How to make creative collaboration work

Our Creative Leaders discuss how to make collaboration work. By Jada Balster, Marketing Director EMEA at Workfront.article

At Workfront’s recent Back to the Future of Work event in London, CR editor Patrick Burgoyne chaired a panel session that discussed The Evolution of Creative Collaboration. Creative Leaders  Lee Schuneman from Microsoft Lift, Tim Malbon from Made by Many and Lauren Bowker from The Unseen, plus Joe Staples from Workfront, covered a host of issues, from leadership to balancing creativity with the reality of business. We’ve picked out five key themes gleaned from the lively discussion:

1: Delegation is the key to success

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Lauren Bowker admitted it took her a “long time to come to terms with the fact you can’t do it all”. Tim Malbon added to that, saying one of his earliest lessons in the workplace was coming to understand that “giving people work, and delegating is part of the role [and] does not mean you’re lazy”. Delegation encourages productivity by utilising the strengths of individuals in a team and it gives others a chance to learn and grow in their roles. It takes faith in your team to relinquish control of a task to a colleague, but, ultimately, the team will be better for it.

2: Balance creativity & structure

Popular culture has perpetuated the myth that creativity and structure are incompatible. Many movies idealise the ‘freewheeling creative’, someone unbound by rules and regulations and responsible only to themselves. In reality, a company full of ‘freewheeling creatives’ is a sure path to ruin. Joe Staples believes Workfront has found a healthy balance between creativity and structure with the creative team adopting the Agile work methodology a couple of years ago.

Popular culture has perpetuated a myth that creativity and structure are incompatible

Each team member chooses the projects and activities they would like to work on. The individuals gravitate to projects that depend on the specialist skill sets or projects that will require them to learn new ones. The creative director still retains the power to veto a team member’s decision, but Workfront has seen productivity and employee satisfaction increase since moving to this style of working.

3: Never underestimate culture

Culture is the intangible glue that binds a company together. Fostering a great workplace culture is often neglected because the benefits can’t be represented in a spreadsheet. To encourage interpersonal relationships between the Lift London team and head office in Seattle, Lee Schuneman has an in-house video crew that films his team all day. Each Friday the team produces a five-minute video report for Seattle. According to Schuneman, “it ensures that the appreciation of the work is on a human level. The Seattle team can see and hear the passion of the team, you can’t do that in a written report.”

4: Engage decision makers early

There’s few things worse than spending ages working on a concept or planning a project, only to have the plug pulled by the person or persons making the final decision. The panel agreed that engaging directly with decision-makers as early as possible is the key to eliminating ambiguity in the creative process. Lauren Bowker suggested immersing the final decision makers at the conceptualisation stage so “they understand and buy into the concept first”.

Engaging directly with decision-makers as early as possible is the key to eliminating ambiguity in the creative process

From an in-house perspective, Joe Staples added that the key to a seamless process is to keep the decision-making team small because “a larger group will only confuse the process”. He gave an example of Workfront’s rebrand from AtTask: although almost everyone in the company wanted a say in the rebrand decision, Staples had to be firm and limit the decision-makers to three people within the company: the CEO, CMO and Creative Director. Just as he wouldn’t dream of telling the finance or HR team how to balance their books or hire people, they shouldn’t have a say in decisions that don’t involve their core responsibilities.

5: Get your hiring right

According to Schuneman, “nothing is more important than finding driven and passionate people to join your team”. Bowker added that you shouldn’t be afraid to hire people above you, even when you’re the founder. If your team requires a project manager or a CEO, get one. There’s a temptation to work with friends and people you’ve known for a long time, but acrimony soon sets in if they don’t have the required skill set or temperament for the role. The consensus among the panel was that creativity and structure are not the odd bedfellows we are sometimes led to believe. In fact, with the right structure, creativity can flourish.

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