7 tips for managing a creative team the right way

Managing a creative team often feels like solving a jigsaw puzzle. In zero gravity.

You put a piece down, turn around to find the next one, and by the time you come back to put the two pieces together, the first one has already started floating aimlessly into the chaos of the universe.

Weeeeeee!

GIF Source: Giphy

It’s not easy to tame the intergalactic creative monster in all your team members, let alone make them work together towards the same goal.

However, with the right tools and strategies, these little imaginative entities that live inside all of our heads can be convinced to become collaborative and productive.

Now, let’s board the spaceship and set out on a voyage to explore seven tips for effectively leading a creative team. 🚀

Table of Contents

What is a creative team?

Ah, creatives. The ones who will dream up the next big thing and make it happen, too.

A creative team is generally formed by creative professionals, such as writers, designers, video producers, web developers (because there’s poetry in code!), content creators, marketers, advertisers, and anyone in between. 

You can easily spot creative professionals. They’re often the odd ones out in offices filled with data analysts, accountants, and other people who work with data. 

When you put together a group of people who can effortlessly create alternate universes during their lunch breaks, you get yourself a creative team.

5 reasons managing a creative team is challenging

To be able to put all the puzzle pieces together (and stop floating aimlessly through space), you must first understand the “why” behind the challenges you’re experiencing as you manage creative employees.

#1: Perfectionism 

As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” 

The same goes for creative work. It’s challenging to integrate creative work into pre-determined standards and get all the stakeholders to approve a piece of content.

This is one of the main reasons creative professionals often start chasing the perfect draft. 

Perfectionism born of an obsession with pleasing everyone involved in the approval process while respecting personal standards can hinder creatives’ productivity.

#2:  Inconsistent performance

Perfectionism further leads to procrastination and inconsistent performance.

Think about it: when creative people put huge amounts of pressure on themselves to create the perfect deliverable from the first attempt, their whole workflow can be disrupted

Waiting for that aha moment to write a catchy, never-written-before intro is a herculean task that nobody assigned to your team member, but they took it upon themselves anyway.

Results from this race to perfection are often disappointing both for the creative team member and their manager.

Chances are inspiration won’t hit within the project timeline. The deadline approaches, the muses don’t show up as expected, and the creatives deliver sub-par work in their rush to meet the deadline.

If you manage a team of creative perfectionists, you might be unwittingly signing up for frustration, delay, and unsatisfied clients.

#3: The Einstellung effect

The Einstellung effect tells us that an old dog will apply the same tried-and-true tricks when problem-solving, even when the results are not necessarily satisfactory. 

This phenomenon is what causes experienced creatives to use the same strategies when approaching new projects. It’s like their creativity gets trapped in a box, and they cannot find their way out of it.

When an employee experiences the Einstellung effect, delivering mediocre work becomes the norm. Client satisfaction takes a plunge. And the gears that once kept the creative process in motion get stuck.

As a creative team manager entangled in an uninspired state, it becomes challenging for you to set the right expectations for your clients. You can no longer take pride in your agency’s out-of-the-box and innovative work. 

#4: Inefficient communication and constant interruptions 

When tasks don’t get done as expected, you start to constantly ping your teammates, asking for frequent updates on Slack.

At first, the added pressure of your check-ins speeds things up but only a few times.

When instant messaging doesn’t cut it anymore, you move on to scheduling daily Zoom meetings to boost productivity.

Surprise, surprise!

Video calls do nothing more than waste everyone’s valuable time.

Gif Source: Giphy

To end unproductive communication, you must strike the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication strategies (more on that in a second). 

One way to hit that sweet spot is using tools (such as social media channels) that enable your team to mix instant messaging and async communication as they see fit.

A McKinsey report revealed a 25% productivity increase for teams communicating effectively through social technologies.

You see, productivity and communication are truly connected. And if your communication game isn’t on point, you’ll soon notice drops in employee efficiency. 

While interruptions don’t always lead to productivity issues, they can certainly hurt your team.

According to a study entitled The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress, employees usually make up for interruptions by picking up the pace. This unsurprisingly leads to employees experiencing more stress, higher frustration, effort, and time pressure (a type of psychological stress that occurs when a person has less time available than needed to complete a task). 

Even though decreases in work quality may not show up immediately, job stress makes employees less attentive and can eventually affect work performance.

