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Managing Your Team

For many of us, professional photography has become a team sport.  Whether you’re collaborating with other independent business owners or have taken the step of hiring employees, your skills as a manager can make or break your photography business.  This week, our contributors share their insights on how to successfully manage your creative team.

By Judy Herrmann | Posted: April 14th, 2014 | No comments

Developing Talent

[by Tom Kennedy]

Among other things, team management is about alignment, coordination, and developing the strengths of those around you by understanding individual aspirations.

A wise manager ignites personal passions and makes developing team chemistry a high priority.  This starts with having a vision for each person’s role on the team, and making that vision a jointly shared responsibility.  A manager who is passionate about developing the skills of others on the team is more likely to gain useful support than one who is solely focused on achieving results for clients.  While the latter is essential, it can only be accomplished if people contributing to a group effort feel good about their own position.

It is important to put people on a team in a position to succeed individually by understanding their own view of their talents and career goals.  Those can be very important as clues when trying to gain maximum creative effort from others.  Ideally, a good manager is able at every moment to reflect back to a team member how he or she is performing and how individual skills might be further developed.

Inevitably, team management requires the alignment of individual efforts to accomplish a group goal.  To do that effectively, one needs to be able to understand the business objective being sought by a client and the why behind “the ask.” If that isn’t clear to all on the team at the outset of any project, it will be very difficult to harness everyone’s full efforts.   The team leader must be able to articulate the objective to be accomplished, as well as explain how each team member’s efforts will contribute to the total effort.   It is also important to make each team member feel valued for his or her contribution.

To do that effectively, a good manager asks for input, particularly at the outset of a project or assignment, and then examines fully the “why” behind what is being brought to the table by all team members.  All inputs need to be considered as variables and understood for their meaning.  For example, if someone is negative because they are anxious about their individual performance contribution, that needs to be understood.  Surfacing underlying issues and varying perspectives is crucial to full communication. Listening purposefully and paying attention to underlying meaning builds trust in a team.

In turn, trust and confidence produce the optimal performance that makes a team and a manager successful.

Tom Kennedy is an independent consultant coaching and mentoring individual photographers, while also working with various organizations to train individuals and teams on multimedia story creation, production, publication and distribution strategies for digital platforms, and enhancing creativity. He also regularly teaches at Universities and multimedia conferences. He has created, directed, and edited visual journalism projects that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, as well as EMMY, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow awards.  He can be reached at

By Tom Kennedy | Posted: April 17th, 2014 | No comments
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Managing a Creative Team

[by Thomas Werner]

Building a strong, unified, and reliable team is essential to a photographer’s success. Professional images depend upon a team of experts, each applying their specific skills toward one goal. At its core this team may include; photographer’s assistants, hair and make-up stylists, and a wardrobe stylist. For larger scale shoots you may hire a producer to handle all of the details surrounding shoot preparation, as well as a location scout, prop stylist, digital technician, and construction crew may be part of your team. Finding a team of reliable collaborators who work well together and understand your and your client’s vision is important, but if you want to build a truly successful team you need to consider a few other things.

Being paid may be what brings everyone to the shoot, but turning someone from a participant into a positive collaborator will mean fulfilling other needs, as everyone has different goals. People will want to work on your set for any number of reasons, to; work with you, learn technical skills, develop business skills, build a portfolio, be respected creatively, network, develop their career, or simply to be part of something. Your job is to understand each team member’s deeper motivation and help him or her achieve their goal without undermining the success of the shoot. Once your team understands that you have their success in mind, as well as your own, you will find that you have a far more dedicated, and energized crew.

Thomas Werner; Lecturer, Educator, Curator, Consultant.
Thomas Werner Projects on Facebook.
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By Thomas Werner | Posted: April 16th, 2014 | No comments

Not Unlike Parenting

[by Kat Dalager]

Managing a team is about practicing a philosophy as much as it is about performing a function. As a manager, ask yourself if you are setting people up to succeed rather than setting them up to fail. The most effective managers provide their teams with the environment, the guidance and the opportunities that will allow others to succeed. A few tips:

  1. Be aware. An essential skill of managing is listening. This means not only hearing what your team is telling you, but listening for the things they DON’T say. Private one-on-one conversations can reveal a lot of information and insights that you may not normally be aware of.
  2. Identify and understand the different personalities at play. In this instance, experience is the best teacher. The person you may think is the “problem child” may not truly be the source of the problem. Skilled troublemakers are adept at deflecting attention from themselves. Learning to identify different personality types will help you discern if someone is covert or if they are simply socially awkward. Apply coaching/instructing/leading based on the individual circumstance.
  3. Be fair. Managers should be Switzerland. Don’t play favorites and don’t unfairly scrutinize others. Be sure to investigate all sides of a story before making a judgment on a situation. Try to maintain a consistent temperament so that team members don’t have to guess if you are Jekyl or Hyde that day.
  4. Provide clear direction. Unclear expectations combined with unclear direction is a formula for failure. Make statements that explain what is needed and the reason why it is needed. Refrain from making “editorial” statements either verbally or in writing. Example: “As I mentioned yesterday, please pick up that extra lens or we won’t be able to pack it before we leave” instead of “Apparently it doesn’t bother you that I’ve had to tell you twice to pick up that extra lens.”
  5. Build trust. Trust goes both ways. If you have hired people with adequate skills, then you must trust that they are fully capable of performing the tasks needed. Give them every opportunity to succeed – or allow them to fail in a controlled circumstance in order to learn.
  6. “Perfection” is relative (and subjective). Just because someone does something differently than you doesn’t mean they are doing it incorrectly. Be open to other approaches. Know that what you consider “perfect” may not be the best solution.

Recommended reference: The First Time Supervisor’s Survival Guide by George Fuller

In addition to being the mother of two grown children, Kat has extensive experience managing work teams both large and small. She hopes you will learn from her mistakes.

By Kat Dalager | Posted: April 15th, 2014 | No comments


[by Rosh Sillars]

When working with a team, employees or coworkers it is common to feel that people are not meeting your expectations.  Sometimes you don’t live up to their expectations, either.  I’ve found that the common thread in most cases is that no one explained the expectations in the first place.

Prepare you team for success. Don’t assume they should know your ways, needs, goals and desires. Everyone will approach a project differently. These differences are based on experience and the people they have worked with in the past.

If you believe people should be able to figure it out on their own or they shouldn’t be working with you, you are right. This way of thinking sets up everyone for failure.

Be very clear about the things that are important to you.  Let the entire team know what your methodologies, expectations and goals are for every project. This takes communication. Develop a plan, list or packet that you can share with new team members, freelancers and employees. Keep the instructions light and informational rather than strict, demanding and scary.

Give team members the opportunity to succeed by sharing regular emails and articles related to best practices and new ideas to improve work skills and confidence.

Now that you have your team running like a well-optimized engine, what about your bosses and clients?

Ask a lot of questions.  Make sure you fully understand the projects being presented to you.  Ask how they envision the outcome of the project. What are the goals and expectations of the people hiring you?  Make sure lines of communication are open and you know who to contact when questions arise.

Don’t take the idea of clear expectations lightly.  A good team-client relationship will develop over time.  Keep the communication lines open and active so your business runs smoothly.

Rosh Sillars shares marketing and business ideas for creative professionals at

By Rosh Sillars | Posted: April 14th, 2014 | No comments

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