How to Effectively Lead a Team of Creatives


Leading a creative team is a balancing act: You have to nurture the team's instincts for innovation and creativity while keeping them on budget, on deadline and achieving measurable business goals.

Anyone who works with writers, designers, videographers and other artistic types knows that leading creative professionals differs from managing workers in more routine jobs. Here are some tips to help you guide your resident artists.

Allow them to fail without repercussion

Set the tone early on by letting creatives know that they have room to take risks, experiment and explore new ways of doing things. Tell them they won't be punished if something doesn't come out right the first time—and mean it. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), this is an essential precondition for creativity. Each project, after all, is different, and there's not always a set process. That often means it's up to individual or the team to find the best way to execute the ideas and vision behind projects and processes.

This mindset and approach can cause roadblocks, but, as the HBR pointed out, if creative employees fear failure, they'll more likely churn out mediocre work that merely adheres to a checklist, instead of experimenting their way to something outstanding.

Ideas are business, not personal

Because creativity is so rooted in individuality, it's often difficult for creative employees to separate their professional identities from their personal ones. This can create tension when it's time for feedback. The key, according to an article in Entrepreneur, is cultivating a culture of non-attachment.

Remind your employees that, in business, the best ideas win. With that in mind, push for an agile approach where your team quickly develops a wide range of ideas and then rapidly discards the weaker ones. Bringing speed into the equation makes it harder to grow attached to any specific idea, decreasing the odds of hurt feelings.

Team chemistry is vital to creative success

To build an environment where creatives flourish, be selective about who you invite to the team. It's always tempting to hire the rock-star designer or the writer with a killer portfolio, but, as Entrepreneur noted, if they're coming in with an unchecked ego, it could damage team morale.

Hire as much for cultural fit as for raw talent. You want creative professionals who are solution-minded, supportive of teammates, receptive to feedback and willing to scrap their own ideas for someone else's better one.

Recognition and respect can motivate more than money

The debate about whether intrinsic rewards, such as praise and recognition, motivate people more than extrinsic rewards, such as money, has occupied psychologists for decades. One possible answer to this question could be found in a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Rochester. The study found that, when it comes to doing inherently meaningful tasks, or tasks that involve creative problem solving, intrinsic rewards are more powerful as motivation. This could be because the people working on such projects do it for the pure joy of solving a difficult problem.

The study also found that high extrinsic rewards can actually hinder motivation for someone tasked with a creative project. The reason could be that creatives are passionate about what they do and are internally motivated to do it well for its own sake. When they feel like they're working only for the money, rather than the joy of creation, their genuine interest wanes. For many creatives, knowing that they're valued and respected, however, can foster motivation and loyalty for years to come.