7 Steps to Effectively Manage Your Creative Team

Are you managing creative people? Or do you want to lead a creative team at some point? This article will give you the confidence and skills to foster an inspiring environment in which your creative team takes ownership of their work and develop a process that produces results.

Are you managing creative people? Or do you want to lead a creative team at some point? This article will give you the confidence and skills to foster an inspiring environment in which your creative team takes ownership of their work and develop a process that produces results.

You might have had your fair share of bad bosses, which means you might have a pretty good idea of what kind of leader you’d want to be, and which one you don’t want to become. Leaders with too many rules and restrictions, as well as micromanaging tendencies, will see their creative team’s dedication diminish right in front of their eyes. Yes, the creative work brings its own set of challenges, but it’s one of the most rewarding work out there. 

What’s a creative team?

A creative team’s main goal is to bring marketing strategies to life that appeal to the right target audience, are aligned with the brand’s voice, look and feel, and stand out from the competition. This includes brand design, webpage development, social media, copywriting, and more.

To do this effectively, each team member has to be thoroughly briefed and have a clear understanding of the project’s goals, values, mission, and vision. Though creative teams are mostly associated with agencies that can offer new ideas and fresh perspectives for brands, they also exist in-house at bigger companies.

    Roles, Responsibilities, and Structure

    To effectively manage your creative team, it is paramount that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Moreover, each team member must understand your thought process, what you expect and why you expect it. 

    The most common roles you’ll encounter within creative teams are:

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

    Whereas big creative teams usually consist of specialists, each an expert in their area, like graphic designers who create the artwork, copywriters who do the writing, and web developers who upload the creative work to the internet.

    Within small creative teams, you can mostly find generalists covering multiple roles. For example, the project manager may also be the creative director and the graphic designer.

    3 Challenges You’ll Encounter

    To become an effective creative leader, you’ll first need to understand the challenges creatives face these days. 

    Creatives are not executives

    Marketers and managers come from Mars, creatives from Venus. Not really but the thought process, vocabulary, and objectives are completely different. That is exactly where you come in as a creative lead. It’s your job to be the “translator” between clients and executives on one hand and your creative team on the other hand to reduce friction between departments. 

    Debriefing clients and executives, and then briefing your creative team in their own words and tone will make sure everyone is aligned and ready to create high-quality results.

    Speed as a key metric

    Often, creative teams are being pushed on speed and volume, ideally with the lowest cost and the highest quality – which is impossible to achieve. In the end, you’ll always end up with either low quality or higher costs. Creativity does not follow a linear process and can’t be mastered fully. It’s a process that takes time, and can not be forced.

    So speed as a key metric will not get you the results you want. You must start using metrics that show the quality of your creative’s teamwork and their ability to become strategic partners.

    An increasing variety of marketing channels

    Ever-changing technology makes it challenging for creative teams to keep up with an increasing variety of marketing channels: from email to social media, website to google advertisements, and apps to third-party messaging platforms. Not only does the creative output have to be consistent on all these channels, but they also have to be personalized! Navigating your creative team through those specific needs asks for effective leadership.

    The Guide to Leading Creative Teams and People 

    Managing creative teams ultimately comes down to knowing the importance of teamwork. Knowing that a team culture infused with collaboration, engagement, and accountability helps each team member to perform at their best. 

    The most successful team leads understand the needs of their creatives and influence instead of control.

    Here are 7 steps to follow if you want to effectively lead a creative team:

    Step #1: Build an inspiring vision

    For your creative team to perform and engage at their best, it’s necessary to build a supportive and empowering environment. One that allows for their brilliance to unleash, not to reveal your own. 

    You can achieve this by making them understand the WHY behind what you do, which creates an environment of ownership. Without the WHY, your team just inherits tactics and loses a sense of belonging, which results in them simply sitting back and waiting until you tell them what to do. 

    An inspiring vision gives stability, but is also challenging, which are two things creatives need. The balance between both is your golden ticket to team development.

    Step #2: Set a good example and become an effective leader

    Lead by example. It’s a compelling way of showing the team lead skills you value. When leading through example, you show your team members that what you say, do, and think are aligned.

    Showing your emotional intelligence, the way you communicate with others, your ability to listen and learn from others as well as taking responsibility for your actions, can help your team members develop these skills and abilities as well.

    It’s also a good way to show your team the leadership skills you value. For example, if you value reading as one of the best ways to gain knowledge, you can inspire your team by sharing and discussing the books you read and learned from, asking questions, and igniting a similar passion.

