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How to manage a creative team

Blog
01 June 2011

How do I get the best from a creative team who’ve come together for the first time for this project and don’t know what my vision is, me, or each other? How can I communicate what I want and get them engaged in delivering it? How do I establish myself as leader?

I get asked these questions time and time again by producers and directors. Over the last two years I have been working as an executive coach with people in the creative media industries, most recently on CCTV, the Skillset-funded leadership programme for executives and senior producers from across the TV industry.

I suppose I must have had approaching 100 discussions with creative people in the last three years and it is very striking the degree to which those discussions have focused on a few significant themes. And it’s not surprising that ‘how to get the best from a creative team’ is one of those themes.

It is clearly very challenging to get a disparate group of people together and try to produce something engaging and original to a timescale which is too tight and a budget which is too small. But this is how these industries operate. So why does it go wrong and what is my prescription for making it work?

First, understand yourself. It is not empty stereotyping to suggest that there is a typical “creative personality”. Creative people are highly intuitive. They have ready access to their own unconscious processing and can see links and associations the rest of us can’t see. They can bring order out of chaos. They have rich and detailed internal visions of their projects and how they should be realised.

If creatives are to see their visions made real, they must be able to communicate them to other people, above all the production team, but they often fail to do this effectively.

Their vision is so clear to them that they think they have explained it when they’ve given the barest of outlines and that it has somehow been transferred to the minds of the hearers as if by telepathy. They even get bored while explaining it because it is so familiar to them.

So, it is crucial to communicate the vision fully. You can’t describe what you want too many times or with too much precision. Show examples of similar effects, reference other people’s work. You’ve been thinking about this for months if not years. It will take a while for the others to catch up, but if you invest in this up front, it will pay enormous dividends down the track. Not only will they know what you want but they’ll be able to feed ideas in and the final product will be better.

Secondly, understand your team. They also have a lot invested in this project – they are human beings and human beings are driven by emotion.

New teams go through four phases: “forming” (getting together in the first place); “storming”, while people struggle with each other for position and to get what they need emotionally from the project, “norming” (as they settle down into particular ways of behaving which are accepted by the team); and “performing”, ie getting on effectively with the job.

They will get to the “performing” stage more quickly and without major mishap if:

- you have succeeded in communicating your vision and they have been allowed to feed into it so that they feel ownership of it too

- they are clear about their roles and how they relate to each other

- you know them as individuals, are sensitive to what they want from the project, and they know you value their contribution. Creative people are very susceptible to feeling under-valued (but that’s a topic for another blog….)

These things seem obvious but they often get neglected. Projects start before they are in place and then things go wrong – relationships deteriorate, people have rows or leave, and time and money are wasted. Spend enough time at the beginning of the project on getting these things right. Talk to everyone individually and as a group. Mobilise their creativity. Get them engaged in a joint enterprise which matters as much to them as it does to you.

The author: Janet Evans is an executive coach and consultant on strategic planning and leadership, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on janet@adsumconsulting.co.uk

All Comments
Rebecca Long
Rebecca Long  | June 6, 2011
I love the very practical insights here. I am a film producer and whether you are a Writer, Director, Producer etc I have found that in the creative industry we are all so passionate about what we do so ideas and projects seem to be so much more personal, emotional than most people's work and as a result you find creative people can be very sensitive. If you then throw into the mix extreme pressures such as time and money and managing a lot of different types of people this makes for a boiling pot of difficulties. A strategy of communicating your vision properly, understanding other people and making sure they feel valued can only help you as a team. I can see this is important from the outset as I have experienced how situations can go out of control. Thanks Janet. Looking forward to the next blog!
 
Jill Tandy
Jill Tandy  | June 3, 2011
Very interesting , Janet . My own experience in working with the film and TV sectors is that in almost everycase a bad business situation is down to a lack of clear communication- and two way communication at that - people assume far too often that others know what they are talking about and others very often wont admit that they dont- which reminds me of the Sam Goldwyn saying " I dont want yes -men around me,I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it coststhem their jobs ."
 
Steve Turner
Steve Turner  | June 1, 2011
Janet, good stuff - wise words. Having worked with PR and advertising companies for many years I'm struck by their over-attention to the creative task ie diving into solving it, rather than spending a little time to talk about HOW to work together creatively and using some tools tohelp themselves. Lookingforward to your next thoughts....
























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