Teamwork – my thoughts

by Sarah Lockett on November 24, 2020

Christmas came early for me in October when I took part in a TV ad for the sustainable accessories company FromBelo. Here’s a Behind-The-Scenes pic, plus the YouTube link.

FromBelo Xmas2020 ad shoot
FromBelo Xmas2020 ad shoot

The shoot reminded me of the need for teamwork in TV. When I started out as a BBC local radio reporter, I researched, arranged, taped and edited the interviews, wrote the script, recorded the script in a studio (on reel-to-reel tape!), edited the tape, packaged it up and left it overnight for the morning producers to play in to the breakfast show. It was all me, from the moment the idea was allocated to me by the programme producer.

In TV, I soon realised it was very much a team effort. I couldn’t create graphics, edit video, light a studio/location, record sound properly, operate a camera, run a sat-truck, or any of the other gazillion things that need to be done to make a TV news programme. I had to do my bit BUT rely on a lot of other people to do their bit – all experts in their field, all dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on their little piece of the puzzle.

So, I thought I’d say a few words about teamwork. Now, it’s good to be able to do a lot of different things, to be an all-rounder. But equally, the older I get, I know I am very good at some things, reasonably passable at others, and only just functional at others. So it’s better to get other people to do those bits – for my stress-levels and the client’s finished result. So, what does it take to work effectively as a team? Received wisdom seems to say: 7 things.

Communication: when you’re working in a team, it stands to reason that you’re not all doing the same thing; you may not even know/understand precisely what the others are doing. You’re doing your bit, and they’re doing… something else! You can’t oversee, minute-by-minute, everything they’re doing. So you need to communicate effectively. Who’s doing what? Who’s in charge of what? Who’s struggling? Who needs help? Just a text or a WhatsApp will let everyone know where you are. On a recent job, my team and I couldn’t communicate for the first few days. Our mobile phones were taken off us. Some of us had landlines, some of us didn’t. We had to walk several hundred yards to find the rest of the team to ask simple questions. It was not good. Eventually we created a system (begged a landline phone, ordered a 20-metre extension cord from Amazon, took breaks to go down and access our mobiles etc). Eventually we could communicate and collaborate. Phew.

Leadership – this is something I am perhaps not great at – I’m too nice! Which may come as a surprise to some of the people I work with – I’ve recently been told I was a hard taskmaster and brusque – surely not! Maybe they were just snowflakes?! Anyway, a team needs a leader, and one of their tasks is to set manageable goals for the other members, keep them on track to achieve those goals, and stretch them to achieve things they maybe thought they couldn’t. I tend to play safe because I want to submit a product that is on-time and finished. This goes back to my early days working in broadcast news. It’s no good having something fantastic that’s 10 seconds too late! When the bongs go, you have to read your headlines, no matter what. But when we have a bit more time to play with, it’s good for me to be stretched/stressed, to get a better product out. And I need a leader to tell me I can do it!

Time Management – We all know colleagues who, when asked how long something will take, reply, “It’ll take as long as it takes!” Funny! But the rest of the teams needs something a bit more definite than that. So, part of teamwork is meeting the deadlines you’ve been set – or set yourself – or keeping the boss informed IN GOOD TIME if it’s not going to make.

Problem-solving: on a recent job, my team had a lot of logistical challenges outside of our control, which meant we had to reverse-engineer our processes to fit into those limitations. My colleague told me the phrase, “You can only p*ss with the c**k you’ve got”. So, we only had certain materials, people and technology at our disposal and we had to “cut our coat according to our cloth,” to use a slightly more erudite expression. But it did mean we came up with new ways of working, new internal deadlines, new restrictions that we imposed on ourselves – and we had to resist calls from the client to do more. It was absolutely not possible considering the restrictions we were working under! You’ve got to be harsh, firm but fair. And problem-solve so that you can at least deliver something.

Listening: (see Communication) In a team, yes you need to concentrate on your bit, your “deliverables”, but in addition to this: do listen, hear and absorb the others’ points of view, issues and problems – to help find a solution, or at least know why they’re struggling.

Collaboration: You can learn from those colleagues/team-members who are doing something slightly different from you (when you eventually get some downtime – you can’t work at a million-miles-an-hour indefinitely). Hopefully, on each project, you’ll get some time to learn, talk and acquire new skills. This makes you a better team-member in the long run.

