Development TeamsFilm teams can be less stable than conventional business teams; however, there is literature that describes the phases of behavior film teams cycle through well. Bruce Tuckman, a leader in the field of group dynamics, examined fifty different research studies and proposed a unifying model of five phases. The following table summarizes Tuckman’s model, emphasizing the culture of the group.

In order to achieve higher levels of performance, a group has to get through all the phases, but especially “storming.” Storming, being the first phase a group goes through, involves conflict, disagreement, and even hostility. Some groups never fully escape this phase, which can hamper performance and eventually even break up a group. It can be argued that, because the film development process requires so many team changes, the team spends most of its life span in the storming and forming phases as new members cycle in and have to establish their roles in the group’s culture.

Storming often results from unequal team responsibilities throughout the different phases of a project. For example, writers initially do most of the work, and are constantly being critiqued by the rest of the group. This can lead to resentment, conflict, and confrontation. It can also be argued that all creative types make this process more difficult because they tend to resist being led, instinctively rebel against teams, and by their very nature seek to unseat the status quo. Add to this the power of individual egos and the desire to protect personal artistic vision, and it is truly amazing that any film has ever been made!

Stages of Group Development and Performance

  Phase Impact on Interpersonal Relationships Phase Impact on Group Tasks Phase Impact on Culture and Leadership
StormingA resistance to group influence and needs Intra-group issues and polarization of ideas due to interpersonal conflicts result in lack of attention to agendas, confrontations, volatility, anger, resentment, inconsistency, and often failure. Some team dynamics and relationships damaged in this phase never recover. As individuals struggle for status within the group, team members may respond to threats with forceful confrontation. Emotional responses to this phase heighten rivalry between members. Supervisors must guide decision-making, mediate conflict if it becomes too forceful, and strike a balance between freedom and constraint of team members. The culture of the group is fomenting as members first interact with one another.
FormingTesting and dependence Teams begin to establish dependence on leaders, other group members, or pre-existing standards. This phase creates a period of orientation during which members experience anxiety as they attempt to define their role, but usually mask it with external politeness. Groups still experience unclear objectives, lack of involvement, uncommitted members, confusion, low morale, competition, and poor listening. Politeness, even if it masks disagreement, indicates that the period of hostility is over. Supervisors must still direct the group, trying to identify the boundaries of tasks. They need to facilitate dependent relationships among members. The culture of the group reflects the initial anxiety of cohesion.
NormingInteraction with other group members The team experiences beginning stages of cooperation. Team members adjust behavior out of willingness, developing cooperative work habits. New standards evolve and new roles are established out of combined efforts. Active listening and collaboration, overcomes lingering resistance. Successful storming allows for compromises, and structure and procedures are established for the project. The group experiences productive exchanges of ideas and reviews and clarifies objectives along with changes to or confirmation of roles and responsibilities. Supervisors should be more participative. This forces the team to rely on itself and take more responsibility for tasks and outcomes. The group mindset begins to take hold.
PerformingConstructive action Roles become flexible and functional, resolving any lingering structural issues, resulting in high levels of task success and completion. Team members demonstrate pride in and concern for team functionality and individuals. The group’s energy becomes focused as team members function as autonomous, competent decision makers. Interpersonal relationships become tools for task completion. As solutions emerge, the group reflects confidence, high-morale, and good will. Since the team has learned to run itself, the supervisor becomes a participant. The group culture reflects a cohesive sense of overall structure and habitual production. If this strays too far toward groupthink, stifling dissent, it is the role of the supervisor to encourage dialogue and constructive criticism.
EITHERReturn to storming or forming Disagreement about moving forward sparks internal rivalry, resistance, and lack of commitment, which sets the group back to storming. Some relationships break down, and members leave or are replaced. The group must reassess tasks and strategy. Long-standing teams go through cycles as a reaction to changing circumstance; with the return to storming, there is always the chance that the group will break up. The supervisor must decide to replace team members or leaders; either can cause the team to revert to storming as new people go through the period of establishing their role in the group.
ORAdjourning The team breaks up due to irresolvable conflict or inability to complete the task. There is anxiety regarding separation and sadness among group members, feeding an overarching sense of disengagement. The group completes the task and the team breaks up. Members go through self-reflection over whether the group was a success or failure. The supervisor is, once again, the primary leader, director, and evaluator. It may be the result of the supervisor’s decision that the group’s interaction has ended.

