Julien Tolszczuk-Jalbert on team management
There’s the traditional way to find a job in video games, and then there’s the path taken by Julien Tolszczuk-Jalbert.
Now a producer with Behaviour’s Digital business unit, Julien applies know-how gleaned from experiences in the worlds of film production, sales & marketing, 3D animation and photography. “I think I just need to start a band and write a book and I’ll have covered all the artistic bases,” he says with a laugh.
It may be an unconventional CV for a producer of video games, but it’s given him tools that he now applies every day to important effect at Behaviour.
Julien says his background as a director of photography and later unit manager and producer on film sets taught him important lessons in optimizing production and working with teams: “Organizing on- location shoots was something that came naturally to me – sorting something complex like a script into a shooting schedule that optimizes time and makes sense structurally, was a puzzle that tickled my mind on a unique level and reinforced the importance of caring for every individual on a team to make that schedule work” he says. “Working with people, time and budgets emerged as a common thread between the film industry and video games. The product is different, but the foundation of the collaborative and production work is the same.”
Getting employers in the video game industry to also see this common thread took time, patience and effort, but Julien was eventually given an opportunity to prove himself at Behaviour. “Behaviour saw beyond the end product and believed in my potential and my abilities. They understood that what I do is first and foremost work with people, build teams out of complete strangers and get the best out of them. There was also my ability to adapt and prepare for the impossible elements which are out of your control – on film sets that was weather, real-life location logistics and keeping a handle on tight shooting schedules to within 15 minutes so you’re not paying 40 people overtime at the end of the day, etc.”
Julien changed industries six years ago and joined Behaviour as a junior production manager, taking full advantage of that opening to prove himself and work his way into managing teams and projects of his own, notwithstanding happily mentoring and coaching along the way. “Working with others and helping them to achieve their goals is what really motivates me,” he says. “From the moment I get up in the morning, everything I do is about my team. I love the tasks and responsibilities that are entrusted to me, but I love the people I work with way more.”
Building a Circle of Trust
His passion for management has fostered some deep thinking and research on the topic. For inspiration, he often returns to film, namely documentaries on legendary sports coaches, to learn how they turned a collection of sometimes difficult personalities into a cohesive, successful team. He’s even turned to the experiences of people he knows on ER teams for insights on how they triage and delegate in crisis mode. “Talking to them is super interesting because it gets me to understand other management concepts.”
The “Circle of Trust” is one concept that’s had a big influence on Julien’s management style. He describes the Circle of Trust as an environment where people only need to focus on their skills and excel at them free from fear and distraction. “If you’re working in a shark-tank setting – which Behaviour is thankfully NOT – so much energy is lost on individual concerns and worries. As a manager, I see my job as making sure everyone feels that their back is covered, and they have the support they need so they can focus on doing what they do best. It’s also important they know it’s OK to have an opinion and give suggestions and to disagree.”
In order to create an environment where a Circle of Trust can flourish, Julien sees his role similar to that of an “umbrella” or “sponge” and provide his team members with the protection they need to focus on their work. “I take the bad stuff – the roadblocks, the pressure and stress and concerns and fear – and absorb as much of that as I can so that the team doesn’t have to and only has to focus on getting to our destination.”
Be everywhere, and nowhere
As Julien sees it, a good manager also keeps out of the way and guides his or her team with “invisible influence.” “It’s a weird dichotomy: as a manager, you don’t want to be a blocker; you want your team to have the tools and information and transparency to be self-sufficient and get the job done without you. In effect, you want them to have autonomy and a sense of responsibility that can make you seem useless! You need to be everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. The more your influence is invisible, the better, because it means that people feel like they’re in charge of what they’re doing. But you’re always there to catch them if something drops. You are there to elevate them and celebrate their victories and are always at the ready in case things don’t work out as expected.”
By nurturing and believing in your team’s individual members, “you empower unique personalities to support each other in the face of any challenge, and they will, with or without you, and that’s the greatest compliment you can give me.”