7 Tips for Leading a Creative Team
For a quick summary before getting into the nitty-gritty, here are seven tips to follow when you don’t know how to run a creative team:
Learn how to build a creative team.
Foster a healthy team culture.
Set the pace.
Help team members grow both as individual artists and as part of a whole.
Give ‘em a break.
Affirm your team.
Get out of your team’s way.
Any way you look at it, being a successful team leader is no easy task. That’s why there're countless tools out there available to help managers. Whether your team is working on a VFX shot in the next blockbuster movie or working on a new game, leading a team of artists presents its own set of challenges that many corporate managers may never encounter. When you’re leading a team of artists, sometimes it can be easy to revert to more traditional management techniques like micro-management, which can be harmful to your team’s health.
Here are seven tips to help improve performance and happiness when you don’t know how to run a creative team.
1. Know How to Build a Creative Team
Before you can run a creative team, you need to know how to build a creative team. This starts with hiring the right people with the right talent and skills.
When managing a creative environment for your team, you’ll quickly realize you can’t do it alone. Every time someone on your team has a question, you shouldn’t be the only one with the answer. If you are, you’ll soon become the bottleneck and both your projects and your team’s creativity will suffer. If you expect your team members to come to you for approval on every decision, they undoubtedly will.
To avoid this, hire smart, capable, creative problem solvers. Billionaire Michael Dell said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room.” The statement is very true even for creative teams.
2. Foster a Healthy Team Culture
No doubt, your studio certainly has a great culture. Additionally, your team will have its own specific culture that you need to foster.
With the nature of creative work today, most artists spend long hours inside of highly complex software programs and cutting-edge hardware. These long hours can cause a stressful situation, and there’s hardly ever a quick fix available. Left unchecked, technical issues such as getting an actor’s movements to match a 3D character or dealing with a crashed program can hurt your team’s culture simply because most artists don’t like troubleshooting. With every minute spent troubleshooting, that’s a minute they’re not creating. If this happens frequently, these types of issues can quickly create frustration and burnout.
To help maintain your team’s culture, ask questions regularly to get a pulse on your team’s health. Build a transparent mindset to allow openness and honesty about burnout so that you can know the roadblocks. Also, encourage the whole team to help each other out so they feel supported rather than left alone.
3. Set the Pace
Whether or not you’re aware of it, your team looks to you for direction and momentum. Don’t lose track of industry trends and technology. Stay informed of where you are and where you’re going. Brush up your skills by taking an online technology course. Spend 10-15 minutes every day to look at the latest creative news to know what others are doing. You don’t want your team to fall behind in terms of standards, expectations, and forecasts. Otherwise, you’ll soon find yourself losing to your competition or being out of the game completely.
Ultimately, the end goal for any creative lead is to be on the lookout for ways you can keep your team productive and happy, despite the fact that sometimes creativity can seem counterproductive.
4. Help Team Members Grow Both as Individual Artists and as Part of a Whole
The creative process is unique in comparison to workflows or skills that require a more logical and practical approach. The creative process requires exploration and failure to find something new and different. By its definition, “to create” means to make something from nothing. If something has never been done, the process is not there, nor has it been tested and refined.
Every artist wants to keep learning and growing throughout their career, but day-to-day work can make it hard to find ways and time to learn new things and keep growing. This is where you can come in to help make sure your artists grow both individually and together as a team.
Whether by searching out inspiration for your artists, finding a training platform to help them with troubleshooting, or even planning a team trip out of the office to celebrate a win, looking out for your team’s best interests will allow you to grow a positive growth mindset.
We are working in a fast-paced industry that never stops. Everyone out there is learning and growing. So while your artists will naturally push themselves, it’s up to you to give them the tools they need to grow personally and professionally.
5. Give ‘em a break
People naturally want to do a good job at their work, and creatives are no different. If you’ve successfully hired smart people who buy into your culture, you shouldn’t have any questions about their willingness to create their best work.
When you have a focused team, they’re already going to be spending plenty of time on their projects without you needing to remind them. Instead, try to find ways they can break the monotony of pushing and pulling those vertices for hours on end. After working on the same animation for what feels like forever, sometimes having your animator continue to stare at the screen isn’t likely to garner great work.
Although “a break” can mean getting away from the computer (which is often a good thing for creatives to do regularly), it doesn’t always have to mean that. Maybe it means changing up the environment, trying another medium, or experimenting with a different creative style. Or, maybe “a break” means encouraging your team to spend the last fifteen minutes of the day finding inspiration or hopping over to another teammate’s computer to give feedback on their artwork. Offering any of these as options can help your team keep their creative juices flowing.
Be aware of each artist’s health on a daily basis and suggest a break from their hard work now and then, even if it's only for a few minutes to recoup, relax, and then revisit with a fresh eye.
6. Affirm Your Team
All professional artists are accustomed to receiving feedback and critique on their work, but this doesn’t mean they don’t pour a little piece of themselves into every project (if they don’t, that’s probably a concern for you). However, creatives thrive on affirmation for their work, so finding ways to affirm the hard work they put into a project can go a long way in the health of your team.
So how do you offer productive feedback? A lot of creative work is so subjective that it can be tough to take critiques for things that boil down to a matter of opinion. For this reason, try to make any reviews more of a discussion than anything else. Be honest and offer what’s good and what needs work, while still finding areas to affirm. Even if a particular project isn’t going the direction that’s needed, take the time to affirm the hard work that has gone into getting it this far.
That’s the power of constructive criticism. Affirming what they’ve done, even if it’s not exactly what’s needed, means recognizing their efforts and pointing out the positives. Most importantly, it means emphasizing that their mistakes are important opportunities for their artistic growth, which is vital to the company’s progress.
7. Get Out of Your Team's Way
After you hire artists who know what they’re doing and follow all the other above tips, the best thing you can do is get out of your team’s way. Don’t be an unintended hindrance to the process. A great team leader removes obstacles from their team’s path so they can create without distraction. Let them do what they know how to do and eliminate anything that might stop them from being both creative and productive. Your job is to help them do their job.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should abandon them. What it does mean is you’ll need to understand your team’s needs and roadblocks:
What makes your team happy?
What personalities work best together?
Are the right people in the right seats?
Are they getting stressed out over the current project?
How can they better solve their problems?
Never be afraid to listen to their concerns and provide honest feedback. Then, recognize that in creativity, there is going to be a lot of failure. Help your team by offering ways to learn from that failure and you will make the end results that much better.
Although the above points for leading a creative team are brief, hopefully they’ve sparked an idea or offered some inspiration for ways to build and manage your team effectively.
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