8 Steps to Building a Better Creative Staff

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Like a game of Chess, building a more creative staff takes time and many well thought out steps. There’s no single right way to go about putting together an inspired, productive group of people that work well together and just “get it.” There is always an element of the unexplainable—the X factor you just can’t put your finger on. However, there are some actions we can all take to foster a creative staff. Here is my formula for building a better creative team based on my experience working with a tight-knit group at HB agency.

1. Surround yourself with A-players
Start by looking for and keeping in touch with A-players. What is an A-player? This type of person is not just great at their job. That is not good enough. A-players are people you want to be around, inside and outside of work. They make you laugh, they support you, they encourage, they inspire, they challenge, they’re motivated and they deliver. This kind of talent is hard to come by, but an A-player will soon become an invaluable part of your team and what it takes to perpetuate creativity among peers.

 2. Encourage going against the grain
Great creative is not built from doing what everyone else is doing. It’s a good manager’s responsibility to encourage his or her employees to think outside the box—way outside. Start with ideas that are ridiculous and dial them back incrementally.

I remember a project where we were tasked to reintroduce a product for a well-known technology company. The ideas were not flowing and the ones we came up with during our brainstorm sessions were too conservative, until we started talking about SpongeBob SquarePants. Most of the time, ideas like this are laughed at, but typically they can also be the catalyst to creating something memorable. This sparked an idea for a successful direct mail campaign, targeting C-level Management.

3. Communicate and share with your team
I wish I could do it all on my own, but every project I have ever worked on has had better results because of communication and collaboration with coworkers. Never be afraid to ask for someone’s opinion and accept his or her feedback. Sharing what you’re working on may even spark ideas in others for completely separate initiatives.

4. Invest and educate
Invest time and money into your employees’ education and training. Showing that you care about their interests will help earn their trust and in return you will get someone who is more educated and wanting to help you and the company succeed.

We had an opportunity to work on a video animation project, but we didn’t have the capabilities in-house. I told our creative director to take the work and we’ll figure out how to do it. We invested time and money into learning and purchasing the right equipment, software and training. I fulfilled my desire to learn a new craft and the agency extended its capabilities. Success for all.

5. Challenge
Challenge your employees to move beyond their comfort zones. Place them in situations where they need to take charge, learn a new method or speak in front of an audience. You don’t know what people are capable of until they are given the space and strong push to realize their potential. And, it’s difficult to foster creativity and innovation from a place of comfort and stagnation.

6. Eat together
Our company loves food — don’t most human beings? — yet eating lunch together is completely undervalued. Spending time with co-workers, talking about topics unrelated to work is great way to bond and get closer to the people you work with. If you can, get out of the office regularly for lunch and free your mind from the usual surroundings. Collaboration in a different environment opens a new world of creative thought for your staff.

7.  Celebrate wins and learn from mistakes
It’s hard work being successful—be grateful. When you have a big win, celebrate it and let everyone in the company know what a great job they or their colleagues did. They will appreciate it, might even feel competitive, and look forward to the next challenge and celebration. At the same time, make sure you constructively assess any mistakes and issues the team faced along the way. Having an environment in which people feel encouraged to reflect on what they and/or the team could have done better will keep you from repeating the same mistakes.

8. Have fun
If you’re not having fun and you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it will show in your creative work. I look forward to coming into work every day. Some days more than others, but I make sure to always have fun. This helps those around me have more fun and encourages more collaboration among team members.

It sounds easy—make the right moves and collect your pieces, but it never is. Not everyone can win every game, and few people can do it alone. But if you stick to the right practices and choose A-player teammates, you will turn many pawns into knights.

Matt Gustavsen

About Matt Gustavsen

Growing up under the influence of Boston sports' teams, 80's comic book art, Super Mario Bros., and Shogun Warriors – Matt has immersed himself in world full of creative stories, imagination, and competitive challenges. Combined with over 15 years of professional experience in print design and digital marketing, Matt has a knack for out-of-the-box thinking.

Learn more about Matt

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