There are at least 3 milestones in the evolutionary progress of an in-house creative services team that require the conscious focus and nurturing by leadership:
- Creative/Technical Expertise: Hiring the most creative, technically savvy talent clearly positions teams for success.
- Operational Expertise: In the past few years, with the acknowledgement that A-team players are merely the baseline for success, the bar has been raised to include expertise in internal operations and project and account management.
- Culture: As in-house teams embrace operational expertise as a core best practice--and they are doing so quite passionately and with great success--the third area in need of strategic attention for creative team leads will be culture.
- Authenticity as expressed through honesty, integrity, self-expression and candor
- Respect for all players in the creative process and the organization at large manifesting as the practices of active listening, consideration, objectivity and kindness
- Collaboration by truly subjugating ego and actively supporting all members of the group
- Passion embodied in the extreme commitment to innovation, creativity, executional excellence and entrepreneurial spirit
- And most importantly, Service--to the team, the greater company, peers and colleagues and the community
- Create a unique mission and vision specifically for your team separate from the greater organizational mission and vision. The entire team should participate in this.
- Acknowledge the disconnect between your internal and external cultures with your team; praise and support the internal culture and shield your team from the external culture as much as possible.
- Hire and fire team members with culture as your priority. It should trump skills every time.
- Embody the culture you wish to achieve in your actions and behaviors and make especially sure that your leadership team does the same.
- Showcase examples of the culture you wish to create and sustain it by referencing movies, music, books and other groups and organizations that embody that culture.
Your team can have excellent talent, best-in-class operational practices and top-notch equipment and infrastructure yet it will never gel and truly fulfill its strategic potential without a culture suited to its mission. What attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviors and mindsets are embodied in the cultures of fully evolved in-house teams? At the highest level they include:
Fortunately, as a group, the creatives who typically make up an in-house team usually innately embrace these pillars of a great creative team culture. Unfortunately, the culture of the larger organizations that in-house teams exist within typically does not. The dissonance between these two cultures can wreak havoc within the creative team. Often members of the team become either disillusioned and act out in anger and frustration or alienated and withdraw into a shell of apathy and resignation. The best path to both establishing and sustaining a creative culture includes some very tactical practices.
Building and nurturing a team that knows what to do when executing on a creative deliverable or service is the easy part. Creating an environment and dynamic where they embrace how to do it is driven by culture, and the culture should be consciously and carefully driven by you.
Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of three managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published "The Corporate Creative," a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, an association dedicated to providing support to in-house designers and design team managers, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella's professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.