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Free Pizza Only Gets You So Far. Is Your Creative Team Structured for Success?

Everyone loves a pizza party, but if you are looking to take your creative team to the next level of professionalism and growth, then you will need more than quick morale boosters to ensure your continued success and prosperity. Read on for helpful advice on how to evaluate where you’re strong and flourishing, and discover what you need in order to build a solid foundation for creativity and innovation.

I recommend an evaluation of 6 core functional areas of any creative organization:

  • Alignment
  • Role Clarity
  • Decision Making
  • Communication
  • Cultivation of Ideas
  • Working Styles/Preferences

By understanding the current state of these functions within your organization, you can discover whether you are operating as effectively as possible. Consider these organizational vital signs to check and gauge whether you’re performing at a level of brilliance. Just like a high engine temperature or low oil pressure reading might be a warning sign for your car’s performance, having one or more of these areas off-kilter can be symptomatic of larger organizational issues.

Myth Busting: Chaos and Creativity:

“Sounds great in theory, Wayne,” you might be thinking. “But we don’t need self-evaluation. We don’t need someone to tell us how to be creative and muck up what we do with a bunch of process and structure.” I hear you.

If you’ve got lightning in the bottle the last thing you want to do is lose that to ham-fisted measures. But two of the greatest myths we continue to perpetuate in the workplace are that creativity needs no structure and that true creativity can only come from turbulence and conflict. Admittedly, sometimes the best creative results can come from a compromise or a blending of fierce and opposing creative points of view, but there’s no need to add conflict and stress with organizational issues. Providing a supportive environment actually fosters creativity. It helps clear out distracting, extraneous clutter, which only serves to pull your staff from their creative pursuits.

Granted, you might not need a whole lot of structure and process for your creative team when you are five friends in a garage. You can just lean over and ask a question to keep the momentum going. But what about when you’re 50 people… or 100 people, when you can barely think about being creative because every unanswered question inevitably floats up to you, then what? And when you’re looking to attract partners, investors and other key players, they’ll want to know that not only did you strike gold once, but that you’re also positioned to do it again and again, in bigger, and more robust ways.

By having a supportive foundation in place — where everyone knows where they are headed together, where information flows freely and where people respect the differences that show up in organizations — you’ll be better equipped to handle these challenges and others as your business grows and matures.

Seeking Alignment

An organization that is in alignment is one where everyone knows where they are collectively headed in the long and short term. Everyone also sees how the organization’s objectives blend into their own personal ones — how their own efforts will not only assist the organization but also themselves.

An organization in alignment will also be clear on its Working Guidelines, the fundamental values, norms and rules that an organization agrees are important to employ or follow to be their most successful — to do their work in the manner they think best.

In organizations that aren’t in alignment, people wonder why they are doing what they are doing. They’re unclear as to where the organization is headed, so they’re unclear as to how they can assist with that. They doubt that what they are doing is ultimately to their own personal benefit, other than procuring a paycheck. It’s rare that inspired work will come out of an environment like this.

With proper care and attention paid toward objectives and working guidelines, creative teams will be energized to stand shoulder to shoulder in pursuit of executional excellence.

Clarify Roles

Who handles what? That’s it. Simple, right? Well, in practice there can be confusion that develops as to who should handle what, especially as a creative organization grows.

As an example, I recently worked with an ad agency where the studio team was making changes to deliverables that the art team had not approved. The result was a lot of conflict, meetings, and back and forth over what to do and who to listen to.

When you assign and clarify roles within your creative team focusing on the domains of those roles, and their corresponding outputs, and when that information is made available to the team, you minimize the drag that can result from role unclarity.

Empower Decision Making

If it’s your company, you make all the decisions in the beginning. That’s the reward for taking the risk to start up something new, right? But what happens when you grow? As you expand, you need to empower others with decision-making authority. If not, you may find yourself asking “when did I stop being able to exercise my creative impulses because I’m so busy providing answers to the people who work for me?”

So, how is decision-making distributed across our organization? How do you know when you need to add another decision maker? Are you sensing the changes in your team and market, and can you equip your team to make the decisions on their own that will support your growth and development?

Communicate Effectively

Battling email inboxes. Figuring out video conferencing. Ugh. Meetings! If Michelangelo had to sit through your meetings, would the Sistine Chapel have been painted? Entire books have been written about improving bad meetings and handling the inundation of email. Each creative team will have its own challenges around these tools and tactics. So the ways in which you solve them will vary to your specific circumstances. It’s key here though to determine the best ways for your team to communicate with each other. When you ask your team to focus on the intent of their communications and pick the most appropriate vehicle for those communications, then creativity can flow freely and be unencumbered by painful meetings and mountains of email.

When your team masters the art of effective communication by focusing on intent and picking the best channel for it (or at least minors in an authentic effort here,) then you’ll see immediate results in the day to day. Your meetings will move quicker and you’ll see less pointless email. Your team will know its time is being used more purposely and feel more energetic about adding to the conversation. And the less time wasted means more time to let creativity flow.

Cultivation of Ideas

If you as a leader want to get more and better creative work from your staff, consider taking better care of, and cultivating the creativity that comes forward. When ideas and input are collected and cared for in a consistent and conscious way, staff is much more likely to feel comfortable bringing their ideas and work forward.

Even if a creative idea isn’t acted upon, acknowledging all creative input appropriately will foster a culture of appreciation. Let’s face it, creatives do often crave validation, and while there’s definitely room for constructive feedback, there’s also plenty of room for acknowledgment and gratitude when it comes to a staff member’s creative contribution.

In addition to gratitude, clear decisions on the status of creative projections, and a conscientious review of those projects at appropriate intervals will go a long way to communicate the value of team input. It lets your team know that new and creative ideas are appreciated because you are focusing on those projects conscientiously.

Working Styles/Preferences

Just because we are a team of creatives doesn’t mean we are all the same, and diversity is good! Hiring someone who thinks, talks, reacts just like you do is a classic HR pitfall. It limits the variety of approaches that make for good creative collaboration. But as team lead, be aware of the issues that can arise by mismatched working styles or behavioral preferences.

So do you know your team? Does your team know each other? Can they recognize their individual working style? The awareness of different styles among staff can provide meaningful change in the way individuals view their co-workers and relate to them, allowing creativity to flow unblocked by unnecessarily tense or “gritty” interactions.

Conclusion: Balancing Introspection and Execution

OK, you’re thinking, “This is great, Wayne,” but who has the time to do ALL of this during a work day?” I hear you. It’s a balance. If we’re so busy examining ourselves that we can’t finish our work, we soon won’t have any work to execute. So work definitely needs to get done, but without introspection and appropriate intervention, it’s easy to fall into predictable habits that inhibit growth, expansion, and brilliance.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect upon these six areas and consider if your team could use some focused attention on making sure you are setting the right environment for your creative team to shine brilliantly.

Do you have a success story to tell? Or is your team particularly challenged in this ARENA? I’d love to hear from you! 

Please email me at hello@waynepepper.com
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