Creativity vs. Control: How to Manage a Creative Team

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July 2019
Creativity vs. Control: How to Manage a Creative Team

It’s creativity that sells your products. Beautiful designs, catchy headlines, innovative solutions, convenient features, and so much more. Doing creative work is a complex process that includes more than just coming up with brilliant ideas. The final result of your creative teams’ work depends on how the process is organized, and the manager needs to be aware of what encourages creativity and what ruins it.

The phrasing “creativity flow” suggests that it’s a barely manageable process, but it’s not quite so. Providing an environment that encourages creativity while complying with requirements and timelines is the main part of a creative team’s manager. So, how do you align creative and business processes?

Traits of Creative People that Matter at Work

It’s hardly possible to lead a team without understanding the personalities of the people that you manage. Of course, creative people can have various traits, but there are several work-relevant features that they have in common. Managers need to take these traits into account when communicating with their teams and organizing work. Creative people are:

  • curious and open to exploration;
  • constantly pushing the envelope and prone to taking risks;
  • emotionally sensitive and especially sensitive to aesthetics;
  • easily adaptable and comfortable with chaos;
  • more autonomous than many other types of employees;
  • often nonconforming, sometimes radical in expressing their opinions, and tend to question and challenge rules;
  • they rarely have leadership skills or ambitions;
  • they don’t tolerate boredom, don’t see any value in rigid work processes, and struggle with formal procedures.

The Do’s: Steps to Build an Efficient Management Process

Organizing an efficient management process on a team of creatives is mostly about maintaining a comfortable environment that doesn’t restrict creativity, and ensuring delivery of expected result. Here’s what a manager needs to pay attention to when organizing work on a team of creatives:

  • Set boundaries and goals

    A blank slate leaves so much room for creative process that you never know what the final result will be. Be clear with your team about what outcome is expected. Provide workflows, specifications, and style guides to comply with. Also, share the big picture with the team: it will help them understand what’s the right direction of their work.

  • Communicate

    Being more autonomous than other workers, creative professionals sometimes tend to make decisions on their own and ignore (or forget about) requirements and timelines. Inform your team on the plans, roadmaps, and time-bound milestones. Encourage your team members to escalate possible problems to you, and don’t be forgiving to delays.

  • Ensure quality

    Make sure it’s clear to your team members that they’re creating art for the sake of the business, not for the sake of the art itself, and that certain level of quality is required. Don’t accept subpar work, and if the result doesn’t meet the specifications, provide constructive feedback on how exactly it doesn’t match set requirements and how to correct that.

  • Plan for inspiration

    It’s not possible to come up with great ideas constantly, or at least within a predictable schedule. Managers need to take this into account on work planning steps. Allocate time for thinking, finding inspiration, generating new ideas, and trying out new concepts. Be as flexible as time and resource limits for your team’s tasks allow: plan necessary time in advance and make sure it’s sufficient for finding the best solution to the task. Consider including an inspirational part in your team’s work processes: brainstorming, coaching sessions, workshops, etc.

  • Minimize control

    Constant control invites frustration and demotivation – not only for creatives. That’s why it’s reasonable to limit monitoring to what’s really important. Boil down regular control to the general roadmap, important milestones, and deadlines, and avoid checking in every now and then.

  • Combine talents

    Creatives struggle with formal processes and routine operations. So if a task requires both a creative solution and attention to details, it’s worth organizing groups or tandems of creative individuals and employees who tend to focus on details, operational procedures, and organizational side of work process. They will complement the abilities of each other and achieve the necessary quality of the end result, as they’ll be performing work they are best at.

  • Show recognition and appreciation

    Appreciation means not less than money for creative individuals. Anyone invests emotionally in their work, but creatives tend to see work process as bringing ideas to life, and they want to see it valued. Make sure your appreciation is visible to both individuals and the entire team – this will work as a powerful motivator for everyone.

  • Encourage collaboration

    Creative team members are usually more autonomous and less collaborative, so make sure their activity is aligned with the team’s goals. Organize active communication on the team, and reserve time for exchanging ideas and thoughts. Matching each individual’s activities with the general goal is however not the only reason why communication matters: talking to others and sharing ideas is also a great source of inspiration for all participants.

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The Don’ts: Common Mistakes

Any project or team manager has lessons they learned the hard way. While some mistakes are inevitable (sad but true), being aware of the most common ones helps to avoid major pitfalls and achieve better results. Here’s the list of the main don’ts for management of a creative team:

  • Don’t micromanage

    Nothing kills creativity faster than someone looking over the shoulder, so micromanagement, frequent check-ins and constant oversight are a no-go. Don’t be the helicopter boss who hovers over the team the entire time: not only you’ll undermine your authority – you will also impair team performance and jeopardize satisfactory outcome.

  • Don’t allow creative chaos

    It’s a common misbelief that creatives deliver best results when their work scope is a blank sheet. A vague description of what needs to be done might be an exciting opportunity for self-actualization, but in the terms of work it’s misleading. This applies to unclear processes too: they create disorganization and frustrate team members that have to spend their time trying to sort out organizational flows instead of actually working.

  • Don’t be bureaucratic either

    No one professional, focused on their creative process, is interested in filling in multiple documents, describing all minor and unnecessary details, and accounting for every small action they take at work. And while certain level of control and documentation is necessary, assigning too many mundane tasks to creative professionals or charging them with administrative work demoralizes them by drawing their attention away from their actual work.

  • Don’t stick to the “one size fits all” approach

    It can seem sometimes that a talented professional would be a great manager. In reality, it’s not always true, even when an employee themselves wants a management role. It’s common among creatives to not have leadership traits, so be mindful about assigning new roles on the team. Also, consider the necessary amount of training required: it’s very likely that a creative person will need more training hours than anyone else.

  • Don’t be afraid of failures

    Any manager has faced failures at some point of their career, and the most common lesson learnt from them is, unsurprisingly, taking less risks. When minimizing risks related to creative work, make sure you’re not out if tune with your team: remember that risk-taking is one of prerequisites for finding creative solutions. Discouraging this in the fear of failure reduces innovation and frustrates creativity.


Managing a creative team means finding harmony between the irrational creative process and careful planning. When organizing work, make space for inspiration, exploration and failure. Combine different talents to get all aspects of work done properly. Be mindful of what motivates your team, and create a comfortable and productive environment for creative professionals.

To provide enough control and freedom to creative teams, you could use a flexible time tracking solution like actiTIME.

It supports project management features so you can create and assign tasks to your team members, review their time logs and project progress and more. Use charts and reports to review the distribution of working hours across the projects, set up pay rates and learn which projects and clients bring you the most revenue. Explore actiTIME and start a free 30-day trial or request a product demo and our product experts will show you around.

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