Managing a Creative Team

Leigh Huster with blue bike

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein

I just got a new bike for the summer a three-speed, upright frame with a glossy blue finish. I tested it out this week, and sure enough, I haven’t forgotten how to ride. It came back in a few shaky, uncertain laps around the block.

I tend to think about my role at QIP in a similar way. I am both a project manager and the creative director. While these two positions initially may seem at odds with each other, being creative and being pragmatic actually is a pretty great combination to produce innovative and exciting work. Like riding a bike, to be a successful project manager and creative director, I have to keep my balance, keep a steady pace, and keep going.

Keep my balance: Whether I am wearing the hat of a “project manager” and communicating with a client, or wearing the hat of “creative director” and brainstorming a storyboard with my team, active listening and emotional intelligence have been some of my greatest tools to provide this much needed balance.

Active listening allows me to avoid missing critical information and to create stronger connections with my coworkers and clients. I am not just getting ready to respond, I am gaining a clear understanding of what is being communicated. Later, I use my active listening skills to rephrase what I have just heard, ensure understanding, and clarify any lingering questions I may have.

Emotional intelligence allows me to perceive my own feelings and gain empathy for others that I am working with. Both skills help me to collaborate with coworkers and staff and better communicate with clients and staff.

Keep a steady pace: As a project manager and creative director, I often can see the different paths and the routes to accomplishing a task – similar to Google maps. In this perspective, I am able to zoom in or out of the work and even get to the “street view” to ensure that the work is progressing at a good pace with my team. While I can feel tempted at times to take the shortest route to completing a deliverable, it’s not always the ideal pathway to the best product. Keeping quality at the forefront, I help manage my creative team’s workload and help comfortably plan a workload that allows for both productivity and work-life balance.

Keep going: If there are obstacles and unforeseen challenges that appear out of nowhere, it’s once again time to put on my combo “project manager/creative hat” to find a solution that works for all stakeholders.

It may be time to reconnect with the client and ensure that the scope of the project hasn’t shifted or changed. It also may mean checking in with team members to see how they are doing with their workloads. Sometimes, the solution isn’t so direct and it’s time to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm a bit.

Some of the best solutions can come out of these potentially frustrating moments of troubleshooting. Even taking a few steps back and pausing may provide the adequate amount of space to keep the project moving.

The most important part of any speed bump is to capture the outcome at the other end. A team retrospective helps me document what was learned and what potentially can be incorporated into the process the next time around.

While it’s not always easy to wear a few hats in an organization, I know I wouldn’t have it any other way. Finding the right balance between organized and creative work is something that I love about my job and a skill that I use to find harmony in my own life outside of QIP.

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