#5: Inefficient feedback workflows

On top of all the metrics measuring productivity, a creative’s work efficiency comes down to the client’s input and approval. 

Ultimately, a big chunk of a creative employee’s workday revolves around feedback — be it worrying about what the client will say about a bold choice or trying to decode vague iteration requests from stakeholders.

That’s why, when the review and approval process is not optimized, creatives and clients alike get frustrated, deadlines are missed, and team morale takes a dip into the depths of self-doubt.

The management of creative teams is tricky.  There are so many obstacles to avoid and things to keep in mind that it may seem easier to become anything else but a creative leader.

We’re here to tell you otherwise.

7 tips for efficiently managing creative teams

Before you Google “urban beekeeping for beginners” or volunteer to become an astronaut, get reassurance from our seven tips on leading your creative team into the land of productivity and high-quality work.

Here are the main points we’ll cover.

Graphic that lists 7 tips for managing creative teams

Let’s see exactly where each of these tips fits into the big picture of managing a successful creative team.

#1: Choose the right communication method

It’s already settled! Frequent calls without an agenda, constant pings on Slack, and hundreds of notifications from different tools and apps can surely make creativity and innovation run away and hide like a dog on New Year’s Eve.

GIF Source: Giphy

Instead of chasing away productivity with all the fireworks of instant messaging, give your team the time and space to think and create. 

While it’s true that synchronous communication helps teams brainstorm, socialize, and approach delicate and sensitive issues, it’s best used in moderation when leading a creative team.

Instead of relying 100% on tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, demote real-time conversations from “the norm” to “occasional.” 

To successfully do so, integrate asynchronous communication tools (i.e., MarkUp.io, Loom, Twist, Threads, etc.) into your tech stack and resort to face-to-face time only when it’s absolutely needed.

This strategy helps your employees maintain their focus and stay fully engaged with what they’re doing. Plus, async communication may take off some of the pressure that comes with notifications from the manager.

There’s a time and a place for both communication styles. For instance, while asynchronous communication allows employees to experience fewer distractions when working, it can also make individuals feel isolated.  

On the flip side, synchronous communication interrupts creative workflows but offers an excellent environment for teamwork and co-creation. 

The bottom line is that effective creative collaboration needs a strategy based on asynchronous communication sprinkled with occasional real-time discussions. 

#2: Add variety to assigned tasks

Sure, it’s great to have experts specializing in different tasks and topics. But creative burnout isn’t so great.

Avoid tiring the intergalactic creative being of your team by mixing up their tasks when possible.

Let’s say Angela’s an expert in designing landing pages. At some point, her designs start to look too similar, regardless of the creative brief she receives. Clients get frustrated, and you shoot her a passive-aggressive email asking her to do better.

Do you know what would help?

Assigning a business card design to her. Then, give her a print media design project for a fashion magazine. 

This strategy works because it breaks the pattern of tasks your teammates are used to having in their daily workflows. 

By switching things up regularly, creatives will be forced into divergent thinking, which fires up the production of creative ideas and doesn’t let the brain get bored and trapped within the sticky web of the Einstellung effect.

#3: Encourage collaboration and co-creation

When those long-awaited creative epiphanies are late to the party, stimulate your coworkers’ creative muscles with collaborative projects where they can brainstorm together and fuel the engine of artistic production.

Co-creation can take many forms.

For instance, you can add internal reviews as standard steps into your workflow. Instead of reviewing the first drafts yourself, you could assign the initial proofing to other creatives.

To streamline the process of reviewing deliverables, you can use MarkUp.io. The platform makes it easy to collect contextual feedback (more on this in a bit 😉).

Another way to boost collaboration is to use co-creation tools that enable designers to work together on projects.

Such tools include Figma, Vista, and Mockplus Cloud.

#4: Fix the feedback loop

Things must change if your review and approval process relies on email exchanges with the client.

When you submit drafts for review over email, the feedback you get is often challenging to grasp. It’s vague and weirdly explained (as your clients are not always familiar with your industry terminology), and it takes enormous chunks of time to decode and implement.

Email feedback is frustrating! The constant misunderstandings lead to long threads of “kind reminders” and  “per my last email …”.

With emails, there’s always the added element of surprise — you don’t know when your client will get to review your deliverables. And you’re likely to get a reply when you least expect it.

