Tips for Managing a Creative Team
The first thing to have awareness of when hiring for or managing an existing team, is to recognize the potential in each person. Spend time interviewing or talking to each individual for greater insight into their career objectives, interests, strengths, and areas of opportunity for growth. Everyone brings something to the table and as a leader it is up to you to leverage your team members talent and delegate accordingly. Leadership is about a synergistic approach where everyone contributes to support the greater collective initiatives.
Wait, I thought we were talking about managing not banking? Managing a team is an investment! Invest your time and resources into developing your team members skills and communication practices. Conduct regular one on one 'touch bases', and plan monthly career development meetings. Touch bases can be casual, a quick chat about how the day to day is going. You can use them to ask if they're experiencing any process or personnel challenges, and how they are feeling. Frequent check-ins help to develop an open dialogue, and create a forum for upward feedback and trust. Career development meetings should be more formal and include an agenda (sent by the employee ahead of time) and afterwards, send your recap of the conversation, along with any action items you discussed. Let your employee drive their development, they should be letting you know what they want to work on and you should be the one providing guidance and resources so they can achieve their goals. This is a two-way street though, so don't be afraid to provide candid, constructive feedback or direction about how they can improve moving forward.
Benefit of the Doubt
You know that old saying about assumptions? Assuming makes an ASS out of U and ME? The saying exists as a reminder to never make any assumptions about anything, ever. This is harder to do than it seems, often we project our own feelings on to situations and 9 times out of 10 what's going on has nothing to do with us. Always give your team members the benefit of the doubt - this means do not assume anything, good or bad, when issues appear. Approach incidents with curiosity. Try asking team members directly about the issue and allow for them to provide an explanation. For instance, I had an employee who became short with me while I was giving feedback about their image on-set. I knew something was up because that behavior was out of character. I decided to give them some space and asked for a quick chat later in the day. I referenced our interaction earlier in the day, letting them know their behavior was uncomfortable and simply asked if everything was okay. Turns out, everything was not okay. They were having a major personal family crisis and shared it with me. I offered my support and reminded them to take some personal time if they needed it. I really believe that asking is so much more powerful than a reprimand or assuming their attitude had something to do with work or me. We were able to connect, have a respectful dialogue, and the conversation helped to further build trust.
Managing a creative team has unique challenges because visionaries need to feel value in their work, express themselves through their work, and have autonomy in the creative process. If you're working with a creative team in a production environment, like a high-volume photography studio, if staff aren't fulfilling some of their artistic needs, they're going to get burnt out. Creative people in creative jobs need to create! So how do you keep everyone motivated and interested? The first thing I say when I sit down with a new hire, especially if they're just starting out in their career, is tell them "you have to get your kicks outside of work." By that I mean you have to continue to flex your creative muscles with personal art projects. It doesn't matter if it's within the same medium you work in at your job - just do something! Take a pottery class, start painting, work on floral arrangements, bake, anything! Being an artist requires discipline but the time invested in your interests pays off.
There are a few things you can organize in the work place too to help staff keep their creative juices flowing, like testing new initiatives or organizing after-hours creative programs. Testing is a great way to get your team excited about a project. Set some guidelines and expectations on the end goal but give them the space to experiment and try different things. Failure is part of testing. Some things work out and others don't, but you have to allow space to explore the limits of an idea to realize it's full potential. After hours programs are where folks can stay after work and use all of the tools and resources they have during the work day to create something they want to create. The projects are designed, organized, and executed by the employees. It could be an individual project or a collaborative one involving other people from the team. It's an added bonus to set up a space to show and display some of the work produced, and it might inspire other team members too. Creativity can be contagious.
Quality communication is the foundation for all healthy, productive relationships, both personal and professional. As the team lead you need to be the one driving the conversation and modeling positive social behavior. When a conversation or project starts to go south, it's on you to step in and get it back on track. Do everything you can to steer things in a positive and helpful direction. Be optimistic, ask questions, actively listen, and be conscious of your body language. Have candid, direct conversations with your team whenever you need to. Being direct and delivering constructive criticism does not mean being a jerk, it's all in the delivery. The goal is progress, so don't get hung up on minor issues. Don't forget to point out what's working well, either. Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, so if you're the one who screws up, own it and apologize. Saying "I'm sorry" goes a long way to maintaining trusting, open relationships, and it nips resentments in the bud. Having effective communication skills takes practice and there are some great resources available if you need guidance on where to begin.