Leading Creative Teams: 11 Key Principles

Published: 28th April 2011
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The first two parts of this series on Managing Creativity in Business examined Corporate Killers of Creativity and Key Attributes of The Creative Personality.

Now, we look at the methods that managers can employ to manage creative teams.

To harness creative attributes and obtain superior work from employees and vendors of creative services, bosses and clients must understand their crucial role in the creative process.

The boss or client in fact must not simply manage the process, but instead must lead the creative team. Leadership differs significantly from management. Managers plan, organize, direct, coordinate and control. Leaders inspire. Leaders catalyze. Leaders stretch. Leaders project a vision.

The leader's job is to create an environment in which creativity can thrive. Managers who lead instead of managing are more likely to obtain superior creative work. In addition, client-as-leader has the responsibility to identify the problem -- not the solution. The most successful leaders delegate the search for solutions to the creative team.

Bosses and clients can adopt some practical attitudes and approaches to stimulate superior creative services from employees and vendors. From the outset, the leader must possess in-depth information on the market environment, competitive status, customer needs and product attributes. First, do the in-depth homework necessary to fully understand the problem and establish overarching product design or communications goals.

1. Mix Creative Skills

Diversity in skills, talent, knowledge, experience and values is a major advantage in the creative development process. Creative teams need divergent skills. This is especially true in complex projects. Most importantly, every creative team needs the full range of intellectual skills including rational decision-making and evaluation, problem solving and analysis, and communications. Different team combinations produce different results.

2. Project a Vision / Promote Excellence

It's up to the leader to develop and communicate a vision, stretching the team's imagination and envisioning exceptional results. Abundant research demonstrates that higher expectations produce improved performance. The burden falls on the leader to promote excellence.

3. Inform Deeply

The creative process thrives on information. Time invested in assembling information, in giving briefings, and in answering questions is time well invested. It is imperative that bosses and clients saturate employees and vendors with information because it's impossible to predict what small piece of information may spark the big idea.

4. Grant Independence

Creativity requires independence. Bosses and clients should allow personal freedom and provide a minimum of supervision. It's crucial - repeat crucial -- for bosses and clients to avoid telling employees and vendors how to solve a given problem. Employees and vendors are getting paid good money for their talents. Bosses and client should use those talents. One tactic: here's what I think. Now go improve on it.

5. Enable Risk-Taking and Free Flow of Ideas

Leaders must encourage risk taking and allow creative people to openly express ideas. Without risk taking, creative work rarely rises above the ordinary. Bosses and clients leading creative services projects should welcome free-wheeling discussions and allow experimentation. By prohibiting any criticism of initial ideas, bosses and clients can avoid stifling and suppressing ideas that are in the process of gestation. Creative risk-taking usually pays off on the bottom line.

It's equally important to buffer risk-taking by protecting creative people against the negative consequences of presenting new ideas. Leaders must tolerate mistakes and misdirections without criticism or other punishment.

6. Allow Adequate Time for Development

Leaders and clients must provide adequate incubation time. Creativity seldom comes quickly. While it takes only a moment to have a great idea, it's impossible to predict when that moment will arrive. Seminal ideas need substantial nurturing to develop. Therefore, leaders must make an effort to set realistic schedules and avoid setting unilateral deadlines. Getting the creative team to buy into the development schedule is one key to success. Once they agree, the boss or client can set the deadline -- and expect the creative team to meet it.

7. Create Respect

Leaders, whether boss or client, must create a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. They should discourage competition within a creative team; internal competition can devastate a project. Game-free relationships are much more productive.

8. Communicate Candidly

It is up to the boss or client to communicate with candor from the beginning of a project. At the same time, leaders need to be sensitive to feelings of members of the creative team. Although forthright criticism is desirable, sandpaper criticism can be destructive.

9. Lock Onto Great Ideas

Maybe most importantly, leaders must grab great ideas. Everything is lost if a boss or client consistently rejects the creative team's best ideas.

10. Reward Superior Performance

Finally, when seeking to stimulate superior creativity, leaders must conspicuously reward superior performance. Of course, the greatest reward for superior performance is a promotion for an employee. For a vendor, it's larger, more profitable projects.

11. Create a Fun Environment

The boss or client ultimately creates superior creativity by providing the creative team with inspired leadership.

To obtain exceptional performance from employees and creative services vendors, the client needs to dare much, expect much, share much, care much, and give much. The final key to superior creativity is simple: make sure everyone has fun.


William J. (Bill) Comcowich is President & CEO of CyberAlert, Inc. a worldwide media monitoring company for both news and social media. Each day, CyberAlert monitors 55,000+ online news sources in 250+ languages. It also monitors TV news and most all social media. CyberAlert offers a 14-day free media monitoring trial of its services.

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