    Step #3: Communicate daily

    Just like Corbusier needed structure for his creativity to thrive, the art team does need processes so their energy can be channeled towards the same goal. As a creative leader, having daily communication with direct reports through one-on-one meetings or daily check-ins is key to team alignment and driving performance. 

    Though not to be confused with micromanaging – where team leads want more control than necessary – structure empowers your team and gives them control over their work, which helps them understand what’s expected of them and creates ownership.

    Step #4: Encourage collaboration

    For some, competition fuels motivation and engagement. For creative people though, competition is a breeding ground for friction and frustration, and in the end, can be counterproductive. 

    That is why as a team lead of a creative team, it’s important to encourage collaboration between your team members. When they are excited to work together they will perform best.

    Design thinking teaches us that multi-disciplinary teams come up with the best ideas. So go out of your way to gather the team for brainstorms or feedback rounds and instill the idea that the most original campaigns are the result of many heads put together.

    Step #5: Don’t be afraid to give and receive feedback

    One of your responsibilities as a modern creative team lead is to give forward-looking feedback and improve employee performance.

    And no, don't wait until the end of the year to set up these meetings. Regular ongoing conversations with each team member ensure they understand how they can improve.

    Remember that you too can take advantage of receiving employee feedback. An environment where employees feel comfortable giving you genuine feedback will help you become a better leader as well as improve your team’s morale.

    How can you create a secure place for your team to share and show how they feel?

    Step #6: Foster the art team to think outside the box

    Managing creative teams means you are dealing with people who are wired differently. They dislike Excel sheets and inflexible processes. They might even have no idea how they came up with their brilliant ideas. That is why creatives are a gift! So how can you make sure the team keeps creating unpredictable innovations that drive business impact? 

    Set up ideation processes with different problem-solving methods to empower your creative team to think outside the box. Many design thinking toolboxes are freely available online – like Hyper Island’s toolbox or IDEO’s tools – to give an innovative spin to your next ideation sessions.

    And when you are at it, try having these creative workshops in a different environment, other than the workplace. They introduce new stimuli and promote lateral thinking, which often leads to new ideas.

    Step #7: Schedule a post-mortem meeting

    Just as daily check-ins ensure focus and group commitment, project check-outs are vital for reflection and closure, symbolically and practically. 

    Check-out processes are no time wasters and if they feel like that, maybe something is missing or should be adjusted. Try answering these questions:

    • What is my biggest learning from the project?
    • What will I do differently next time?
    • What was my high and what was my low during this project?

    Taking time to reflect on what was done right and what could be done better will help you and your team become better after every project.

    3 Challenges You’ll Encounter Mananging an Art Team

    Better understanding your creative team and their work behaviors will result in an engaged and loyal team of individuals that drive business impact. So make sure to avoid these 3 mistakes:

    Effective creative briefs are missing

    "Briefing is a waste of time." Have you heard this excuse before? Maybe you are the one telling it! But don’t be fooled: briefing is like a warm-up before sports. Without it, you'll likely worsen performance. It's so important to take the time to ease your creative team into project mode. Spending time to set up a thorough brief will help you decrease scope creep in the long run. Smartly investing time, to save a lot of time and frustration, is a win-win for both you and your team.

    Poor and ineffective processes

    From a recent study we conducted with over 100 agencies, we found out that one of the biggest pain points they suffer from is not having defined processes in place. Processes can be the enemy of creatives when too strict but can channel the right energy when designed and communicated properly. Make sure your creative team is spending time on what they do best, rather than searching tirelessly for the latest feedback in endless email threads. It’s your job as a team lead to find the right kind of tools and processes to foster the creative workflow.

    There’s no time for talk

    In the fast-paced agency world where time is the only limit, more often than not there’s just not enough time freed up for paying attention to your creative team members. In the long run, this will surely turn against you. 

    So to avoid lack of engagement or unmotivated employees, make sure to understand your team’s needs so you can take action in time to improve their loyalty and team engagement.

    Closing thoughts

    Nobody is born with leadership abilities, let alone if team members are creatives. Becoming a creative team lead is a skill set that you can build, practice, and develop. It’s all a matter of acquiring a growth mindset and taking the lessons from this post to heart.

    A great way to get started though is to develop a briefing process - getting to know what your clients need and define deadlines, deliverables, and more - and for that, we have the best tool.

    HolaBrief is a platform that enables creatives and agencies to build beautiful-looking briefs and centralize their projects’ information in one place. You can sign up for the free trial and begin your team lead journey with us!