6 Effective Words for Managing Your Creative Team

Jacqueline Isaacs
October 2, 2019

You’re managing a creative team, but you are wondering how to effectively lead or coach them? You definitely are not alone.

Whether you are a thought leader in your industry, or senior management in your organization, having a team of talented and creative people can feel like a blessing and a curse. Like the combined powers of their creativity are a genie, and you are holding the bottle.

This challenge exists regardless of if the team is made up of employees at your organization, freelancers with whom you are contracting, or a combination of the two.

When you get it right, everyone is better off. You have happy customers, happy investors, and just as importantly, a happy creative team.

So what does it look like to effectively manage a creative team? I recommend a philosophy built around this six-word phrase.

I don’t know. Let’s find out.

Can we do this? I don't know. Let's find out.

Do we have the budget? I don't know. Let's find out.

Is there a better option? I don't know. Let's find out.

Will that work? Has someone invented that yet? What's on the other side of that mountain?

I don't know. Let's find out!

These 6 words bring together leadership with humility, guidance with freedom, and adventure with accountability. Ultimately, this approach leads to better outcomes for your creative projects. Here's why.

"I Don’t Know"

It’s a well-established sales principle to never tell a customer “no.”

“No” is a stop sign. “No” might lose a sale. To your creative team, it might end the brainstorming session. Lose the enthusiasm. Kill the vibe.

“Yes” is a green light. “Yes” might over-promise, and therefore, under-deliver. Especially if you really don't know.

“I don’t know” is a yield sign. Proceed with caution, but please proceed.

It’s also a mark of humility. As the team leader, admitting when you don’t know is honest. It’s real.

No one knows everything, and we know the least when we are blazing trails.

Which design is going to perform best? You don't know. You have a good guess, but at the moment you don't know. Where will the platform be in 10 years? You don't know. You can hedge, but you don't know.

Saying “I don't know” in this creative space, pushing ever farther into the future, is usually the most transparent. The honesty and humility of an "I don't know" answer serves the creative process best when it gives way to curiosity and adventure.

"Let’s Find Out"

Let us - You hired each team member because they can do something that you can’t do, or at least, you can’t do on your own. Trust them. Your creative team exists to solve the known and unknown problems.

Find out - This is an adventurous process. We never know what we will find. What will the results be? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

The ideas and inspiration from your team can come at you quickly, and your job is to give direction, navigating towards the destination that you or your stakeholders desire, without standing in the way or stalling out.

We want to invent new apps, push the upper limits of conversion rates, saturate new markets. We want to go where we’ve never been. What will we find? I don't know. Let’s find out.

When you follow up “I don’t know” with an empowering phrase like “let’s find out,” you are giving your team the agency to solve the problem. You are communicating that you trust where this process will take them. You are handing them the keys, while also signing up to go along for the ride.

You may solve the problem, break new ground, and change the industry. Or you may not. They answer may after all be “no.”

Do we have the budget? Maybe you don't. But maybe you’ll find a better, more creative solution that does fit within your budget. Your team wouldn't have found this solution if you had said “no” from the start.

Has someone invented that yet? The answer may be “yes.” But maybe your team will find a way to perfect, improve, or implement that invention in a new way.

Can we do this? The answer may firmly be no, with no creative solution, no matter how hard you try to problem-solve. But how much will your team learn along the way? I suspect you’ll be better off for trying.

So What?

Will these 6 words improve the way your creative team works? Get better results? Solve more problems more creatively?

I don’t know. Let’s find out.

Photo by Jonas Verstuyft on Unsplash

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