Organizational CultureThere are two important concepts that all production companies should keep in mind and apply to their businesses: team theories and organizational culture.

First, let us take a look at team theories. There have been numerous books written about this subject, such as The Wisdom of Teams written by Katzenbach and Smith, and Management Teams written by Meredith Belbin. In their subject matter, these texts have one primary idea in common; they speak highly of the value of team effectiveness. It has always been believed that two heads are better than one, and when you find yourself working with a team whose members exhibit a variety of attributes and who enjoy approaching things from a variety of angles, then the sky is the limit when it comes to that team’s potential creativity.

At first glance, you may not believe that the film industry involves very much in the way of teamwork. If you step back however, and take a look at how the process flows from person to person, you will see how each person’s job functions simultaneously as individual work and as a piece in a larger puzzle. Every individual job may suit a single person best, but the collection of those “single” people also includes a variety of skill sets that fit together in a truly harmonious way. Thus the members of this team work in a pattern that complements each other, and over time this pattern will emerge as a team-wide personality, an understanding between members of how things typically get done and what to expect from each other. This can be defined as organizational culture.

Organizational culture is defined as the identity, the personality of an organized group. Over time, as the group solves external adaptation problems, as well as internal integration problems, its members learn a pattern of basic communal assumptions. This pattern allows a high level of functionality and therefore becomes the valid way of structuring the group. It gets taught to new group members as the right way to observe, think, and feel in regard to a new problem.

First Team Obstacle: Anxiety

In multiple studies performed on film development teams and their interactions with each other, the first observable behavior in a team’s members is the initial reaction of anxiety. The team sits in silence for a while, usually over dinner or in a relaxing environment, not in an office, until someone breaks the ice and starts sharing his or her experiences and starts tossing out ideas. Soon the other members of the team follow suit, and everyone slowly relaxes and begins to share ideas.

The more comfortable people become around their team members during this period of time, the more freely they each open up and share their thoughts and comments. This moment, the moment when a team overcomes that first obstacle of anxiety, is a marker event, an event which provides the team members with an experience that forges a stronger bond between them.

The next marker event that the team reaches occurs when theyshare their goals and then decide how to proceed with their project. This must be a decision with which everyone on the team agrees. Once this marker has been reached, a certain level of relaxation merges with the team members’ motivation. With the machine oiled in this way, the team moves ahead, and everyone starts to work together toward the same end.

While all of this is happening, each individual team member will have other thoughts running through his or her mind, including a number of questions. Some example questions that may pass through a team member’s thoughts include:

  • Why are we really here?
  • What is our job?
  • Will this group accept me?
  • Is there a meaningful part for me to play in this group?
  • Will I be able to influence the others as much as I want to?
  • How close will we become as a group? Will we reach the level of familiarity and confidence that I need?

With these thoughts running through the team members’ minds, they will begin to position themselves in relation to the other members of the group. Some will forge alliances with other members of the team; others will sit and wait quietly until an event occurs that demands their skill set; some will try to stand apart, asserting their leadership by becoming vocal and telling anyone who will listen that they know how to approach any situation that occurs.

In film development teams, other questions also pepper the members’ thoughts in addition to those listed above, especially in regard to issues of survival. (This is particularly true in the case of the writer, whose job security on a given script is often less than optimal). Some of these additional questions that team members may ask themselves include:

  • Will other people’s input destroy my creative vision?
  • Does this team of people have the power to get this film made?
  • Is this process valuable and worthwhile?
  • Am I going to survive as a member of this project? (This is a question often asked by writers and directors, whose removal from a film sometimes has more to do with marketing than with creative differences or skills) .

The New Guy

Once a group has been formed and the bonding process has started, the introduction of a new person can be unsettling for both the group and the newcomer. Even if a member of the original group happens to be running late on the first day and consequently misses the initial bonding process, the group could end up seeing that individual as a stranger, as someone that they will now have to teach in order to catch his or her up to the group’s level. After all, the latecomer has missed the initial bonding process, the first marker event, and this missed experience can never be undone. This can obviously create a great amount of anxiety for all parties involved.

This positioning either in or out of the core group is quite concrete, in that any person who did not attend and witness the first marker event cannot know what happened or how people reacted to or with each other. A new member who arrives one hour late will already feel the presence of a group and will want to know what he or she missed. Consequently, the group will already feel the newcomer to be a stranger who has to be brought up to speed.

Producers need to be aware of these marker events and understand their potential for both positive group dynamic and difficult transitioning, especially given that the group in film development can be quite small and often quite fluid. If a team is able to form a bond and continue its work in a smooth operating order, then much can be accomplished. When a wrench is thrown into this motion (for example, new script editors or writers emerge, the eventual appearance of the director, the forcible changing of a team member’s idea, or the removal of a member from the team), it can slow production greatly. The producer can help to avoid some of these issues by exhibiting strong leadership and taking steps to minimize potential difficulties in the group’s dynamic.