5 Things to Know About Leading & Managing a Creative Team
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5 Things to Know About Leading a Creative Team

Laura Laasi Laura Laasi Last Updated:

How to Make Teamwork Work

I’ve been lucky to have countless experience in cross-functional teams, very different in group dynamics, sizes and goals. Some of the work done in those groups has been very successful, and some has failed miserably. And the reason behind the latter has never been the capabilities or skill, but more often than not the mistakes made in leadership, communication, and goal-setting.

With that in mind, I’ll be discussing some of the threats your creative team will undoubtedly face and what to do to minimize those. And lead your team to a new course where better teamwork means better outcome.

1. Team = People

When putting together a team, people tend to look for right skills. And this is totally understandable. Creative teams exist to get work done. But unlike some other professional settings, the question how the job gets done is just as important as what’s on the agenda.

Therefore you need to ensure that in addition to the capabilities you get the right type of people. The more diverse your team is, the more chances you have of an interesting outcome that could at least differ from the most popular choice.

You also need to start embracing the idea of the culture fit. So instead of looking for that one and only superstar, you imagine could take over the world for you, put together a killer team instead. Because the might of many always overrules the strength of one. So if you need to hire a new person, think about how well they can play with others.

2. Say “No” to Douchebags

Because as they say: Any skill can be taught but kindness and respect for others – not so much.

You know that guy who’s always the first one to speak, the last one to speak and the one always to speak? Every team is bound to have one of those. And I hate to break it to you, but it’s bad news. Especially, if you’re still riding the (now a bit tired) wave of brainstorming.

The people who are hogging the creative space are bound to dominate. And if you’re not careful, they will soon become an entitled tyrant, forcing their way throughout every project, ignoring everyone who doesn’t seem to agree.

This will break trust, create errors in communication and cause tension inside the team. If only one person will feel ownership of the ideas that finally go into production. Additionally, if more than one person works on the ideation process, the outcome is bound to be better both in quality and content. Because that’s what a great team does: it provides support and supervision.

How to nip this in a bud? First, have a chat with the loudmouth. Explain that they need to listen as well as talk. And give them additional assignments that would take care of any excess energy and vanity.

This is the only way to ensure that everyone can have their say, no one will feel like a push-over, and you have therefore ensured yourself a team that can work together respectfully and kindly, while mutual trust will make sure everyone’s honest and open to criticism.

3. Goal Setting and Communication

A team is successful only when they have a common goal. Not only does this goal need to be set, but it also has to be communicated to each team member.

As Tash Willcocks points out in our recent publishing on managing expectations: “Think of it as a boat. You all get on as a team and express where you want to go and why you align your expectations and set off a happy crew. But over time some sailors start rowing in a slightly different direction or not at all. If this is not addressed, you simply stand in water or go in circles.”

The goals that have been set, need to be re-evaluated on the course of the whole project – and talked about with the whole team. Whenever there’s a bump in the road, whenever there are changes in the team – be it someone joining or processes changing – everyone needs to be kept in the loop.

How to make this work? We suggest to first take a closer look on what Tash is saying. To keep the communication flowing, you need to provide a time and place for honesty and sincerity. Daily check-ins and check-outs are a definite must, and regular teamwork exercises like Stinky Fish could also be beneficial for the overall outcome.

4. Trust

No team can function without trust. It will carry you through both fun and hard times, it will foster creativity and encourage people to talk freely about how they feel about the project at hand. It’s an essential component in both ideation and feedback, making sure that the quality of your work is as high as possible.

Fostering trust is the most important and at the same time the trickiest atmosphere to achieve. But there are a few simple things you can do.

Spend time together outside work, in adventure trails or escape rooms, but most importantly – eat together. There are countless studies claiming that breaking bread together brings people closer, improves listening skills and facilitates trust.

There are also some team exercises you can do to make sure you’re all on the same page. You can have a look around Hyper Island’s toolbox.

5. Listen to Create the Flow

A project manager or a team lead is a god who can pull the whole team together. That is, if the person is mindful of all the different processes that are simultaneously going on during any project.

For that, you need to mostly listen. What does your team need, what are they things can and cannot do without? What is the logical order of doing things? Listen, make a timeline and make sure not to hold on to it too fiercely because plans always change. But be very careful about deadlines!

Use some sort of visual planner. That helps you figure out the order of things, makes sure everyone knows the deadlines and has access to the plans. That takes care of most of the communication and ensures that everyone can pitch in, letting others know when they’re done or lagging behind.

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