Creativity has never been a simple thing to manage. In fact, it is a big enough question of whether you can manage it at all. When you are a manager, your designers and copywriters might need an approach that is different from that of the rest of your team. However, with a certain knowledge of psychology, small communication tricks, and the ability to pay attention, you can turn even the most miserable situation straight to a win-win point. Andriy Tkachenko has gathered managers from different industries in Projector. Our conversation inspired me to write this article about managing creative teams to describe typical issues that can emerge in the working process.

So, what are the key points of creative team management? Let’s begin with more or less general definitions.

  • Management is the ability to achieve your goals using work, intellectual abilities, and behavioral motives of other people.
  • Effective communication is 80% of successful management.

Yet, when it comes to creativity, way too many things can get unpredictable and gallop somewhere far beyond any rules. It’s chaos. I cannot imagine any person to describe it better than Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency and the developer of famous Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline:

“Chaos is the only thing that honestly wants you to grow. The only friend who really helps you be creative. Demands that you be creative.”

But despite his certain affection for chaos, in his beyond interesting speech on creativity he gives probably the most useful tips on creative management you’ll ever get. And guess what – it’s all about communication:

“In case you haven’t heard [our rules], here they are. These rules David [Kennedy] actually found in an empty file drawer when we were exiting our previous place of employment.

Don’t act big. No sharp stuff. Follow directions. And shut up when someone is talking.”

Two businessmen talking

These are the guidelines I’ve tried to use in my creative management experience for years, trying to build the necessary atmosphere and communication principles with the people I’ve worked with. It’s like a certain philosophy of its own that you can use as your starting ground to work out your own way. It has always been crucial for me to stick to the following points:

  •  Inspiration for workers. You should always differentiate what motivates and demotivates employees. Also, the provision of team members with input references is vital.
  • Shared vision. I chose the scrum method for managing creative teams for myself because it helps to ensure synchronization of mindsets and work out a common vision. Also, using the scrum method, we constantly check if everyone has understood correctly the ultimate goal and their role in achieving it. Though it’s fair to mention that even with this system I’ve faced all the types of failures we are going to discuss (and some did cost me a lot), it still remains my favorite. After I learned from my mistakes and got to know how to avoid them, I understood that the scrum method works the best for me because it can elegantly eliminate all the failures described below. If it got you interested, we will talk about this method in our following articles.

Now, before we move to the failures, I want you to keep in mind that Approval Studio was designed specifically to avoid them all, and I suggest you give it a try.

12 failures of creative management

Andriy has created a list of 12 failures of creative management that are the result of the stubbornness of many project managers. Here we will provide you with the brief examples of improper work evaluation, how it will influence your workers, and outcomes it leads to.

Failure #1: Subjective evaluation and unconstructive criticism

Example: “Well … It looks awkward. In general, a strange thing. Well, I do not know …Can you make something more interesting?”

What will happen in fact: Insult of the other person’s taste.

Result: Accumulation of hate.

Failure #2: Collective criticism

Example: “Hey guys! Stop doing your job for a sec and go here everybody. Look at this design”

What will happen in fact: Accumulation of negative feedback by inertia.

Result: Shock and demotivation, negative influence on your subordinate’s mental state.

Failure #3: Feedback from people who know nothing about the task

Example: “I showed it to my wife, sister, and 13-years-old niece, and they said it won’t work for the B2B market”

What will happen in fact: Poor judgment from unprofessional people.

Result: Distrust to the feedback, unwillingness to continue cooperation.

Mistake Inscription

Failure #4: Aggravation of stupor

Example: “Dude! I told you to loiter less … deadline is close, you only have a week! We cannot afford it. Stay calm and carry on!”

What will happen in fact: Accumulation of hate.

Result: Failure of the task. Even a nervous breakdown is possible.

Failure #5: Stating the problem in a way that already contains the solution

Example: “Listen, you need to draw a goose riding a beaver, and all this need to sign in Helvetica, 45, but surely in bold”

What will happen in fact: Employee does not feel their importance in decision-making.

Result: After several similar cases, there will be a conflict or dismissal.

Failure #6: Making specific subjective edits

Example: “This image does not fit our business. Here’s a photo of my mom, do it an image out of it and paint in # 931234. But in general, you know, let me do it myself…”

What will happen in fact: Employee does not feel their importance in decision-making.

Result: No one wants to work for managers who do not value their team members.

Failure #7: Directory management without context immersion

Example: “Just do as I say”

What will happen in fact: Unprofessional and subjective judgment of something you have no clue about.

