how to manage a creative team

7 Steps To Manage a Creative Team Effectively [Full Guide]

As a team leader, your role is to inspire, encourage and empower your creative team—not just manage them. Your leadership skills are critical to fostering new ideas and encouraging innovation.

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An effective leadership style will give your organization the competitive edge it needs to stand out and grow. But managing creative minds can be challenging.

A leadership style with strict rules and requirements can quash creativity and prevent team members from thriving in their profession, ultimately leading them to underperform. Yet it’s your responsibility to set expectations within your team and ensure the smooth delivery of projects.

“A leadership style with strict rules and requirements can quash creativity and prevent team members from thriving.”

Seem like an impossible task?

Whether you’re new to this or have been leading creative teams for a while, you need to find the right balance between structure, freedom, performance metrics, and imagination.

How can you achieve this? Here’s how to manage a creative team effectively without restricting their imagination, killing their creativity, and ultimately deliver subpar projects.

What’s a creative team?

A creative team’s primary goal is to turn a client’s idea, concept, or vision into a one-of-a-kind campaign that will prompt the target audience to engage with the brand and purchase their products or services.

In short, they bring ideas to life.

The team may also be responsible for helping companies create and develop strong and cohesive branding to ensure consistency across marketing and advertising materials.

“Building and managing a successful creative team means you’ll be responsible for organizing its structure and defining roles.”

Now, building and managing a successful creative team means that you’ll be responsible for organizing its structure and clearly defining your creative team’s roles and responsibilities.

Creative thinkers might thrive in chaos but they still need to know exactly what you expect them to do!

While this varies depending on the company and industry, a creative team typically includes:

  • Creative Directors
  • Editors
  • Copywriters
  • Graphic Designers
  • UX/UI Designers
  • Videographers and Photographers
  • Web Developers
  • Account Managers
  • Artists

These roles will change based on the use case, but they’re the most common you will see.

3 key challenges creative teams face

To better understand how to project manage a creative team, you’ll first need to appreciate the key challenges they’re experiencing. A recent study from inMotionNow and InSource revealed the top 3 hurdles creatives face at work. I’ve listed them below in order of importance:

1. Speed at which creative teams are expected to work

The creative process requires outside-the-box thinking.

So, when it comes to creativity, slow and steady wins the race. That’s because creating something new can be a lengthy process that can’t be forced, rushed, or even timed precisely.

“Many companies are measuring creative employees’ productivity using speed of delivery as a key metric.”

Yet many companies are measuring creative employees’ productivity using speed of delivery as a key metric. In other words, their creative teams must produce high-quality work quickly. This often puts pressure on creative employees, disrupting their workflow, and impacting the quality of their work.

The key to understand here is that businesses are looking to get 7-10x returns on their creative investment, meaning that deadlines are being pushed harder than ever in the field primarily because of technology advancements. Today, creative teams have to deal with strict processes.

Unless they’re working at a boutique agency (which costs a lot of $$$), this will often be the case.

2. Lack of resources

Funnily enough, creative teams have experienced a reduction in resources, with the number of marketing channels needing creatives increasing. And, in addition to having to create designs across multiple channels (and keep up to date with ever-changing technologies), they’re also expected to liaise with clients.

When you’re deep in the weeds of creating, that is a big no-no.

An account manager should focus on being the connection between the two instead.

3. Volume of demand for creative work

Another key metric regarding productivity is the volume of work produced. Since the creative process can be highly unpredictable and shouldn’t be rushed, it can’t easily be duplicated over a short period.

In short, creativity that sells is hard to mass-produce. Only the companies which understand the most effective way to create certain types of creative will be those that ultimately win in this fast-paced economy.

How to manage a creative team (7 actionable steps)

Only a few things can be left to “creative chaos,” the rest must be managed. That’s why we’re highlighting 7 actionable steps you should take as a leader to bring your creative team to perform better:

Step #1: Inspire the creative team to grow

As a leader, you should strive to inspire your creative team and empower them to do their best. That doesn’t mean you should put them on a pedestal and treat them without regards to commitment and responsibility.

Growth happens in a creative team when you lead by example.

“By showing team members the way you expect them to do things in practice, they’ll be naturally more inclined to follow your lead.”

By showing them the way you expect them to do things, how it can help them develop their skills, knowledge, and abilities, and committing to doing it yourself, they’ll be naturally more inclined to follow.

Also, creatives thrive on challenges. You should try to create a positive and collaborative environment for your team and provide them with the best tools available. This will inspire them to push their limits and do better.

Also, don’t let your ego come between you and ‘’getting your hands dirty’’.

A leaders’ ego leads to distrust and contempt for authority.

Step #2: Connect with the team—don’t “manage” them

If you want to know how to manage a creative team effectively, start by learning about the way creatives think and what challenges they face. Unless you have a creative background yourself, you might learn the hard way that most team members in a creative team don’t work or think the same way you do.

This could create a disconnect and prevent effective communication and teamwork.

I’ve highlighted some of the things you can do to better connect with your team below:

  • Ask questions and carefully listen to the answers
  • Learn about their aspirations, accomplishments, strengths, and challenges
  • Encourage regular input and show them their opinion matters
  • Organize brainstorming sessions and collaborative projects
  • Ask for feedback from them
  • Show your appreciation often
  • Encourage them to have fun at work

These are just a few ideas to connect more with your team.

