Being an effective team leader or a manager who must oversee several teams can be difficult in any profession. It can be especially difficult if you are in charge of creative process teams.
Creative processes do not easily follow set schedules. Even so, there are methods you can use to support your workers, keep them on task and yet understand their working methods and their approach to making something new.
An account written about the Cold War Space Race commented, “We didn’t know what we were doing. It had never been done before. We didn’t know how to make a rocket that would go to the moon, we didn’t have a computer small enough to fit on a spaceship. All of that had to be developed, and, hopefully, before the Russians beat us to it.” That is a paraphrased, rather than a direct quote, but you get the idea.
When your creative teams set out to make a new product, sometimes they have parts of the product on hand. Maybe they have some prewritten code, or hardware that will work or that can be improved. But, like the NASA space teams, they are heading into uncharted territory, making new things. It is hard to set limits or micromanage that kind of work.
There are methods, however, that will help you help your team to succeed. Moreover, methods that do not involve micromanaging, hovering or dictating methods to people who tend to be a little off the beaten track when it comes to production.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Be a Product Owner
You, as the business manager or owner, are the ultimate owner of this product. You are paying your team good wages or a good salary to produce this latest program or widget. You have an idea of what you want it to do once you have it, even though you, yourself, might not have any idea about how to get there. When you “own” the processes and the product, you send a message of importance to your team.
2. Provide Detailed Instructions
If you need a word processing program that won’t accidentally shift chapters, that will show a word count in letters big enough for half-blind writers to read, and that will produce copy that is ready to send to the printers almost directly from the writer’s computer, then don’t just tell your team that you need a word processing program for authors. Tell them exactly what you want that program to do. You are more likely to get a user-friendly version of Scrivener (which does do those things but isn’t all that easy to use) than another knock-off of Microsoft Office.
3. Encourage People to Ask Questions
One of the hardest parts of public speaking, teaching, or leading a team is creating time for input from others. Educator Mary Budd Rowe, in a 1972 research paper, noted that the average teacher is only comfortable waiting 1.7 seconds for a response to a question. If you have posted a problem, and you want cogent, creative questions or responses, you need to wait a minute or two longer than that. You might even want to have an open-door policy toward your teams to be able to gain responses from the more introverted team members who might hesitate to respond or make suggestions.
4. Maintain the Excitement
You own the product, your customers want the product, you think it is a great idea. You are eager for the new ideas that are going to come from this particular creative team. Share that anticipation, that tension with them. Let them know that their work is valuable, not only to the company but to the people who are going to be using this product in the long run.
5. Credit People for Their Work
You are the cheering squad. Sure, you are going to own the end-product, but that doesn’t mean that you should not acknowledge the effort, the breakthroughs and the hours they have spent working on it. Put their names on the packaging, reward them monetarily, and with certificates or credentials that they can display on the walls of their cubical or office. Use some of the proceeds to provide them with better working tools. But most of all, make sure that individually and as a team, they receive credit for what they do.
6. You Should Be the Support, Not the Surveillance
While you are ultimately responsible for getting the game, utility or book, or whatever you might be producing, complete by the release date deadline, you don’t want to hover or dictate working methods. You want to be available for problems, you want to be able to track various parts as they develop. And you might be the crying shoulder when a crucial bit of software or hardware just won’t do what it’s “supposed to.” Fortunately, modern technology has provided. There are software tracking programs that will help you and your team see how various parts of a project are coming together, and allow them to sign off on different pieces as they happen.
7. Foster Creativity
Creative people do not usually work in a linear fashion. There are a few exceptions, the people who start with the first page of a novel, and then just write it, for example. For most mortals, however, the creative process comes in bits and pieces. A software program gets written in chunks, rather than the whole thing at once. A novel gets written a chapter or character interaction at a time. Even hardware products begin with an idea, a concept, sketches, then models, then prototypes – with a lot of digressions and failed trials. Push for work done, cheer when things work, do a little shoulder patting and encouraging when things go wrong. But most of all, stand back and give your people the tools they need and then give them space.
8. Display Delegation
Great Managers know how and when to delegate different projects and tasks to employees. Your role as a manager is not only limited to management but also to help your teammates complete a task. Although, it’s always better to take the charge by yourself but this might add more time to your busy schedule, and you might not manage that efficiently. Therefore, it’s better to find someone who has the ability to complete the task with care. However, one thing to remember here is to help your teammates wherever they stucks.
There are some hazards in coaching a creative team through a process. There is often the laggard who wants to coast on other people’s coattails, and there is the dictatorial team leader who doesn’t give others room to contribute. And there is the “never finished, always one thing more” team. As the captain of your little ship, you get to steer your people past those gravel bars, eddies, shoals, and even riptides. But when they get it finished, you will be their best and biggest fan, their cheering squad and the person who awards the bonuses for a job well done.