How this creative team and their executives got UNSTUCK with Innovation Coaching.
The production team of "Raising Liberty City" XR went from a lack of communication, mistrust, and creative blocks to open communication and an award-winning immersive script after my work with them. They are even being courted by some of the world's most prestigious film festivals for their work. AND IT'S NOT EVEN FINISHED YET!
Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Katja Esson was gaining momentum for her new documentary Razing Liberty Square, a film addressing climate gentrification by following the redevelopment of a historic African American public housing project in Miami and its impact on long-time residents when she sensed the needed to take the project to a new level. Enter, Virtual Reality is also known as XR or extended reality. (Learn more about XR)
XR (Virtual Reality) is a complex medium that requires extreme detail and focuses on accuracy. With this format, you are literally (re)creating a "new world" for the audience.
XR was a new landscape that both challenged her as a producer and a creative. This, her first VR project, found her dealing with some uncertainty around translating the film into an immersive experience. Additionally, in today's climate, tackling the topic of gentrification and race left her feeling overwhelmed with the pressure to “get it right.”
Katja understood the project's sensitivity and decided that many of the creative and decision-making roles should go to POCs. With that in mind, she partnered with Ronald Baez, a local producer in Miami. Together they picked up momentum for the XR experience, winning a grant from the Knight Foundation.
A few months later, due to schedule conflicts, the team lost their experienced VR producer. But by then, they had assembled a diverse creative team and decided to produce it themselves. To do that, they needed an XR expert who could guide and support them both on the creative and production side. They needed an XR Mentor.
After some research, they found me. My reputation as an expert in immersive production, as well as my experience in building, managing, and successfully crafting a safe, creative culture for diverse teams, was exactly what they were looking for.
The first step was to have the team meet for a deep dive assessment to evaluate team dynamics and potential conflict areas. Conflict is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s important to “engage in constructive conflict,” as Patrick Lencioni described in his New York Times best-seller The Five Dysfunctions of a team.
My experience has taught me always to dig a few layers to get at the root of the problem. Like weeds, if you address the surface, it will only be a matter of time (and a pretty short time) before the weeds or problem resurfaces. With that being said, I observed, right off the bat:
Multiple points of communication blocks
Trust had all but dissipated.
Intuitive decision-making among the key players (or key decision-makers) had been compromised, resulting in a lack of confidence and accountability.
So I needed to find the roots.
The first step was to meet one on one with each of the key players. In this case, it was Katja and Ronald.
Ronald is the key decision maker on the producer side. His responsibilities include tech, budget, schedule, etc.) and Katja is the creative key. While she also served as a producer, many of the challenges she was facing centered around the creative. So we focused there.
After my first 1: 1 evaluation with Katja and Ronald separately it was clear where the problems lay. Now we needed a strategy to get the team unstuck. I suggested the below. Then we built customized solutions in each section, that included "homework" and group exercises intended to rebuild communication and trust.
For the Team
In the Creative Team Meetings, we focused on the disconnect the actual creative material was having on the team. My belief is, if the team doesn’t believe in it, then it will reflect in the finished piece.
Creatively, I gave Katja and her co-writer homework assignments that forced them to work alone. Previously, they had only had writing sessions together. Having them complete assignments separately allowed them both to reconnect to their individual "voice" freely. Prior to this, both Katja and her co-writer felt so strongly about their respective versions of the story, that the creative process had been stripped. What was left were two strong-minded individuals "struggling" for their need to be heard. This imbalance left the entire team feeling confused.
For the Executive
What struck me was that Ronald, the leading technology producer, had legitimate points and was right about many of the approaches to implementing the creative. The problem he had was not getting the team's buy-in. My priority was to gain the team's confidence quickly and then transfer that confidence back to Ronald.
To do that, I had first to address Ronald's communication style with the team. We begin to have one on one meetings where he could throw his frustration against the wall. Creating a safe space where he could examine his thoughts, free of his leadership responsibilities, allowed him to feel heard and understood.
Then he and I began to develop a plan to redesign how he communicated with his team using techniques I had developed during my 5+ years of personal wellness and authenticity training.
For THE Creative
As an artist myself, I understand we can often get in our head so much that we create clutter and mistrust of our artist instinct. When this happens, most artists will find themselves leaning on outside opinions to validate their art. This can hurt the integrity of the project if the artist is not careful.
With Katja, she was challenged with the following:
She was not a native of the community of Liberty City. (This created slight insecurity around her "right" to tell the story she was passionate about.)
Did she have a “right” to tell this story she was passionate about?
With the different creatives from diverse backgrounds added to the team, she felt that she was losing her voice and pressured to bow to their creativity. (Taking the lead on this project created fear of losing diplomacy with her creative team.)
How could she diplomatically take the lead (without seeming “deaf” to their creative input?)
(This overextension of) These conflicts within herself ultimately muffled her creative voice.
The result was a script that she did not completely believe. She was starting to lose her passion for the project.
Creative coaching helped her to identify limiting beliefs established long before the project.
In each case, we developed strategies and tools to manage her triggers around developing her creative voice while keeping the channels of communication open.