Critical Thinking: what is critical thinking? Criticising?! No. It’s basically about not necessarily following the herd : thinking around a problem to find a solution, listening to all members of the team because someone unexpected may come up with something brilliant. On the other hand, the leader is the leader: it’s their train set, so ultimately – what they say goes.

So, I hope I’m a good team player, not too much of a diva, and don’t try to micro-manage my colleagues too much. I do my bit, demand only moderate praise/adoration, and dole out accolades when they’re due. If I’ve worked with you recently, you’re all wonderful!

I’ve been working for minimum wage. Why?

by Sarah Lockett on October 29, 2020

The National Living Wage is £8.72/hour – this is the government’s minimum wage for people aged over 25. I have recently been working for £87.20 for 10 hours (minus a 10% commission for the agent who got me the work) so you see I’ve actually been working for less than the minimum. Why is this? And what was the experience like?

Now, it’s not just a question of working for less money. Sometimes I work for NO money (eg I recently interviewed @CherieBlair on stage in front of 300 people, for the charity @Kisharon – it was a lot of fun, they gave me a fancy brunch and a lovely bouquet, but I didn’t ask for any actual pay). And I was happy to do it.

But this week, I was working on a Bollywood movie as an extra. It was a low budget movie, and Bollywood are known for paying less than the UK union rates (which are agreed every few years with the performance union FAA (Film Artistes’ Association, a sub-division of BECTU – the Media and Entertainment Union) and PACT (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television – the trade association representing the commercial interests of UK independent television, film, digital, children’s and animation media companies).

So, you know you’ll be low-paid when you sign on for a Bollywood movie. And it’s not just the low pay that has resulted in me making the decision that – I’ll never be going back. Does that make me a huge snowflake? When I list the negatives, it does make me sound like a pampered princess. Oh, there was no tea or coffee all day. We were kept in an unheated room for 11 hours (it was 9°C outside). Our start time was 0530am but we were only paid from 8am (whaaaaat?!) Our finish time was 5pm (in their opinion) but we were only released to go home at 830pm. The crew got breakfast but we (having started at 0530, and I got up at 0420) got no food till “breakfast” at 1245pm. Lunch was at 1.45pm (an hour later). Some extras were asked to go and BUY additional items of costume by the next day etc etc.

So I decided, after the revelation that we wouldn’t be paid for all the hours we’d done, that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a confrontation – I was nice, I was pleasant (although other extras complained loudly/walked off set) – I won’t be doing it again.

Other extras were cheerful, unbothered, accepting, and will be going back for more. Why? Well, obviously some people have no choice – perhaps this is the only kind of work they can get, or it fits around other aspects of their lives (perhaps caring responsibilities). But it doesn’t make it OK.

One thing that the production company could have done – aside from fixing all the ‘Health and Safety’/Acceptable Conditions of Work aspects of the job – would be: to keep us informed. They had a producer/fixer assigned to looking after the extras (so he’s already being paid to be there). He could have apologised for the lack of facilities, explained the delays/problems and worked to make things better for us. Instead he fobbed us off with vague words, “There will be food coming later, we don’t know what time we will finish” etc. To be fair to him, he didn’t know what was happening because they didn’t have walkie-talkies (as most Western productions do).

In fact, there’s a laundry list of things the production company should have done (I have just seen that the minimum acceptable temperature in a workplace is 16°C) but that’s a whole other subject. As we were driven back to London in the dark, I looked at the 4 other extras in the minibus: variously sleeping, scrolling through the blueish glow of their phones, staring out of the window (this was all time that we weren’t being paid for, the agent’s argument being that it was “travelling time” – that they were “saving us the cost of the petrol”. Hmmm.

I am just glad that I don’t have to do this type of work, in poor conditions, cold, unfed. I was glad I have other skills that are highly prized in society and well paid. Although we weren’t digging ditches, selling our kidneys, or trapped in modern slavery, it wasn’t a good experience, and after 3 days on 3 different Bollywood movies, I’m out.

VPL? Clout? Pig’s ear? What are we talking about?

by Sarah Lockett on October 10, 2020

We Brits use a lot of idioms: strange phrases that mean nothing to do with their actual words. How are foreigners meant to navigate them? We probably all have international colleagues, whichever business sector we’re in, with differing levels of English: from perfect (and I have almost never found a non-native English speaker with perfect English, but it did happen this week!) to a standard which is… not very good at all, shall we say?

