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Working with a Creative team

James

April 2021
Not all creative work is done by a lone soul, hammering away at grey hunks of metal and microprocessors in his Batcave. Often, great creative work is the result of effective collaboration between a small band of people. Read How.

Not all creative work is done by a lone soul, hammering away at a grey hunks of metal and microprocessors in his Batcave. Often, great creative work is the result of a effective collaboration between a small band of people who can bring different competencies to the table.

As a writer for Turtlewig, I get to work with a small team of graphic designers, video makers, and overall, a bunch of badass creatives. Over my past few months of working in a small creative team, here's what I've learned about working with a bunch of crazy artists:

You HAVE to Listen

Sure, this header finds its place in almost every damn list of "N things to improve your Life", but it's especially important on this list. Creatives can be pretty energetic people- high on caffeine and crazy ideas, and demand some keen listening, especially when there's more than two at the table.


For example, it's not uncommon to have a conversation where one team member X just decides to go off on an interesting tangent just as team member Y has barely started explaining the merits of her idea. Presently, Y is irritated at the interruption, and X is guilty for having cut Y short. In such situations, it can really pay to be the person who can manage the conversation's flow- let Y finish while also keeping X's idea in memory to put it up for debate as soon as the discussion allows. It's even better when every member can take on this crucial balancing role whenever necessary. This way, no one goes unheard, and everyone's creativity can be tapped into.

Manage expectations

One excuse every creative can come up with to be lazy is, "Hey, this is a creative process and I'm not sure how long it'll take. Let me start on it and get back to you". While this is okay for super-long term experiments, this attitude can't sit well with cyclical, regular work.

Also, unless the task has outlandishly different requirements from normal, a creative should be able to estimate when he/she can deliver the work expected of them, based on past work. And nothing quite pushes us people to deliver good work like a deadline that hangs above our heads like a menacing sword. So understand typical output times, set expectations, and create a culture where the expectations are respected.

Respect Strengths and Weaknesses

When working with a small creative team on projects, roles are often flexible. In such scenarios, it's easy to pin work on someone who isn't exactly suited for the role (full disclosure, I've sometimes tasked my design pals to write the copy too 😉). Yes, you could argue that people grow to fit the needs of the moment, but there's a practical limit to that - you can expect them to grow into roles proximal to their current role.

I can't wake up one glorious day and decide to make animated videos to the standard expected in my team, and neither can I expect my team mates to write like me on a moment's notice. So where do we draw the line? What kind of task becomes an outrageous ask of someone, and when does NOT giving them a task become an insult to their potential?

It's a tough question, but in my experience, something that can be answered with some understanding of your teammates' strengths and weaknesses, observed over some time. If you haven't had the luxury of time and careful observation, you could get to the answer by asking them the question,

"Do you think you could handle task X? Here's what it entails. Do you think you could learn X and Y to get this done?"

"Yes, but I'll need some help with Y"

"Alright, I'll put Mr.R to help you out on that".

Again, this brings us back to our first point. Listen!

Plug the leaks

Think of your process of getting a project from start to completion as a pipe that takes water from point A to point B, twisting and turning its way through porcelain tiles and greenery in your lush backyard. The more points of leakage it has, the more water you have to push into point A to get an expected, say, 10L of water to point B. What do you do when you want to save on the water and be nice to planet Earth? Do you make the pipe shorter, or try to lie it in a more "straight" path? No, all you'll have to do is see where the puddles are forming, and plug those leaks.

Watch for the energy leaks in your process of creation- right from the problem brief, brainstorming sessions, initial drafts, and most importantly, the design iteration cycle. Personally, for me, the biggest timesink for my work at Turtlewig used to be inefficient communication. Turtlewig is literally built to solve this issue, but I didn't use it for the first few months of me working here. For months I would review creatives on Figma, and have to leave messages on Whatsapp to remind the designers to check the reviews.

Even worse was the situation with videos- I had to get on Google Drive, rummage through a mess of personal documents, essay drafts, and random pictures before finding the video I had been reviewing, and then take screenshots of the video, and send them in with "Rewind 10 sec from here. Cut here, and then check my next message for the next clip. Add that" texts on Whatsapp. Talk about clumsy work (Yes, this is a product plug but I'm not making up this story- ask my team!).

Only after I began using Turtlewig did I realise that I had been using too many tools, which weren't really built for my exact purpose. I monitor the time I take on tasks, and I clearly saw my effort for Turtlewig drop by half, or even more.

If you think about it, that can be the difference between being held up all weekend with work, and having a relaxing Sunday of movies and biryani.
Or it can be the difference between barely handling two projects, and juggling four flaming chainsaws like a boss, if you're that kind of crazy person.

That was my list of tips on working effectively with a creative team, and I hope it helps you see your work in a new light. If you have anything to add to this list, leave a comment below; I'd love to learn from you guys. Also, if that last point and story made any sense to you, you should check out Turtlewig

(Actually, don't just 'check it out". Go use it. It's a lifesaver, trust me 😉)

Reduce design iteration cycles with Turtlewig.

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