The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

The Paradoxes of “Teaming” in the Creative Events Industry: The Case of Balich Worldwide Shows (Abridged)

Balich Worldwide Shows (BWS) is an Italy-based firm that operates globally in the entertainment production market, creating, designing and producing live events such as Olympic ceremonies, permanent and touring shows and exclusive events. Projects on this scale require complex teams that are large, diverse, highly specialized and virtual. The authors analyze the BWS case from the team management standpoint and discuss five paradoxes related to teaming: (1) combining exceptional creativity with perfect execution, (2) managing extra-large teams with a small core team, (3) managing an extremely diverse team in terms of nationality, (4) integrating highly specialized skills within the project, and (5) working as a team virtually as well as in person.

Balich Worldwide Shows (BWS) is one of the top 10 revenue-generating companies operating around the world in the entertainment special events production market and is the leader in revenues per event. Therefore, the BWS case is representative of how these companies operate at an international level.

The core mission of BWS is creativity combined with delivery. “Creativity generates emotions in the audience. Delivery is also important, because it determines the long-lasting impression on our client. Emotions are impactful, while project management determines financial results.”

Together with the other companies in the group, BWS produces several different types of offering: large-scale events such as Olympic ceremonies, corporate events, permanent shows, and branded entertainment.

The BWS core of 83 employees and 300 freelancers expands to thousands of people on a particular project, including staff, suppliers, cast and volunteers. In Sochi 2014, for example, the Olympic closing ceremony – a romantic and magical journey into the roots of Russian culture and heritage – involved 2,856 athletes, 360 staff members of 34 different nationalities, 222 suppliers, 25,000 volunteers, and more than 4,000 volunteers ranging in age from six to 43, mostly from the Krasnodar region. In managing these multiple “families”, teams face several challenges. The first is to attract and hire the right people. While remaining independent professionals, freelancers make up the company’s core, and over the years BWS has built long-term relationships with key individuals.

Courtesy of Balich Worldwide Shows.

The second challenge is to build the team as quickly as possible: projects need to enter the performance stage as soon as feasible. To speed up the team-building process, in addition to depending on established professionals BWS looks for people who share the same values and work style.

A key skill for the BWS management staff is the ability to quickly form a team and integrate people. They benefit from working with freelancers who are used to finding a common way to work within a few weeks.

Another challenge is managing day to day and keeping control of everything. The problem is knowing what all 800 team members are thinking. Everyone must be going in the same direction, otherwise, the risk is that the ship will sink without you even noticing.

For this reason, project managers are given the autonomy to build their core team and to choose the heads of the different departments they will work with. This core project team, composed mostly of old-timers who are used to working with one another, helps manage the larger team, composed of professionals who may be working together for the first time.

Of BWS’s permanent staff, 32% are international: in addition to Italy, 16 countries are represented. Project staff are even more international: on average, 60% of the professionals involved are non-Italians from more than 40 different countries. Working on a worldwide scale also involves contact with extremely diverse local cultures. For the staff, this is a source of daily enrichment, bringing a mixture of attitudes and work styles.

In terms of organizational structure, every project has an executive producer and a creative director. It is the executive producer who is ultimately responsible for delivering the show on time and within budget. She oversees project management, artistic production (including segment production and video and music production, as well as show calling and stage management), logistics, administration, production and technical issues. The creative director is responsible for creative content, including choreography, costumes and make-up, set and prop design, lighting, music and video. In addition, there are the suppliers (such as those for projections and special effects, intercom systems, audio, stagehands and catering) and the cast and volunteers (animals are also included in some shows).

Because each project is a unique occurrence of limited duration with a fixed budget and timeline, each require a degree of coordination of tasks by a dedicated team. In the case of BWS, the management elaborates on the teamwork literature to describe five teaming paradoxes and how they can be managed by organizations and professionals when delivering creative events.

  1. Managing creative projects is a daily routine, yet every event is a unique compilation of exceptional creativity.
  2. Creative events rely on a very small team of permanent core members to manage up to hundreds of temporary project team members.
  3. In terms of diversity, creative events teams are multicultural and “uncultural” at the same time.
  4. In terms of skills specialization, creative events teams are “virtuoso teams”, to which elite professionals bring exceptional expertise but also cumbersome personalities.
  5. In terms of geography, people in creative events teams are either too far from each other or too close.

The article describes those five paradoxes and concludes with suggestions for management approaches to these topics.

Read the full article in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 22, Number 1, Fall 2019 (link to come).