Incidentally, today I have been dealing with a contractor with almost no English, and we have got by with the aid of (a) a mutual friend translating over the phone, (b) Google Translate, (c) gesturing, pointing, exaggerated facial expressions and (d) bright, smiley offers of “Coffee?” whilst proffering biscuits. But I digress.

When I am working with a completely British team/group, I relax a bit because I know I can use any of the odd, expressive phrases that we have in English, plus cultural references and quotes from UK TV programmes – and I know they will understand. When I have a more international group, it’s no problem at all, but I just speak more simply and use the exact word that I mean, rather than more obscure ones. Example: with a recent Swedish au pair, I said, “Oh, and if you can remember to pick up some milk on your way home, that’d be great.” I was met with blank looks. What I needed to say was, “Buy some milk today.” Direct always works (but it’s why some Swedes/foreigners can sometimes sound brusque).

So, back to the title of this post: VPL = Visible Panty Line. Clout = influence/power. Pig’s ear = mess. And you won’t necessarily find these in a standard dictionary. So, for our Russian colleagues in particular, I have a solution. There’s a useful book/dictionary explaining all these very idiomatic phrases – very reasonably-priced – with full explanations in Russian. For the eagle-eyed, yes, it’s written by my dad! He’s a Russophile, Russian teacher and writer, and a great lover of language, like me. Check it out.

And here’s the blurb in Cyrillic :
Английский язык: “вчера, сегодня и завтра“. Англо-русский словарь – Брайан Локетт. Автор словаря знакомит русскоязычного читателя с интересными английскими словами и выражениями, которые не всегда можно найти в обычных словарях: неологизмами, сленговыми выражениями, эвфемизмами. Приводится происхождение того или иного слова или выражения; дается их перевод на русский язык с необходимыми пояснениями. Для переводчиков, преподавателей, школьников и студентов, изучающих английский язык, а также для широкого круга читателей. В словаре содержится около 2000 фразеологизмов. Издательство: Русский язык-Медиа

Feedback? Yes or No?

by Sarah Lockett on October 5, 2020

I recently submitted a sample piece of work for a job, and didn’t get the gig. I wasn’t totally happy with the work myself – but had to do it to a tight deadline, and felt the client would know that I’d be much better on the day. You can see where this is going (ie of course they can’t “guess” that I’d be better on the day – they have to assume that I have submitted my very best work, and I’d never be better than that. They also haven’t got the time to babysit me on the day and help/coach a better performance out of me).

I asked a colleague if I should request some feedback. He said no: you know what went wrong. When you think you did an excellent job, and STILL don’t get the job – THEN ask for feedback. He’s right, of course.

Sarah Lockett interviewing at ITN
Sarah Lockett interviewing, ITN

It’s a good learning point for me – I thought I could do a rush job, not fully prepared, and be up to speed by the time the actual job came round (to be fair, in TV News, this is sometimes how it is: the deadlines are so tight you are racing around, chasing your tail right up until the studio light goes on).

But on the wider point: should we ask for feedback? I would say yes, IF you can take it. I recently interviewed a candidate who had a ‘chequered’ career history, and had now decided on a certain direction, without really being able to explain why he had chosen it. I ended up not being convinced.

Flitting around between different jobs/sectors could be portrayed as a plus, if you can pick out the common thread between all the jobs: skills you have been honing throughout the years. But at the moment (for him) it’s a mish-mash. I would say to him, remember to edit your experience depending on what job you’re applying for. So, if you have mainly worked in ‘x’ job, but you want to pivot into ‘y’ job, dig out all the relevant bits of experience/volunteering you’ve ever done, which pertain to that new job. In fact, I now have 2 CVs, because one of the types of work that I do, doesn’t particularly relate to the others at all (it does a bit, but not much). I hope that doesn’t sound dodgy, but it seems like common sense to me.

Back to the theme – should you ask for feedback? I would say yes and no, depending on how well you know the hirer, and if you can bear to hear the truth (or their version of it). Be prepared also, that they may be so diplomatic/opaque (to avoid offence/being sued/a confrontation) that you’re not really sure what they think anyway. They may be vague: the project was delayed/changed direction, the client wanted another candidate, the project is taking place in a different location and they need local talent etc. Maybe just trust your instinct, move on, try harder on the next one, and chalk it up to experience.