak out if you think someone is heading towards a mistake and being brave enough to admit when you get it wrong.

I’ve worked with challenging teams and brilliant teams. They all taught me something and all those experiences were rewarding in some way.

Whatever role your end up with in the media, I wish you positive team work!

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