A good creative manager is more than just a project manager. They’re a leader. Managing any team is hard enough, but the moment you become a creative manager you’re in charge of people tasked with being highly creative on a consistent basis in order to deemed successful.
That adds some next-level complexity (read: stress), because creativity is not a tangible thing. It can’t be turned on and off. It can’t be tapped in the same way a developer can churn out code for a specific task.
Managing a creative team requires skills beyond what is necessary in managing and leading any given team. Need a crash course in creative management or faced with managing a creative team? Here’s 5 skills that you should start honing.
No matter the team you’re working with, or the creative resources you have available, no creative team will thrive if you can’t create an environment in which ideas are exchanged effectively. Communicating effectively to your team is one thing, but a creative manager needs to know how to get team members communicating amongst each other. According to McKinsey, organizations where employees are connected and communicate better see a 20-25% increase in productivity.
Get personally involved in communicating as a team and find ways to improve this kind of participation in order to create a culture of honest engagement. Consider these actions that can help:
- Make sure collaborative communication is a feature present in the tools you use as a team
- Use positive reinforcement when team members contribute constructive feedback
- Host agile feedback and ideation sessions with the full team – don’t leave communication solely to email or communication platforms
- Get your team out of office into a more relaxed environment (coffee time) to dive into projects
- Solicit the thoughts of your team often, even on topics tangential to the work at hand
Skilled communication is important, and knowing how to communicate can mean the difference between an engaged and guarded team.
The best creative managers can make an emotional connection and are able to empathize with and understand their team on a personal level. Empathizing with creatives allows you to tailor what you say and how you say it to match the needs and motivations of your team.
You’ll find that employees are more responsive when they feel like you understand their perspective: according to the 2017 Businessolver Workplace Monitor, 85% of employees agree empathy is often undervalued by their employer, and 77% would be willing to work harder for an empathetic employer.
Practicing empathy in communication is easy: listen to your team, take in your team and question what they are thinking and feeling, consider what factors may be driving their thoughts and actions, and ask clarification on their perspective to better understand their position.
Creative managers have the unenviable task of both providing and managing feedback on creative projects. The most successful creative managers know not only how to structure feedback and when to give it, but also how to give creative feedback in the most diplomatic way.
This is a vital skill if you want to empower and energize your team rather than break them down.
“A good creative manager gives feedback that's useful,” writes Edward Boches, professor of advertising and creative courses at Boston University’s College of Communication. “Why exactly isn't it working? Is there a kernel of a good idea in there? If so, find it. If not, suggest angles and directions so the team knows where to go.”
The best feedback comes when creative managers are more actively involved in the project, acting as leaders rather than playing the ‘boss’ who provides the thumbs down on projects. As many as 33% of projects fail due a lack of involvement from management.
When you’re more involved you have more insight into the project and the team, and can provide better creative feedback. This puts you in a better position to provide feedback that’s both constructive and diplomatic.
Improve your diplomacy by:
- Working on empathy to understand your team
- Determine the right time to give constructive feedback
- Avoid reacting emotionally when communicating
- Choose the right words carefully when communicating with your team
Reading the team
A critical skill for creative managers is knowing how to read the team, especially at an individual level. This plays back to empathy but is also key in creating the right environment for your team to thrive creatively.
It’s a common misconception that creative people work best when walls come down and they’re given creative freedom without constraint, or even direction. Actually, most creative teams work best when direction is established, and they can clearly see the roadmap and goals for a specific project.
As Norman Barry, former creative director of Ogilvy puts it: “Give me the freedom of a tight strategy.”
Because each person has a unique approach to how they think, conceptualize, and generate ideas you must learn how your team works and creates as a team and as individuals. Learn to read them so you can still provide clear direction, creative briefs, and specific feedback while giving them the room to thrive creatively.
Every creative project requires tight organization, or chaos reigns. A surprising 44% of projects aren’t tracked using any kind of software or platform to keep them organized. There’s a lot that goes into managing a creative team: ideation sessions, feedback review, tracking meetings and tasks, integration with other teams, training... and all on top of your own creative contributions to the project.
Tools like Slope can help, but developing organizational skills is critical to success.
There’s a host of skills every manager needs to develop to manage projects at scale. Of those, communication is the heart of every creative team. Learning how to communicate effectively, diplomatically, and on a personal level is the key to creating an environment in which your team will thrive. Once communication lines are open it becomes easier to establish and reinforce the creative direction of your team. As ideas surface and the project evolves, tap your project management tools and organizational skills to keep your team working together, delivering milestones on time and crossing the finish line together.