Result: You have a few months to search for a new “subordinate”…

Failure #8: Setting goals by any employee without control and moderation

Example: “- I need a presentation for tomorrow!”

“- By the way, are you doing landings?”

“- Listen, I’ve chosen a better rug here …”

What will happen in fact: People taking over the responsibilities of other employees and, quite often, ignoring their own ones.

Result: Chaos not in the creative, but in the executive way. Stress. Dismissal in a couple of days.

Two birds fighting

Failure #9: Removing decision-making and personal responsibility

Example: “You don’t need any other information. Stick to what you have in your Jira ticket and be done with it”

What will happen in fact: Misunderstanding of the task, context, and responsibilities.

Result: Shift of the role in the company. Now your team lacks one more initiative employee.

Failure #10: Excessive perfectionism

Example: “You know, we’re almost there …Let’s draw 18th version and we’ll see”

What will happen in fact: Overworking and lack of fresh ideas.

Result: Fatigue and unwillingness to start new tasks.

Failure #11: “Ad Hominem” or making everything personal

Example: “Apparently you did not have enough good signboards in Kyiv”

What will happen in fact: Personal attack on your worker’s background.

Result: Insult, long-term offense, complexes.

Failure #12: Invalid feedback or lack of feedback

Example: “In general, everything is OK, but you are fired”

What will happen in fact: Inability or unwillingness to explain your decision as a manager.

Result: Misunderstanding of situation, conflict, a decrease in your managerial reputation.

How to solve the failures of creative management?

We have worked out 5 situations and 5 solutions.

A small figurine under the foot

Situation 1 – The manager does not agree with the designer’s decision.

What to do?

  1. Evaluate the proposed solution from the perspective of its testing cost – ask yourself how expensive it will be to test the correctness/incorrectness of the designer’s decisions. You need to exclude your personal preferences to act as a manager.
  2. Ask a designer to make some valid arguments for their decisions. You have to make sure that you have the best possible solution for a design task. Build a conversation based on reflection – the person should wonder they did all they could to solve the problem.
  3. A Definition of Done developed commonly at the input is usually the best preventive measure.

Situation 2 – Creative stupor

The task is formulated correctly and in time, but it is not processing because of the psychological state of the performer.

What to do?

  1. Personal conversation, identification of causes, isolation of causes that are not related to the project. You always need to acknowledge powerlessness against the problem. Only after that, you can start working out the necessary motivation for your employee. You can motivate them knowing what they like and giving it to them – a day off, a movie, a book, and so on. You can ask your worker to prepare a presentation for colleagues – that will show support and recognition.
  2. Break the project into stages to understand what needs to be done to find a solution to the problem at a particular stage and move to the next one.
  3. Decomposition of tasks. You can draw mind maps and break the task into smaller ones. It looks like the previous point but still is a bit different: even the smallest project units are divided into smaller pieces.

Situation 3 – The designer provides a result absolutely different from what was asked

What to do?

  1. Only an understanding of the problem worked out at the very beginning will help.
  2. A Definition of Done and all Technical Requirements have to be approved by the whole team.

Situation 4 – Violation of discipline, being late

What to do?

  1. Personal conversation, identifying the causes of such behavior.
  2. Preventive measures – standups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives.
  3. Administrative sanctions. You should understand that it is a questionable thing that might not work the way you expect it to, so applying penalties or ignoring them should be a conscious choice of a manager.

Situation 5 – The designer offers innovations to change in processes or other initiatives

What to do?

  1. You need to work out the criteria of effective assessment of changes and the mechanics of the assessment of the final result.
  2. It is also necessary to identify possible losses (risks) and ways to measure them.
  3. The initiator must present the cost of implementation and the ratio of possible benefits. Still, at this stage, the less experienced workers will need your help, and it will be a good decision to provide it.

In conclusion, I will repeat myself once again – I am a supporter of the scrum technique. And if you do try implementing it at least partly or with modifications to your situation, there will be less problems but more order. The main thing – in the first months after the implementation you might think that it takes much more working hours to finish the project with this approach. Do not be afraid of it, the amount of time will decrease when you and your team fully adapt to the updated workflow. Eventually, you will stop paying attention to it when you start spending less resources to complete quality projects.

Keep in touch!

Matthew Roberts is a guy who loves reading and writing whatever he can get his hands on - from project management articles to spicy rock'n'roll guitar riffs. He's been working with Approval Studio since 2018 and continues to do so now, which is why you are currently reading this small clumsy text, obviously. With a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism, he decided that it was a high-time to settle down a bit and finally learn how to use a coffee machine. Approval Studio office happened to have one, so he stayed, learned, and soon enough started working from home. Big and bald.

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