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5 Tips to Build Trust in High-Functioning Creative Teams

Ali McLeod of Saks Fifth Avenue visits The Creative Operations Podcast. 

Screenshot 2022-10-04 at 1.35.50 PM
Head of Community at Creative Force
Head of Community at Creative Force

In the ever-changing industry of e-commerce content, leaders have to cultivate an atmosphere in which team members feel unified and loyal amid hectic projects and macro-level shifts in expectations. Thankfully, Ali McLeod gets it. The Saks Fifth Avenue veteran has been with the company since 2010, rising in the ranks from photo retouchers to VP of photo studios. In a high-turnover industry, Ali's ability to stick with one business and elevate from within makes her someone who can teach the rest of us about trust and transparency.

As always, get the entire episode on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music. But for now, get some trust and transparency takeaways from Ali's chat with host Daniel Jester.

Know Their Roles

If you look at Ali's career path at Saks, she's benefitted from being a leader who doesn't merely claim relatability-she has lived it. "I have the luxury of having done many of the roles in the studio, because of my growth in the company," she explains. "So I think you kind of automatically get points there with the team, whether they're brand new or you've worked with them for a while."

Of course, the rest of us can't change our pasts and fill the jobs that now report to us. But the principle remains-immerse yourself in the vantage points of your team so that you're an empathic leader.

Shadow to Build Trust

Looking for a way to grow your understanding of team members' roles? Try a shadowing exercise.

"Whether it's starting a new role at a new company or taking on an expanded scope with a team you've never seen before, the first thing I'd do is shadow the team, hear from them, learn from them, look at what their day to day looks like," Ali says.

Even people who bring all sorts of industry wisdom and expertise on best practices need to know the current status quo before swooping in to change it, "You don't know exactly how it's being done and why it's being done by that particular team," she points out.

Join the Decompression

As the saying goes, the best ability is availability. You can't be available to every team at all times, so how do you stagger your time? Ali recommends being with a team when they're wrapping up a project, to ask how everyone feels and how it went.

"You'd be amazed sometimes what comes out of those organic conversations, in terms of like, 'Well, this computer...'" Ali says. "These things might feel so minor to the team, but they're things they struggle with daily that'll never make their way to me and not through anybody's fault, but just because they power through. You can solve a lot of problems by making yourself present and asking the right questions."

Carry Trust into Tough Talks

If trust is built from you hearing the what behind your team's pain points, transparency is built when you explain the why behind some of those difficulties; why a situation might be less than ideal for the team.

"The trust has been established. Now it's time to tell you why, because telling you the why behind my request gives not only context and understanding of what that final goal is, but why it's so important that they're a part of it," Ali says.

She gives the example of asking a team member to make budget cuts to the supply line. "If I tell you it's because the alternative is that we need to lose the open role that we were hiring for, you might get a little bit more creative and you might get behind it a little more," she says.

But not every situation can be explained. Sometimes a matter is too sensitive for the why. In that case, we're back to trust.

"We were cutting payroll in a certain area of the team and had been doing pretty well without an open role that had been sitting open for some time," Ali explains. "And I reached out to the manager and said, 'Hey, I need to take your open. I can't tell you why. Just trust me, it's bigger-picture, more beneficial to do it this way.' And she said, 'Absolutely no problem. I get it.' I mean, that's huge."

Promote and Respond to Curiosity

When Ali looks back on her rise, one of the things she identifies as an asset is her willingness to ask questions. "Maybe the reason being seen for opportunities has been my curiosity," she says. "Going out as a retoucher, 'Why did this thing happen? It keeps happening.' Instead of just being frustrated about it, getting out from behind the dark curtain and talking to the team on set and asking them, 'Why, how does this happen?' It wasn't to point fingers or to give anyone a red face. It's really just to understand it so we can make improvements."

You're ready to build trust and transparency. But if you also want to get a book recommendation and some banter on being blunt with senior leaders, stream the full episode on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music.