The Unbearable Lightness of Being the Manager of a Creative Team

Hi there!

I’m Carl, and I’m the Head of Content for MPULL. I manage a 17-person (and growing, rapidly) creative team working on outsourced content marketing in four business units across two offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and I’m going to be totally honest with you:

I have no idea what they’re doing most of the time.

That sounds incompetent. I do know what work needs to be done. But I can’t grow a business within a business, read 20 plus blogs and associated ad, SEO and social copy, review the premium content that’s underway, check workflows and process, manage people and relationship problems, talk to clients, attend meetings, read and reply to emails, do proactive work, and eat every day. Let alone sleep in my own bed or stay married.

No sir. Not even half. Which begs the question: Even though I sit right next to them, how do I get the best out of a creative team — with, let’s face it, creative temperaments — from afar?

I try to grant creativity the respect it deserves

I’m the Head of Content, but I’m also a writer. I know how fickle the muse can be, and I know that creating content of real quality takes time.

I’m lucky to have some incredibly talented people working for me, and I feel it’s my job to respect that talent and grant it the latitude it requires (within reasonable limits) to flourish and add value to our clients.

My team should never feel they’re working in a sweatshop, labouring under unreasonable deadlines or hostage to the whims of difficult clients.  

I stopped typing and started talking

Actually, I never really typed that much to begin with. But now, if it’s possible to talk about it, I do. If you can’t simply walk up to the desk of someone on your team, let the following be your mantra: Pick. Up. The. Phone.

Email and instant messaging have their place at work. Memes and gifs make people smile. But talking builds connection and trust, and because so much is transmitted through tone and in context, conversations are always worth more than the sum of their words.

I try to find the right pegs

Look, I’m not dissing square pegs. Square pegs are useful, sure. But not if you’ve got round holes. A creative team is a bag of pegs of all different shapes and sizes. You’ve just got to know which holes to put them in, and they’ll thrive (that analogy works best if you have a Peggy on your team).

I stopped doing it myself

This was really, really hard for me (and I’m sure I relapse all the time).

I work fast and I have high standards. So, I got used to doing things myself, because that way I knew what was getting done, and that it was getting done right. But that attitude doesn’t motivate or grow my people. It doesn’t build trust. So I stopped making all the calls, and lo and behold, people started stepping up.

Also, I now have time to eat lunch.

I try to be available

I hope my team feels they can call me at any time; I hope I’m approachable enough; I hope I can set aside what is bugging me right now to soundboard, or make a decision. But I’m also human. I’m going to have bad days, and even with the best intentions I’m not going to stop getting things wrong sometimes.

Availability is taking responsibility for showing up, regardless.

I stopped expecting people to think like me

Ever taken a Social Styles test? You know, the one that categorises you as a Driver, an Expressive, an Analytical or an Amiable? Well, I’m a Driver. And in the Driver ratings, I’m driving for Ferrari, buddy. There’s literally nothing Amiable about me at all.

That means I have to focus on relationships and connection, as Drivers tend to think those things get in the way of doing the most amount of good work in the least possible time. The problem is, roughly 75% of people think a different way, and the truth is you need those different contributions if you’re going to be successful.

So, instead of putting my foot down, I’m trying to drive more considerately.   

I try to help people understand the role of their creativity

Outsourced content marketing isn’t glamorous. We work with businesses who want to see ROI and don’t have the budget for massive billboards displaying our witty taglines. Most of the content we do for them isn’t even credited to us.

At MPULL, our challenge is to deliver growth, not good-looking coolness. We want our people to be proud of the fact that their work leads directly to more people getting employed, not strut around like pretentious rockstars.

My challenge is to continue building a creative team that understands just how much its creativity contributes to the bigger picture.

Managing a creative team involves keeping track of multiple moving parts, and then some — rather like running a successful digital agency. Outsourced content marketing can help your agency better manage said moving parts. Download our guide to find out more: Effectively Scale your Digital Agency - Outsourcing and Offshoring Your Digital Marketing.

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