How to manage your creative team without limiting their freedom


Digital Arts

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Managing any team is a challenging experience.

You need to be sufficiently involved that you can track your team’s progress but sufficiently uninvolved to let them work independently. As well as that, you need to be highly organised, motivated and an excellent communicator.

When you’re managing a team of people who have to be highly creative to get work over the line, it becomes even more complex and demanding. With that in mind, we've put together a list of ways to manage your creative team (without breaking their souls).

Lead with the big picture

Start with a broad idea and work out the details later. It’s important to bring your designers, writers and developers in on a project in its infancy. Not only will they be the people best placed to determine realistic deliverables and processes, but giving creatives prescriptive instructions kills the innovation of a campaign.

Give a proper brief

Your creative team are problem solvers. To help them find the best solution your brief needs to clearly communicate what the problem is in the first place. It needs to be extensive, covering all elements of the project such as target audiences, previous campaigns, intended outcome, research and inspirations. If there’s something you like or dislike, mention it but back it up with reasons why too. When it comes to timings, try to avoid putting hard deadlines in a brief without discussing priorities with your team. Explain the urgency or importance of a project but try to decide on a delivery date together. Whatever you do avoid phrases like "It will only take an hour" or "It won’t take a lot of work". Language matters.

Facilitate innovation

To keep your team stimulated creatively, you need to ensure your work environment is one which encourages teamwork and allows for collective problem solving. The most productive workspaces facilitate storyboarding, mood boards and idea sharing as well as solo work. Don’t underestimate the impact natural light and colour can have on the environment either. Maria Raga, chief executive of Depop says open workspaces are crucial for creatives.

"We are in the fashion space so we want to attract creatives... We encourage an environment that is very open and collaborative. We also have boards all around the office to draw on and use for all teams."

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To get some inspiration on creative spaces, check out the beautiful workspaces of branding studio The Working Assembly and creative agency Vault49, which are both based in New York City.

Establish styleguide

Having a solid styleguide in place will help you ensure brand consistency across all campaigns and help you onboard new team members quicker. Work with your creatives to set some parameters around style. Try not to be too stringent but define best practices around typefaces, logos, colours, treatment of photography, titles, etc. This will help you reduce the time spent on unnecessary edits or amends.

Educate the whole team on the creatives' role

As a manager, you’re responsible for educating other teams on the role and process of your creatives. Peer support is important here. A better understanding of the creative team’s role will lead to better cross-departmental communication and a more cohesive and respectful company dynamic. It will also save a lot of back and forth from coworkers making unrealistic requests or demands of your creative cohort.

Trust your team

While you can dictate the timings, budgets and output of your team, you can’t dictate the process. Avoid micromanagement at all costs and instead trust in the ability and talent of your creatives. Sometimes the most difficult part of managing designers, videographers or writers is to relinquish control and bow to the superior knowledge of your team. Do it. Not only will you see the quality of work increase but your working relationships will be strengthened too.

Offer feedback

While creative freedom is important, your team still need guidance and feedback to best achieve their goals. You should have frequent catch ups to make sure everyone is on the same page and has realistic expectations.

Understand that every project or campaign requires some level of compromise. It might be pushing deadlines, extending budgets or settling for a finished product that’s not as innovative as you’d like. This is especially true of creative teams working in a startup or high growth environment where resources are stretched and changing priorities are out of your control.

If you’re looking for your next creative opportunity, find your next role here.

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