Mighty Bear’s Mighty Buddy System
What’s up, managers? Part 2
Last week, I shared some insights on owning how you would be a people manager. This week, I’d like to expand on what I said about empowering your team. In my short time at Mighty Bear, I’ve managed to help create and expand on a buddy system, which I’ve found to be of great help when it comes to creating more bandwidth for myself, while still allowing my team to grow and take on more ownership.
I wear multiple hats at Mighty Bear, as you already know, and I found my hands full when I was transitioning into the more hands-off production, stand-in Art Production Manager role from a previously more hands-on development role. The team managed to get a couple of art interns at the same time this transition was happening and I had to make sure they were properly onboarded while taking care of everyday execution.
As luck would have it, my (very awesome) team members took the initiative to identify current pain points and how our first intern (shoutout to Jay) could’ve been better managed, and came up with a basis for a “buddy system” to better onboard and manage newcomers, not just interns, onto the team. With the groundwork done, Yu Xin, our Art Production Manager (who is currently on maternity leave, hence my aforementioned transition) and I stepped in to help flesh out the details and pitch the initiative to our leadership team.
This might not have happened the way it did in a studio with a different culture. Here’s why.
Looking up and around you
It’s a common habit for younger, inexperienced artists to want to hole up and bury their heads in their work (passion!) and not keep the bigger picture in mind. Some may not even care who is managing them as long as they get to continue doing the things they enjoy. However, it’s important to constantly give them a nudge to look up, adapt to the change around them if necessary, and remind them that there’s more to think about than just the task in front of them. A wider look is often necessary also to ensure they’re not the ones to set the world (or project) on fire due to negligence.
But before we broach this topic to our team members, we need to be role models for it. For me, that meant over-communicating with my team members as much as possible. And fortunately, Mighty Bear is abundant in young, energetic and enthusiastic creative minds, ready to take on new challenges and help make a difference. The art team stepped up to the plate, and looked around them to see how the buddy system could fit in with the bigger picture.
Instilling a culture of positive impact
It turned out that other disciplines within the company did some work on their own to help facilitate their respective onboarding processes, so with a few rounds of input from them, we were as ready as we could be with ours, which was also the official pilot programme for the system.
When it was time to onboard the second intern, my bandwidth was running fairly thin, so I entrusted the responsibility of being the buddy to the intern to Hakim, one of our most junior members on the team, experience-wise, to manage the former’s day-to-day activities. Other team members provided support and clear communication in event Hakim wasn’t in for the day, and I continued my regular check-ins with them to make sure they were settling in and getting their tasks done well.
It has been a couple of months so far, and as expected, the buddy system is still a work-in-progress but it’s working as great as a first iteration possibly can, with its little issues and blind spots clearly identified. And while my team members struggled from time to time to meet the standards required of a manager, it helped me further identify areas of growth for each of them. We wouldn’t be here without the art team taking ownership, and being proactive with creating positive impact in the first place.
The result of all of this is that I can manage my day-to-day work, a burgeoning team encompassing art and art production, and find time to still manage direct reports. I did so by owning being a manager, having my team help themselves by helping me to do so, and finally, enabling team members who were ready to step up and take on more responsibility.
In the final chapter from me, we’ll talk about how to actually manage your team when you run into some commonly-encountered tough spots. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the buddy system, or to get pointers if you’ve implemented your own in the studio you work for!