“Well, that conversation didn’t go as planned!”
This is something I’ve said to myself a few times in my career when working with creative teams and team members (including very recently, working with a website & marketing team). Though I make it a point to customize my communication style to the person or audience, I openly admit I’ve fallen short in some categories, creatives being one of them. Someone once told me, “They’re a sensitive bunch!” That may be true, but they’re also dedicated to their work and I need to be aware of that.
There is an art to managing a creative team. So often, they put much of themselves into their projects and are proud of the results they deliver. There may be things at stake for them also. Below are some tips I have for working with creative teams and team members.
Beware of how you give feedback. This was a hard lesson learned for me. When giving creative team members feedback, be mindful of how much of themselves they’ve put into the project.
- Start by being positive. Even if your internal dialogue is isn’t stellar, start by telling them something you like. Show your appreciation for what they’ve done thus far.
- Constructive feedback. Once you’ve talked about positives, now tell them what you don’t like in a respectful manner. Avoid words like “hate, this is shit, WTF” and similar. You may be thinking it, but use softer language. Take me as an example. I said to the website & marketing team; “I have no idea what you’re trying get across here.” Instead, I should have said “I’m a bit confused with your direction. Can you tell me more?” Would’ve gone better.
- End on a positive. Remind them they’re doing a great job and you appreciate their efforts. Be sure everyone agrees on next steps.
Have a creative brief. The first time I read one of these, I asked “What the hell is this again?” Not every creative project is blue-sky. Actually, it can be harmful because there can be too many possibilities. Instead, a project brief sets boundaries which the team can solution quickly. Think of it as a scope document for the creative team.
Allow time to come up with ideas or solve problems. I’m one that will ask my team members when something will get done, and sometimes challenge them if I feel there’s padding going on. I’ve found creative team members, when allowed time, will have amazing ideas. That doesn’t mean they need unlimited time, but don’t ask for something to be turned around in an hour.
Their normal business hours may not be the same as yours. From my experience, creative team members may not do their best work during normal business hours. A contract writer I once worked with told me up front he would never miss a deadline. But, don’t talk to him until at least 3:00 in the afternoon. We would usually talk about 4 or 5, he would commit to delivering something, and it would usually be in my inbox by 4 in the morning. Creatives will get their work done, but don’t expect them to do it during “normal” business hours.
Tolerate risk-taking. Creative team members will push the boundaries and attempt things that may not always work out. As a project professional, I want to avoid failure as much as possible. But with a creative team and design thinking, allow for them to take calculated risks. It may not work out and that’s OK!
Admin work isn’t their thing. Things like recording time, status reports, and regularly scheduled meetings is not the best use of their time. Keep them focused on the tasks that add the most value and keep their interest. As the project manager, keep the admin work off their plate.
Evaluate the need to have them attend meetings. Micromanaging will drive away these team members away quick! Frequent meetings will also. Though stand-ups and recurring meetings are a norm we must all face, creatives will want to make sure their attendance is well worth their time (just like most of us). Evaluate which meetings they must attend, those that are optional, and those they can avoid.
Managing a creative team can be extremely rewarding, but can also be challenging, especially if you’ve never worked with one before. It’s an art. Remember, they pour a lot of themselves, from seeing the goal from a variety of angles, to putting in time to develop ideas, to creation, into their work.