I love theater. The magic that happens when one sees a performance is often inspiring, intoxicating, and thought-provoking.

The work a director and the actors do to bring the play to life seems simple when looking at it from the outside, but it is, like many things, quite complicated. Several things need to happen to make the relationship work.

Build Trust

A group of people who have never worked together will need to learn about one another. This important step is often missed in many businesses when new employees join the team.

A good director is able to set the tone by engaging the actors one-on-one and as a group. Simple exercises that work well for both a theater company and a business are to ask questions like:

  • Where are you from?
  • When did you realize this is what you want to do?
  • What is the hardest thing you ever had to do at work?
  • What brings you the most joy when you are at work?

The director asking all company members such questions and answering the same questions personally enables the team to trust one another. Without that trust, the work necessary to do great work becomes much harder, if not impossible.
Model What You Want

The director, like any business leader, could demand that he/she be trusted. This is fairly common. The director is in a position of power, often over-worked and experiencing a lot of stress.

Why go through trust-building exercises when they take valuable time to do? Why not insist on the company members trusting the director?

It simply doesn’t work that way. Trust is fragile and hard to define, but you always know it when you feel it.

Some leaders engender trust by the way they deal with people on a day-to-day and issue-by-issue basis. Such leaders often get more from the people they are working with than leaders who yell and belittle others.

When a director pays attention to the choices he can make and makes them with the goal of having people want to follow him, the resulting trust brings out the best in everyone.

Be Clear About Your Vision

A director who starts working with others without having a clear idea of what the outcome is supposed to be creates a lot of frustration amongst the team. Actors want a destination, a vision that pulls them forward.

What is the goal? What is the production supposed to create in the audience’s mind? What message(s) are supposed to be delivered?

These questions can’t be answered by the actors.

A business that operates without a clear vision from the owner will accomplish less and create frustration for all the team members.

Allow Those Working With You to Make Choices

A good director, having laid out the story he wants to tell, allows the actors he is working with to make choices.

The opposite of this is micro-managing, a sure way to alienate even the most committed company members. Not giving the members of the team the ability to think on their own will reduce their commitment and engagement. The overall quality of what is created is not as good as all involved, including the director, would like it to be.

Integrating most if not all of the choices the members of cast make engenders buy-in, which creates more engagement and a better production.

The truth is that moving immediately into working on a project without building strong relationships among all members of the cast/team/company, including the director/manager/leader, is a recipe for mediocrity.

How do I know? I used to confuse action with progress. I used to think there was no time for building a foundation of trust. Then I tried it. It works, trust me.