Apr 28/17
By Mark Gallo

Everything I know about leading a design team, I learned from coaching

I’ve always loved sports. I grew up playing football, basketball, ran track, and played college volleyball. After college, I got into coaching at the high school level and even ran my own club teams for a few years. I guess being a part of a team has always been a part of me. So, when I was chosen to lead our design team, I naturally applied the lessons I learned from my years competing and coaching to help bring the out the best in our organization. Here are a few maxims I follow daily.

Preparation is the key to success
As a coach, I planned every practice in 5-15 minute blocks and outlined our keys to success before each game. As a creative director, this preparation takes the form of competitive research, a deep dive into our client’s business and a thorough creative brief. This exhaustive preparation helps both us and the client identify what success will look like. Without this step, we’re just making things look pretty with no real measuring stick with which to evaluate the creative.

Everyone has a role
In sports, you can have great players, bench players, complimentary players and role players, but everyone must play their part for the team to reach its potential. The role of a coach is to identify each team member’s talents and then put them in the best position to be successful. For my role as CD, this means blending teams to bring the proper skill set to bear on a specific problem, but also providing the tools and environment that allow the creative team freedom to explore.


The work is fun, but management is work
What I love the most about my job is working with the design team to develop concepts. Seeing ideas take shape and experiencing the excitement in the room when we present that first round of creative to the client. I liken this to the everyday practice and game situations I experienced while coaching—I loved everything “in the gym”. Conversely, my least favorite part was all the “outside the gym” activities—scheduling, uniforms, budgets, travel, etc. This is probably a huge shock, but as a CD my least favorite parts of the job are still the same things; budgets, travel, scheduling, etc. Fortunately, we have several wonderfully organized folks here who make sure the part I enjoy least is managed flawlessly every day.


We win as a team and lose as a team
One of the keys to success that is sometimes overlooked, is that we are on the same team as the client, we’re all trying to get the win. Our clients have specific business goals they are trying to achieve, and our job is to understand those goals and come up with unique, engaging ways to achieve them. In return, we ask our clients to step outside their comfort zone now and then, and trust we have their best interest in mind. Ultimately, we are both judged on the results of each campaign, so a close working relationship is critical to success for us and our clients.


What have you done for me lately
Winning is great, but does it really matter who won the championship last year? The same is true in business. We strive to win every week to stay competitive, and recognize that it’s the cumulative record that counts. To make this happen, we consistently seek out new and innovative techniques and technologies, and are always on the look-out for bigger, better solutions for our clients.


On good teams the coach leads, on great teams the players lead
There are a several theories on which coaching style is the best for any given situation, but I firmly believe the best teams are ones where the players shine and coach takes a back seat. In my coaching days, I found the less “coaching” I had to do in the game, the more successful we were. As the players took on more responsibility, they gained a deeper understanding of how to adapt and perform at their best. The same is true in my current role. At each kick off, we provide the strategy, framework and a few tactical suggestions—but then the design team takes over and is responsible for doing their own research and putting their unique twist on their solutions. As the ideas begin to take shape throughout our internal reviews, my role shifts to crafting messages and guiding the creative, as opposed to shouting solutions from the bench.

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