While getting past storming to a plateau of general accord is necessary for productivity, supervisors of these teams should be careful not to let the placidity of a group stifle creative dissent and constructive criticism. In fact, it seems that some groups must be kept one feisty argument away from storming just to ensure the creative tension of the group is not lost. In addition, it can be argued that storming be reinvented in the group should it become too passive or lose too much creativity.

Similarly, new members of the team should be allowed the creative space to establish themselves. There is always the danger that new team members will be chosen for how well they fit in, not because of the virtuosity they bring to the production. When handled correctly, however, the inclusion of fresh faces can stimulate and re-energize a group, rather than destabilize it. A good example of this is when Brad Bird was named animation director for The Incredibles (2004) to shake up company culture and introduce new and exciting elements to Pixar’s films.

Furthermore, a team lacking in diversity may not reach a creative storming period; instead, they will probably opt for a solution as opposed to the solution. This comes back to the importance of choosing the right team members at the inception of the team.

An effective team is one that shares objectives, is open to expressions of feeling, has clear communication, a balanced range of diverse skills, the power to operate autonomously, strong commitment to the group, and an overall value for the group’s sense of culture and achievement. In companies dominated by strong and controlling leaders, the existing hierarchy can hamper the constructive chaos of storming in a team, likewise preventing the group from ever achieving internal autonomy and performing to the level it is capable of. The same problem can be seen in over-managed brainstorming sessions, where ideas are often shot down too quickly. Again, the balance of control versus freedom is key to creative management.

Techniques to Ensure Strong Development Teams

Ensuring Cohesion and Consistency

Cohesion and consistency can be achieved by encouraging regular social meetings and informal progress reporting that enable the writer to bounce ideas off the rest of the team, therefore grounding the writer’s creative process to the other team members.

Managing Expectations

An experienced team knows the intricacies of the film industry, and so their expectations are already established. However, producers should sit down with team members who are new to the industry to prepare them for how payment schedules work and what is to be expected of them. All team members need to be kept in the loop via email so they can mentally prepare themselves for meetings or whatever else the team is doing next.

Additionally, a strong communication strategy can be effective to bolster team morale. For example, if a producer has secured a meeting with a key financial source, rather than just sending an email for the meeting, they should call everyone out for an evening drink to announce the meeting. This informally initiates the collaborative process of building materials for the meeting and will establish more fluidly what needs to be addressed in future meetings.

Overcoming Payment Uncertainty

Research indicates that financial remuneration is not the most important motivator of behavior for most creative individuals; yet, for agents, it is very likely the driving force. In these cases, the question might switch from, “How do I keep the writer involved?” to, “How do I maintain the good-will of the agent?” One option is to invite the agent to social meetings and copy them on email updates. Another is to involve the agent in creative meetings with producers to get their feedback on drafts.

Additionally, agents are wellconnected, so it may be possible to enlist their help when approaching financial sources or talent (e.g., directors, actors, etc.). If agents feel involved in the development and financing of the project, they are more likely to encourage the writer’s involvement. Finally, producers should always be seeking new sources of development money, since a small payment is better than no payment at all (provided the payment does not demean the work that has already been accomplished).

Encouraging Teamwork

Involving the writers during shooting and post-production encourages learning from mistakes and more group discussions. Also, regularly working with the same team builds a consistent culture for the team. This can also let the writer plan for, and begin writing, the next script while the prior one is still in post-production, which further encourages seamless learning and reflection. Remaining a team that can look forward to the next project together is also a show of confidence; whereas, splitting and rebuilding the team can be seen as a sign of weakness.

Even when teams must split up due to other commitments, they can still learn from each other at the end of a project’s development or production process. For successful films, this can be when the team is reunited at a film festival or premiere (although during these events, publicizing the film is still the utmost concern). There could also be an informal gathering, possibly during the shoot or a meeting following the celebratory event, where the development process can be discussed and analyzed. This can lead smoothly into the discussion of the next project.

One company that is committed to formal, reflective post-mortems is Pixar. Pixar has the advantage that most of its creative and technical staff is permanently employed at the organization. This makes for focused critique and also opens the door to innovative methods of self-reflection. For example, as Ed Catmull explained to Harvard Business Review in 2008, the same post-mortem procedures have the habit of uncovering the same lessons each time, so Pixar varies their tactics and concerns when reviewing their work. The key, Catmull indicates, is finding a way to balance the good with the bad and the group approach with the individual idea.