Last week I found myself ‘practising what I preach’, or as I prefer to think about it, having an opportunity to model some good practice. Specifically, pulling off a great project kick-off on a new production with the small film company, Find It Film I am co-founder of.
Failing to invest in good quality start-up activity on small, usually fast-paced projects is one of my major themes when coaching teams. I am often starting new projects but this is the first time I have decided to explicitly reflect on and share not, "what I would do”, but "what I did do". It's an exciting and possibly daunting opportunity. As ever, I welcome feedback and conversation and will seek some from others who were there!
So, is this my guide to the ‘perfect kick-off’? Obviously not.
For two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, because there is no such thing as perfection and always room for better or different. Secondly, it's fairly well understood that particularly in campaigning or social and creative projects there is no, "right way to do things". It is as Sue Tibballs has said, "an art not a science". For me, this is primarily because no matter what the focus or desired outcomes, any project is made up of people and all people and relationships are different.
And it's thinking about people being at the heart of this particular project, and as key to its success that has brought me to the 3 things I focused on in our kick-off last week: shared purpose, trusting relationships and great communication.
Establishing shared purpose
To deliver successfully and quickly we need a shared vision of what that success looks like. Find It Film wants to deliver inspirational stories that look and sound beautiful. We care passionately that those we work with – athletes, filmographers, sponsors – have a good and fun experience that somehow enhances their work or lives.
How did we share purpose? We started outside of the project by sharing what our "best day" might look like - probably unsurprisingly for people in sport and adventure film making there were already a fair amount of commonalities. We also spent time talking about what we hoped individually to get out of the project, as well as sharing what the expectations of our sponsor are and anything we knew from the athletes we had already spoken to.
We've found that asking people "what would you like to have happen?" from being involved has yielded some interesting results; an athlete we have worked who is very into music, recommended a friend's band for possible soundtrack and we will try and make that happen. Creating these sort of connections and shared purpose are at the heart of what we want to do.
Building trusting relationships
Trust is often best built by spending time with people, but when face-time is limited and the next time you see someone might require everyone to be on their 'A game' it helps to be explicit about what people need to develop trust.
Getting to know what matters to each other, as in the above "best day" exercise, is a really good starter. We also talked about what other people we work with or family/ friends appreciate about us, and what in relation to this specific project we were hoping to learn and wanted help and support with. Both of these questions if we had more time could be developed in to a One-Page Profile, a practice that comes from social care work but works brilliantly in any work or project setting to share at-a-glance what matters to you. You can find my one page profile here.
Personally, I attempted leading by example and being vulnerable. I put out there to my colleagues that my limited knowledge of the creative side of the work means I let a lot of detail go over my head. On this project I am going to focus on learning what more terms mean, by asking questions and with that risking 'looking stupid'.
Know what great communication looks like
We started by talking and being together, and knowing more about what each other value will help us communicate. But we also had an explicit, practical conversation about how each of us prefers to be communicated with - in different circumstances. So we agreed that we were all happy to use email (happiness with email is a less frequent occurrence these days), both of the others were more than happy to pick up the phone at any time, I prefer a bit of notice by text if the phone is going to ring.
If this was a bigger or longer-term project I would probably want to develop this into a communication protocol like the one Eve and I have for Happen Together. We worked through the many channels we used and what they are all for.
Only time will tell if we've made a good kick-off, and of course this is only the beginning of the starting up of the project, we have to continue communicating well and explaining as we go along. I feel that time spent now on this is genuinely worth the investment so we can finish this project with a great film we are all proud to have been a part of making. We also hope that everyone has had a happy time and developed some great new relationships that open up further opportunities, friendships and possibilities.
[note: it occurs to me that 'small project' is a relevant term. So for the purposes of sharing practice in a meaningful sense something about scale here would be useful. The project we started involves: 3 core team members, 2 of whom have worked together before, most of us will work less than a dozen days in total and while we planned to have 4 hours in a room together to kick-off and create a great alignment we inevitably ended up with 3 hours as our only real planning opportunity!]