How to Manage a Creative Team Without Limiting Their Freedom

It is always challenging to deal with creatives — the chaotic, out-of-the-box thinkers who often look down on management for restricting their imagination. Creativity and fresh perspectives are extremely sought after in the modern business landscape. Ironically, they are also a roadblock when it comes to successful management.

As a team lead, you want to establish a structure that works day in, day out. With a creative team, there’s always room for surprises and unforeseen challenges.

Wondering how to manage a creative team without disturbing their ‘flow’? This post is a hands-on guide to successfully managing your company’s innovators and bold thinkers. 

By the end of our list you will understand the mind of a creative and will be able to build a system to help the teamwork productively. 

Why Managing and Leading Creative Teams Is Important

A note with a phrase on it: "creativity doesn't need limits".

Creative people are known loners. They enjoy working in a closed space where nothing and no one can distract them from contemplating and developing ideas. 

For a manager, it’s tempting to let employees work at their preferred pace without interfering. Sometimes it seems a team will be more productive if meetings, brainstorming sessions, and so on are off the table. Unfortunately, this intuition is wrong

Managing creative teams is crucial to ensuring they don’t drift away and leave a hard to replace hole in the project. 

Here are more reasons to consider approaching creative team management with the utmost dedication:

  • Management gives creatives a sense of purpose. Your team needs to know their work matters and will be seen. Artists need and seek recognition — working towards a dead end is the worst nightmare for a creative. By conducting regular meetings, a business manager shows enthusiasm and interest in the project, fueling the team’s sense of purpose and encouraging creatives to work productively.
  • Collaboration increases working speed. It takes time to get the most out of brainstorming. At first, you’ll notice that employees come up with more ideas alone than as a part of the team. Yet, in the long run, as the barriers between the team are stripped down and the members get to know each other, brainstorming can be more effective than working individually as it allows the team to get through the layer of superficial ideas and explore the concept on a deeper level. Other than that, through collaboration, your team will be able to join their skills — writers can collaborate with designers to produce better end products, animators can team up with editors to preserve the vision of the video, and so on.
  • Management promotes interdependence. As a manager, the last thing you want is to have a team that is strongly based on individual skills. Should your most talented creatives leave, the working paradigm would be in shambles. What you want instead is the ability to onboard new employees seamlessly, introduce them to the best practices in the team, and ensure their skills blend into the team. Management is crucial in achieving interdependence. Ask team members to create step-by-step guides describing their creative approaches, establish checklists that would serve as quality assurance, and so on. 
  • Build a friendly relationship among team members. Getting people to communicate and connect is a manager’s task as well. Your company’s creatives may enjoy meetups, getting out together, and other forms of team-building. At the end of the day they will most likely be grateful to a manager for helping foster meaningful relationships or friendships in the workplace. 
  • Set boundaries. There’s a fine line between ‘boundaries’ and ‘pressure’. While you absolutely shouldn’t come at creatives with a set of requirements and deadlines, it’s crucial to ensure the end result will benefit the business or the end client. Through management, you outline the vision for the final project, present examples of projects you consider excellent and poor executions of the brief, and so on. This way, team members will have a better understanding of what the stakeholders expect the result to look like, and there will be no miscommunication. 

Managing vs Leading Creative Teams: The Difference

Two women discussing the project

Both terms are used interchangeably, so normally business managers tend to forget the difference. If you think about it, leaders and managers have extremely different approaches, functions, and goals. To understand the difference between what leading and managing creative people means, take a look at the table below.

ApproachesAnalytical, with a focus on task and personnel allocation efficiency.Visionary, laying out plans, establishing goals and ambitions. A leader is a source of inspiration in a team.
FocusShort-term — managers deal with tasks at hand.Long-term — leaders focus on the impact the company will make in the long run, its legacy. 
SkillsPersistence, an analytical mind.Personal charisma, creativity, vision. 
Views on risk-takingNegative. A manager will most likely choose a tried-and-true approach. Neutral/positive. It’s a likely move for a leader to opt for risk if there’s a chance of getting a bigger potential gain. 

This post is mainly focused on management rather than leadership. However, if you do want to start a team from scratch, consider the following tips for leading creative teams:

  • Hire people who are more skilled than you. It’s tempting to be the one with all the answers — however, the best-case scenario is having people on your team who are capable of answering questions with a level of detail you could have never planned for. When hiring employees, make sure they don’t expect you to approve of every decision, are capable self-starters, and have unique skills to bring to the table. 
  • Allocate time for regular breaks. For a creative team, the office environment is often suffocating. To make sure the team is not suffocated by a monotonous routine, schedule free time so that creatives can leave the office for a while and get more energy for working productively through the rest of the day. 
  • Have a clear vision. Make sure you have bigger picture the team is working towards. For creative, the sense of purpose and recognition is a massive drive — take advantage of it as a leader. When laying out long-term goals and plans, try finding out what a team member dreams about as a person. By helping the team grow as individuals, you’ll increase the level of engagement and dedication at the workplace. 
  • Provide a team with continuous feedback. Creative people can easily develop an imposter syndrome if they feel that their work doesn’t matter or is not good enough. Working only for money is not how a creative’s brain is wired. Instead, they want constant improvement and feedback. Be sure to comment on the efforts of all members and provide them with suggestions, appreciation, and support. Your employees will have room for growth and improvement, and that will encourage the team to work more efficiently. 