The issue with delayed responses to review requests is that they cascade into setbacks, missed milestones, and postponed projects.

Plus, there’s the frequent, unexpected interruption you get with each new message in your inbox. And we have already gone through the harmful effects these workflow disturbances can have on your teammates.

To ensure your employees’ mental health is not affected by their work, it’s your job as the creative director to fix the feedback loop and ban the use of email and instant messaging for reviewing creative work.

If you think changing your review and approval process will be difficult, you can’t be further from the truth. One of the best ways to introduce a new process is to implement a system that requires little-to-no onboarding.

MarkUp.io makes it easy for creative managers to streamline their teams’ feedback process. The platform helps you:

Most importantly, MarkUp.io enables you to turn the feedback process from a dreaded activity into a frictionless experience for clients and creatives!

MarkUp.io is suitable for any business, whether a freelancing gig, a creative agency or an enterprise. 

Everyone can leverage the platform to get contextual feedback. Copywriters, graphic designers, and web developers can rely on MarkUp.io for flawless in-house and external review sessions.

This proofing tool has a close-to-zero learning curve and is super easy to implement across teams of any size! 

It’s simple to use and doesn’t require special onboarding, which is a bonus for dynamic creative environments where time is always limited.

But enough about us! Let’s get back to you.

#5: Don’t micromanage your creatives

You’re a content writer working on a blog article. Comfortable in the intimacy of your Google Doc, you write like Eminem raps. Suddenly, your manager’s headshot appears in a bubble at the top of your doc. Now you’re being watched!

Upon the realization that your creative process is now on display, you forget everything you know. 

That’s what most people experience when they know they’re being closely supervised when working — their performance worsens.

Image Source: Reddit

If micromanagement is part of your leadership style, you have some work to do.

Micromanagement gives you a false feeling of being in control, which can be comforting; we’ll give you that. But feeding the fear of not losing control is not worth the consequences.

This management style impacts your well-being, employees’ morale, and growth potential. It’s terrible for everyone.

Loosen your grip and create a space for creativity to develop where employees feel trusted and appreciated for their skill sets.

#6: Set the right client expectations 

Try to keep deadlines flexible, as creative work is not always done on time. 

But since you’re running a business, clients need to know what they’re paying for and when they can expect the services they’ve bought.

So, to ensure your clients receive the deliverables on time, overestimate when setting deadlines and leave room for the unexpected. 

When accounting for unpredictable obstacles that may stall projects, don’t oversee the potential delays caused by several rounds of feedback. After all, there’s a low chance a deliverable will be approved immediately, and you need to include several drafts in your estimations.

Be transparent with clients and walk them through your review and approval process to secure a frictionless proofing dynamic. This will mean you don’t waste time later on explaining how you do things when it comes to feedback.

You already know that MarkUp.io can help you speed up this process. 😉 

What’s more, the platform also supports creatives in delivering work on time by making feedback contextual and easier to understand and implement.

Less time spent on decoding client feedback = more time for creativity!

#7: Leave room for new ideas and innovation 

If you’re only considering your team’s input regarding daily tasks, you’re missing out on great ideas that could change how your organization works.

Creative professionals could find unexpected solutions to company issues thanks to their unique and out-of-the-box ways of thinking. 

For instance, encouraging creatives to speak their minds might result in them fixing operational, productivity, or other problems the team experiences.

IOM Human Resources suggests that team leaders can actually overcome creative challenges when they ask creatives to provide answers for short and open-ended questions focused on a single issue at a time. 

This strategy encourages creative problem-solving and helps you collect unique solutions to fix company struggles. 

You can then organize your employees’ suggestions and map them to actionable plans.

***

Hopefully, you’re excited to implement all these tips and tricks on managing a creative team effectively.

Before you go solve that puzzle, you need one more piece to complete the whole picture.

Over to you

You know how some people start with the corner and edge pieces when putting together a jigsaw puzzle?

GIF Source: Giphy

Following this method helps you create the frame that makes connecting the missing elements easier.

In the case of the creative team management puzzle, MarkUp.io is a cornerpiece. It helps you quickly resolve time inefficiencies caused by a slow and disparate feedback process.

Once that’s out of the way, you can dig deeper and find what other processes need fixing.

If you’re ready to start puzzle-solving, claim your free 14-day trial with MarkUp.io and get rid of the proofing madness once and for all!