Media Business Strategies

The Blog of David Polakoff

Team Make-Up

Posted by David Polakoff on March 16, 2014

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

“Team Make-Up”

The Toughest Team Leader Responsibility

Sales, Product, Marketing, Investor Relations, Competitive Strategy; the CEO, or any group leader, has many responsibilities and day to day, hour to hour, the mastery of each requires prioritization and multi-tasking.  Ahead of all of these roles, though, I would put team leadership as first and foremost, with an emphasis on managing the children in the sandbox.  The team must click; not clique.

The team leader cannot perform all of the aforementioned roles, so s/he hires the best people for each position and works as a maestro to conduct the orchestra to perform in rhythm and in harmony.  The leadership team can include individuals with great expertise and ideal experience in sales, product, marketing, strategy, finance, technology, advertising, legal, etc., but keeping this orchestra from creating atonal music often means managing personalities, egos, behaviors, tempers, nerves, and stresses.  No matter what the mastery levels of skills and talents of the individuals delivering on their job descriptions and responsibilities, the team leader needs to also be a therapist to assure effective group behavior.

From grade school through college, working on a team for a group project is supposed to develop the skills for optimal performance within group dynamics, but those skills are never measured in the same fashion as mastery of course curriculum; too bad.  I have participated in many group exercises, from volunteering endeavors, to professional situations, in big and small companies, including cross-cultural landscapes, to team sports (try being “locked” on a sailboat during a regatta with a dysfunctional team!).  A huge barrier to success is not the individuals’ application of their job knowledge to the assigned responsibilities; it is functioning without prejudice toward their team members.

A mature and effective individual, one who wants to succeed, will do what they can to recognize friction between themselves and another team member, realize it is not 100% the other person’s fault, and overtly and casually change their own behavior to elicit corresponding changes in the other person’s behavior.  Absent full success therein, a good collaborator will formally address the situation with their colleague and work to find the equilibrium in the team dynamic.  Failing to succeed requires keen observation, dexterity, and diplomacy of the team leader to manage the individuals to derive resolution and optimal team performance.  If the individuals are the right persons for their jobs, the effort is worthwhile; if not, making changes is warranted.

In the film, “Moonstruck,” when Loretta Castorini learns her future brother in law, Ronnie, is in love with her, she slaps him and remarks, “Snap out of it!”  Unfortunately, such expediency won’t likely be effective in a performance evaluation.  Rather, the team leader needs to have the individual(s) understand and acknowledge transgressions in team performance and agree upon how and when success will be achieved.  As the Captain in “Cool Hand Luke” warned his road gang inmates, “You run one time, you got yourself a set of chains. You run twice you got yourself two sets. You ain’t gonna need no third set, ’cause you gonna get your mind right.”  Assuring that an executive team member knows there will be consequences for inaction is paramount and must be enforced by appropriate follow-through.

A shortfall in my analysis is that there is a presumption that executive team members will take initiative and responsibility in discordant collaboration. That is where the effective team leader observes stray notes and sounds in her/his orchestra and addresses them expediently, versus having the other orchestra members just “play louder.”  Of all the roles of a team leader, focusing on everyone playing nicely in the sandbox should not have to be a priority, but absent such collaboration, company goals will not be met and the consequences to vast and costly.  And, perhaps it was the team leader’s error in the hiring process that is coming home to roost.  Priority must be given to resolving team conflict; all other team leader roles and responsibilities are subservient to effective team chemistry and function.

Poor team performance cannot be covered up with lipstick and powder; it is of critical importance to pay attention to the team make-up.


Media Business Strategies is the blog/website of David Polakoff, a New York based, Media & Entertainment Industry Financial Executive.

David Polakoff’s media/entertainment industry experience and expertise results from his tenures in senior financial and development roles with: Ernst & Young, HBO/Time Warner, Granada America/itv plc, independent consulting, and Iconic Entertainment, Inc.  Currently, David provides financial, operational, and strategic services to media/entertainment companies.  Read more in About.


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