8 Tips For How to Manage a Successful Team

Managing a team

By now, you understand that the balance of control and freedom is one of the most efficient ways to manage your creative team. Achieving this in an actual workplace is, unfortunately, often more challenging than it seems at first glance. 

As a project manager, you need to find a framework that would satisfy the project stakeholders as well as your team. Use the following eight tips as you learn how to manage creative people

Tip #1. Free the team from administrative tasks

Most creative project managers are yet to meet a creative who enjoys paperwork, filling spreadsheets, and so on. Hiring someone to handle administrative tasks for a creative team might seem an overkill — however, in the long run it will provide you with a better return on investment rather than forcing documentation management on the team. Therefore, handling administrative tasks on your own is the most reasonable solution

This way, you get to keep track of project statuses, employee performance, and other efficiency metrics while your team works on what they do best — building creative products. 

Tip #2. Run regular brainstorming sessions

A team in an office discussing the project

It might come as a surprise, but most creative people are unfamiliar with problem-solving exercises and strategies.

Regular brainstorming sessions are a way to educate your employees, give them toolkits that help control creativity, and churn out ideas faster. 

When planning ideation meetups, steer clear of monotony. Try to rotate exercises to create an ever-present feeling of surprise. 

Tip #3. Use dedicated tools

Technology can offer managers a helping hand. There’s a product on the market to cover every facet of the creative process:

  • Brainstorming: XMind, MindMeister, CoMapping
  • Collaborative photo editing: Figma, InVision
  • Communication: Slack, Basecamp, Skype, Hangouts
  • Task management: Trello, Asana 

If you would prefer a one-stop-shop platform, go for a feature powerhouse like Approval Studio.

Tip #4. Give creatives time and space to work alone

The efficiency of team meetings used to be questioned by managers — until Harvard Business Review released a piece criticizing Alex Osbourne’s rules of brainstorming. It turns out, people tend to come up with fewer ideas as a group as opposed to working alone. Moreover, the odds of getting stuck are higher during collective conceptualizing as well. 

Does this cancel out the efficiency of teamwork? No way. It’s worth remembering that most creative people have introverted personality types — they thrive with no pressure or social interactions. 

Make sure you give employees enough time and space to work alone — then they can present ideas at brainstorming sessions. 

Tip #5. Encourage perpetual learning

You can kill several birds with one stone by taking the time to educate your team on new practices. 

First, you increase the proficiency of your creatives — that leads to higher project quality, better ideas, and faster working. 

Second, you prevent the imposter syndrome from manifesting. As your employees learn, they will get a constant feeling of getting better — there will be less room for ‘I’m not good enough’. 

Finally, you increase the overall dedication to the workplace. Your team members will be grateful for learning opportunities — thus, the odds of talent leaving the company will be less likely. 

Tip #6. Be open to risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking

Man balancing on the rope

You can succeed in managing and leading creative teams when all members are encouraged to explore ideas, go the opposite way from the approach they use to take, fail, and learn from it. While a manager shouldn’t encourage failure, it’s crucial to treat mistakes as learning opportunities. 

Most modern approaches to creativity — like out-of-the-box ideas or design thinking — thrive in the hands of risk-takers. Encourage your company’s creatives to be one. 

Tip #7. Be a missing link between creatives and executives

Creativity and business don’t play well together. It’s an eternal conflict between a get-things-done attitude and a looking-for-inspiration, laid-back approach. 

To make sure there’s no miscommunication between the team and project stakeholders, handle communication between the two on your own. 

As a manager, you should be skilled at switching from business to creative language and understanding both points of view. 

Tip #8. Give tasks that contribute to members’ creative dreams

No creative wants to spend their entire life working for the same company. For many, having a long-lasting job is boring and synonymous to failure. As a manager, don’t expect the team to show the utmost dedication to the company. 

Instead, turn the tables and dedicate your time to improving everyone’s skills. 

By allocating tasks in a way that actively contributes to each member’s creative dreams, you’ll increase the amount of dedication an employee will put into completing the assignment successfully. 


There is a sea of misconceptions regarding creative team management. While some say creatives shouldn’t be pressured in any shape or form, others encourage company owners to tighten the grip on the team so that they finally get things done. 

The reality is, most tips for managing creative employees are common sense. While it’s true that creative teams are different from other departments, as long as you care about each member’s growth and satisfaction at work, they will pay you back with dedication, a desire to improve, and an innovative, well-executed product. 

Using dedicated management tools helps companies avoid miscommunication and create high-quality products. Tools like Approval Studio are what you need to shorten feedback loops, track project statuses, assign tasks, and label artwork. The software supports real-time discussions, which helps you compare different designs. 

Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.
Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.

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