A friend of mine recently attended the 99% Conference in NYC; after a presentation by Scott Belsky there was a Q&A about the challenges faced in managing creative teams. A few audience members posed questions like:
“I’ve got these wildly creative 20-year-olds, and I’m not sure how to get them to focus or meet deadlines! I want them to be free to do what they want, as not to stifle them, but how do I get them to deliver?”
“When I tell my team they can go crazy with an idea, nothing gets done, but when I ask them to deliver, they get frustrated, and push back! Help!”
She said “the room became divided between the ‘let them go nuts and hope for the best’ camp and the ‘give them structure, tell them NO, give them boundaries’ school of thought.” This is a familiar argument – whether or not we should mess with the ‘secret sauce’ of creativity.
Creative theory says that the freedom and challenge provided to an individual and good team dynamics drive good creative process. These ideas don’t have to be at odds with each other. It is possible to give people freedom, adhere to schedules and budgets AND discourage bad behavior; though it requires good communication and may buck some traditional tenets of project management. Here’s what I mean:
Freedom + Direction
Give people control over their own process, but make sure you provide them with a clear vision for where they’re heading. Without that vision, people can flounder inside the great expanse of available possibilities; thus burning through budgets and becoming frustrated (read: mouthy).
Challenges > Constraints
Budgets and schedules can stretch people’s capabilities and force them to problem solve, if they’re reasonable. If you’re getting a TON of pushback from your team:
a) evaluate whether you’re putting together reasonable goals
b) pose budgets/schedules to your team as challenges rather than constraints
Budget Management Reality Check
Know that sometimes blowing the budget is just a creative enjoying their art. While not meeting deadlines is bad and impacts client relationships, a salaried employee is a fixed cost and additional hours worked probably don’t impact the firm’s profitability. If they want to work extra hours and it isn’t negatively impacting the schedule or other projects, just write those extra hours off as an investment in your employee’s happiness (read: productivity, company loyalty, attendance) and move on.
Setting Boundaries: Uncomfortable But Worth It
Someone who is acting out reduces your credibility as a manager, severely impacts the team’s cohesiveness and hinders their own success. My psychologist father says that ignoring bad behavior doesn’t help anyone, especially the misbehaver. Child Psych 101: imagine a spoiled child that no one wants around, he/she probably isn’t a bad kid they just haven’t had anyone say no or teach them how to behave. You do everyone a favor by addressing your creative’s bad behavior directly and coaching them on what is expected of a good team member and design professional.
As for the Secret Sauce? I like gently shaken with a dash of something extra.