Try your own spin on each of them, that’s what’s going to inspire your team’s creative culture.

Step #3: Encourage collaboration on the creative

Research has shown a high correlation between creativity and unsociable personalities.

Highly creative people tend to prefer working alone.

And they don’t necessarily feel the need to share ideas or collaborate with others. Yet effectively matching your team’s talents and facilitating brainstorming can help foster inspiration.

What’s more, it can also create team synergy.

For instance, if a project requires both a creative solution and a detail-oriented approach, you could pair up process-driven and detail-oriented project managers with graphic designers, photographers, or artists.

This will allow you to combine the different abilities and strengths of each team member and ensure high-quality project deliverables while meeting deadlines.

Step #4: Communicate with your team daily

Rigid processes are the enemy of creative employees.

Yet when designed and communicated properly, processes help creative thinkers understand what’s expected of them so that they can channel all of their energy towards a specific goal.

“When designed and communicated properly, processes help creative thinkers understand what’s expected of them so that they can channel all of their energy towards a specific goal.”

As a result, communicating with your creative team every day in an effective way is critical.

The more open and transparent you are, and the most efficient the team will be.

Some of the key things you could do throughout a project include:

  • Preparing on-demand videos and discussing them
  • Setting clear guidelines while leaving room for creativity
  • Regularly following up on tasks and organizing quick catchups
  • Frequently reminding everyone about milestones and requirements
  • Encouraging the team to report any issue immediately
  • Making sure they have all the resources and tools they need at all times
  • Encouraging personal input, idea-sharing, and regular brainstorming sessions

Showing your commitment and support to the team through daily communication will help build trust and improve performance. It’ll also lead to higher employee/collaborator retention.

However, there is a fine line between motivating your team and micromanaging. While it’s important to check up on your team every day, remember that creativity needs autonomy and freedom too!

Step #5: Delegate distracting tasks to external folks

A client requested that you tweak the color palette for their branding, edit the intro of an eBook or change the thumbnail of a video? Don’t sweat it, and make sure to delegate these small tasks to external folks.

This will avoid unnecessary stress on your team members while allowing you to allocate more time and guidance on bigger projects. The more “off-scope” the task is, the better it is to delegate it to someone externally.

Step #6: Establish creative standards to meet

While the team should be given enough freedom to create innovative, striking, and powerful content and campaigns, you still need to ensure their work meets the clients’ expectations. As a creative thinker, it’s easy to get excited and sidetracked without thinking about the main goal, expectations, and requirements.

“As a creative thinker, it’s easy to get excited and sidetracked without thinking about the main goal, expectations, and requirements.”

Sticking to rules and requirements isn’t necessarily a creative’s strength. If the work is not up to standard, whether low quality or just off-brief, you should strive to provide constructive feedback. You can also carefully review the brief together and work on a plan of action to correct issues and improve the final results.

Step #7: Give constant feedback to the team

Providing your creative team with continuous feedback is important to help them grow and improve project deliverables. That’s because constant feedback makes employees feel like they are valued and that their work matters. It encourages productivity, collaboration and instills trust between a leader and the team.

A study from Gallup found that 27% of employees feel like receiving feedback helps them perform better. Sharing regular feedback will enable you to create a culture of meaningful recognition where employees feel appreciated.

Manage your creative team more effectively

As a leader, your role is to ensure the successful collaboration of the team and foster creativity while setting clear guidelines, guaranteeing outstanding deliverables, and providing a seamless customer experience.

That’s a lot of responsibility!

And it can be hard to manage, especially if you work with external folks as well.

To achieve your goals and ensure a smooth experience for both customers and team members, harnessing the power of tools like ManyRequests is key: you get the full management experience in one package:

  • Assign tasks to your team effectively without sending out emails
  • Provide feedback to your creative team members for each project inline
  • Make it easy for customers to see the progress with clear statuses
  • Add external folks to do specific tasks only instead of whole projects

… and so much more.

This will ensure that everyone is up to date with deadlines and project updates while also allowing your clients to easily reach out to your creative team without digging deep into their contact list, track their progress in real-time, and witness your expertise directly from within a streamlined client portal experience.

Try it out with a 14-day free trial below.

Originally published May 30 2021

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Frequently asked questions

What is a creative team?

A creative team is a group of individuals committed to helping their clients or company develop a strong and recognizable brand identity. Their role can also be to implement successful marketing and advertising campaigns. Their ultimate objective as a team is to drive customer engagement. A creative team can work across many different industries, from media and consumer goods to technology.

What does a creative team consist of?

A creative team usually includes: Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, UX/UI Designers, Copywriters and Editors, Photographers and Videographers, Web developers, Account or Project Executives, and more.

How to build a strong creative team?

To build a strong creative team, you’ll need to hire passionate and talented individuals who work well as a team. But first and foremost, a strong creative team needs a strong leader. Some of the key steps for this to happen are: 1) Inspire the team members to grow and remove any ego from the equation; 2) Connect with the team; 3) Communicate daily; 4) Encourage collaboration, and; 5) Learn to delegate small tasks.

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