Here is my interview with Laura in full:
Can you just give me a summary of the size of your team, and how the management structure works?
As the sole proprietor of Studio Theolin, I head up and manage both small and large project-dependent freelance teams / partnerships. I believe to deliver your best work, you work with the best people. That's why for each new project, I draw on a talent pool swimming with dozens of brilliant individuals. As a creative director, I reel in skilled copywriters, designers, illustrators, film-makers, fine artists, event managers, PR professionals - only those with the very best talent. As I am the only employee, the management structure is extremely flexible and adaptable. Some of my clients may need a large team of individual specialists, whereas others only my independent consultation. As I go through the initial briefing process, I establish what types of skills I need to deliver on their brief, and partner up accordingly. Sometimes it’s with independent professionals, sometimes agencies – and often the clients themselves.
How do you work as a studio keep everyone motivated?
I truly believe us creatives have the best job in the world. And this job wouldn’t be the best job in the world if we don’t love it. Working with Studio Theolin should be fun and inspiring, and I always endeavour in partnering up with people loving what they do. The projects and clients themselves need to have that extra ‘something something’ to pass my requirements. Experience has shown that when I am enthusiastic, motivated and positive, my partners and clients tend to follow suit. Moods are infectious.
Do you involve everyone in every project? If so, how do you make sure everyone feels included?
Most of the time I see to it that the team members are all aware of the project at hand. I see how much they want to be involved, and then we adapt. I describe myself as a ‘creative partner’ and that is because I really am one. Roles often cross-over and since many of my collaborators are seniors, they have their own management structures, so we combine our methods. I am a big fan och introducing everyone (either in person or in writing) to the Studio Theolin clients, as I want my offering to be as transparent as possible.
How do you make people feel valued as individuals?
I like not being the smartest in the room, therefore, I personally value the individuals I work with. If anything, they inspire me, and I hope this comes across when we work together. I would not collaborate with people I don’t value.
What makes a good team player?
A good team player is a good listener, responsive and not afraid to self-assess. A good team player is mature enough to admit mistakes, ask for help, and to give it. A great team player is always there. As I work a lot remotely with individuals in different countries, being available on Skype / Email / Phone is essential.
What systems/structures do you have in place to make sure your team actually work as a team?
Often my partners come with their own partners. The trick is to make everyone feel they are working together and that everybody's agenda has been seen to. I have no physical system in place, I just make sure we all talk.
Leading by example, does it work? What things do you do to lead by example?
I make sure I meet everybody’s expectations, and always over-deliver. Never do I lower to a level where, for example, I reply to a snotty email with a snotty reply. I treat others how I want to be treated, and hope for the best. I am hoping that if I lead by being diplomatic and polite, my partners and clients will follow suit.
How do you get the best ideas out of individuals? And how do you develop these ideas as a team while making sure the originator feels comfortable?
Credit where credit's due. Too many agencies and individuals dupe their clients with case studies which aren’t fully theirs. Too many creatives take credit for ideas that don’t belong to them. I always make sure everybody get’s their credit. Most of my partners are also not as precious as they’ve been around the block. We share a lot.
At interview, how can you spot someone who’ll fit perfectly into your team?
It’s all in the chemistry. When they actually end up meeting me, they have already passed ‘on paper’; their portfolio is good, experience solid etc. I do ask myself: would I be able to sit in an airport with this person for 8 hours? Would we be able to go for a drink together? How can I help them reach their own goals? It is very important for me that they don’t feel used, and that they truly want to work with me, not just to earn a buck. So personal and professional values and belief systems play a big part.
How do you make sure you contribute and get the most from your skills?
This is actually quite a hard question as I wear so many different hats. I am a generalist and apply my most relevant skills to specific parts of the project. In some I design, in some I purely project manage for example. As I build my teams, I aim to make sure everyone (me included) get the most out of our skills.
What’s the best way to speak up and get noticed?
Make sure you learn how to listen first. Especially if you like the sound of your own voice. Sometimes the quiet person get noticed the most, as when they do get the chance to speak up, what comes out isn’t just hot air. Be wary of jargon bullshit. I would show by example. Show not tell. Unless you work in sales.
How can you influence the outcome of a project, especially if you feel it’s heading in the wrong direction?
Be honest with yourself and step out of denial. If a project is heading the wrong direction, step back. Analyse why, then take action.
Any tips for dealing with friction with other team members?
This is an extremely subjective situation. And you need to be objective. If you cannot reach common ground, ask for a facilitator to come and help. It’s all in the scope of work as well. Outline your own personal agendas, and make sure all team members’ expectations are being met. Being secretive with what you want to get out of a project never really helps.
How can you ‘manage upwards’ (diplomatically) if whoever’s running the team doesn’t quite nail their side of the bargain?
Offer assistance and solutions to imminent problems. If I were to be heading my team in the wrong direction, I wouldn't want anything but someone telling me, even if it’s from their perspective. But you need to respect everybody's role, as often you may not know the bigger picture.
What must you avoid when ‘managing upwards’?
Do not slag them off. Do not complain. Do not go behind their back and action something you’re not supposed to. Respect your superiors and don’t be a rogue. Jack Bauer may get results, but he ain’t a team player.
It’s the question everyone always gets asked at interview: ‘How well do you work as part of a team?’ But what’s the most effective way to answer it, and actually demonstrate this?
I would ask the candidate to run through a user journey where they are the user and the (group) project is the journey. I would ask them to show each step of the process from start to end and explain what they did at each relevant stage. Throughout education most students get the chance to test roles within a group that may not be what a student is best at, but it will help them realise where in the team they actually fit best. So by the time they are in an interview, I would expect them be quite confident as to where they fit in and why.
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