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Basic Rules for Managing Creative Teams

November 1, 2017

In-house creative teams are usually either underused or devalued when they could instead be a valuable team within a corporation. A good manager should step up for the team and advocate for it within the organization.

I’ve worked in a few such teams in my career and seen others from the outside and rarely has the team’s potential been something the organization strives to improve. A lot of thought goes into optimizing the sales team, because, well, bottom line, but a thriving creative team does as much to build and improve your busines as any other group, and that includes contributing to your financial success.

It’s up to the team’s direct manager to create an environment for each team member to thrive and promote that as a strength to be deployed by the business at large. Managing creatives (and I’m including both visual and technical here) can be similar to managing other teams, but if goals and deadlines aren’t supplemented with other concerns, your team will be wasted and your business will suffer.

What other concerns? I just have a few basic ideas for managing creatives that may be different than other disciplines:

1. Learn individual strengths and weaknesses

A person identified as a “Creative” (or a “Developer”) can mean wildly different things and it should be the manager’s job to understand where best to position a designer, and what tools to provide, for them to produce their best work. This may mean sometimes jumping from one project to another, but that’s a good thing for creatives and will be beneficial to the organization.

2. Learn and encourage individual aspirations

Just like other teams’ employees may be eyeing bigger and better things, so do creatives and developers. There is always a lot of room to grow as a designer or developer, so keep in mind that few people want to make web graphics for very long. Find out what they want to do next and how you can provide the opportunity.

3. Define project stages

For most projects to succeed, they require some kind of work in these areas: ideation, focusing, refinement, and execution. If at all possible include all team members in the ideation and focusing parts, and then decide which employees are best suited (and would be most interested) in executing. A manager should lead the team from one stage to another decisively to keep the project on track and to be able to communicate it to other stakeholders.

4. Create a supportive work environment that encourages criticism

Creative and coding work is full of personal opinions and preferences, and disagreements can be bad for team unity. But opinions and preferences are important and will lead to team growth. Designers and developers need to feel they can share and defend their ideas and preferences and that (constructive) criticism is just part of the workflow.

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