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Managing Creative People – Zajno Crew – Medium

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Creative people are recognized as the primary driving force of world’s innovations. Creatives are those who question our daily grind and are responsible for technological breakthroughs. They think outside of the box and find answers to questions that seem to be without answers at the first glance. Along with that, there is a stereotype that creative types are inconsistent, dependable on mood swings, fretful and demanding. I revised all of my recent managerial experiences as a leader, who guides creative thinkers and makers. In this article, I will share my expertise to show you that managing creative teams can be effective and relaxed when combined with the graded approach. Specific practices that you will find in the summary might help you cope with a creative team.


The orchestra conductor guides the members of the orchestra so they all play the same music. The same way the Project Manager does.

I am a project manager at Zajno, and creative people make up the majority of our team. So I have some knowledge in this area. Do you think that the main criteria when choosing a task management tool is the stack of features? Surprisingly — it is not. You, as a project manager, will rely on functional potential of the tool. However, your creative team will lean toward the aesthetic of that tool. In this situation, a project manager needs to find the right balance of aesthetics and functionality. In our case, a compromise in selecting a task management tool was reached thanks to the flying unicorn with its rainbow contrails in Asana that takes off when a few tasks are marked complete in a row. It warms our hearts and now motivates team members to close their tasks on time.

Robert Sutton, a Professor of Management Science at the Stanford Engineering school, in one of his works mentioned that new rules of management should apply to creative teams. A creative team is a planet that conforms to the laws of logic and pragmatism. I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Sutton and his inference when I started working at Zajno. However, intuitively I knew that traditional planning algorithms and communication methods wouldn’t help me here. Demonstrating the intellectual prowess and setting up your mind to promote peace and harmony are two things you need to start with. Apart from following project management best practices, a manager in a creative environment has to maintain a creative and peaceful atmosphere in the team. It is very important to avoid excessive pressure on people while trying to meet deadlines. You risk strangling your creative team with harsh realities of management by concentrating too much on budget and time constraints. Moreover, there will be no need to resort to those impetuses if you make a good estimate and wisely structure your deliverable schedule with your client before the project clock starts ticking. The key to mutual understanding lies in transparency where requirements from client, art director and manager are justified, adjustments are supported with arguments and aimed at improving the final product.

Meeting deadlines


Poor managers apply a lot of pressure because they don’t know what else to do.

The deadline pressure should be just enough to give your teammates that little motivational push to get things going.

“Poor managers apply a lot of pressure because they don’t know what else to do. Great managers apply very little. They know the limitations of pressure” — says Tom Demarco in his book “Deadline: A Novel About Project Management”.

Creativity is a tender flower that has to be carefully nourished and is easily destroyed at any moment. Like anything else, nurturing creativity requires taking risks. Be aware of unplanned downtime and delays that can happen no matter how much of human capital your team is able to offer and keep in mind that there are no shortcuts when it comes to creativity. Just like giving birth: 9 women wouldn’t be able to do that in 1 month.

In order to hit the deadline with ease, think about a smart mix of moral and material incentives. The proportion of moral boosting should rise directly with increases in income for team members. One of the basic moral stimulation tools is communication. It is a fundamental condition that includes informing, praise and criticism for strengthening involvement, broaden collective knowledge and addressing shortfalls. I really think moral incentives may be the best option to increase job satisfaction, motivation, commitment and save creativity as a result. Moral incentives may have a substantial impact on creative people even greater than financial rewards. We can draw an analogy with linguistic relativity hypothesis that states that language influences the way its speakers think and behave. Therefore, the manner in which you choose to speak in your creative team defines its internal spirit. The challenging part here is to reflect the individual aspects of every single team member.

Real boss at Zajno.


The extent to which your creative team produces more output depends on how well the work environment facilitates the creative process. Here are some recommendations that might help sustain creative and friendly climate:

  1. Be emotionally intelligent when criticizing the work of your colleagues. People have a general tendency to dismiss or criticize creative ideas, so creative people need the persistence to withstand these negative social forces. Not showing how much they love their brainchild doesn’t mean they didn’t put soul and tons of effort in its creation. The more constructive your criticism is — the more likely you will be heard.
  2. Evaluate the outcome wisely. It is important to objectively assess the progress made without judgment based solely on somebody`s preferences, because we are all different. It is better to ask yourself if the result of work fulfills the business requirements.
  3. One of the most important conditions that support creative practice is that the organization has a learning orientation. That is, managers recognize that team members make reasonable mistakes as part of the creative process.
  4. Most of the projects require a team effort. Carefully consider people types when putting a creative team together. Teams, where people complement each other instead of suppressing, are way more effective.
  5. Too much head, not enough heart. The motivation for your team should come from the inside. People tend to be more creative when they believe their work has value and when they have the freedom to pursue their creative ideas.
  6. Give your project team freedom to pitch unexpected and “weird” ideas without the fear of being “punished”. Creativity is about changing things, and change is possible only when team members have the authority to experiment.

Creativity at its finest.

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