You'd like to think that creative teams are the happiest and most upbeat group of people within an organization - right? They're innovative, alternative thinkers, unique in lifestyles and work on "fun" projects. As most managers have learned over the years, that is not always the case, and often you find teams with a hangdog or "woe is me" mentality.

Not that Surprising
Unlike external agencies, in-house teams are typically a smaller piece of a bigger corporate puzzle. They are usually designed to perform a function that fits into the organizational structure as a service department supporting the company's lines of business. That role does not always suit creative types well, and they can carry an attitude that is less than inspiring and often detrimental.

Creative hangdog is usually not widespread, but does have a tendency to impact the broader team. A couple of disgruntled employees can really hurt team morale and create disharmony. Early warning signs can include staff comments like:

  • We are just order takers at the end of the chain of command!
  • Why aren't we included in strategic development?
  • Why do we need to work crazy hours to meet deadlines when a client sat on a project for too long?
  • We don't get the recognition we deserve for our efforts!
  • We seem to get the crappy projects while external agencies get the cool stuff.

These symptoms, if not checked early, can undermine leadership's ability to create a productive and positive workplace. This can eventually disrupt the relationships outside of the team with clients, partners and leadership.

Diagnosis and Treatment
While hangdog mentality is usually easy to diagnose, it is not as easy to identify the cause. Usually it stems from some combination of the following three factors:


  • Organizational culture and legacy attitudes
  • Individuals
  • Creative team leadership

  • 1. Organizational Culture and Legacy Perceptions
    In some organizations, the origins and perceived role of the creative team can be the root of the problem. If leadership does not value the in-house team as a true partner, there will be morale issues. These are not easy to correct, but with patience and senior-level dialogue you can shift the attitudes.
    • Provide leadership insights to highlight the issues
    • Work with HR and build a plan to address the company's value placed on the in-house team and it's relationship to the broader organization
    • Level set expectations and develop service level agreements that unify objectives to the company's mission
    • Conduct regular check-ins to ensure good two-way communications, inclusion and openness across all departments

    2. Individuals
    Often the issues can stem from individuals or cliques that can infect the broader team's attitude. This can be the result of a poor client relationship, improper job fit and sometimes it is just a bad apple.
    • Discuss issues in one-on-one meetings to identify the source of their discontent
    • Keep an open mind and hear the entire story from both parties before coming to conclusions
    • Bring teams together to mutually workout any misconceptions or engagement issues and jointly build an action plan
    • Be honest and open about the situation. Sometimes the role may not be the best one for a creative individual (or client), and you need to look at alternative staffing solutions.

    3. Creative Team Leadership
    Leading the way is the best approach in helping turn around a team's attitude and creating an environment of positively. It is imperative that in-house team leaders practice what they preach and become beacons for their teams and the entire organization.
    • Lead a collective effort to develop a vision and set of values to unify the team's self awareness and identity
    • Be open about the role of the team and individuals to provide realistic expectations (sometimes the job is what it is)
    • Be sensitive to organizational constraints but develop an action plan to address legacy issues
    • Develop strong relationships with leaders to create partnerships and supporters of the team's vision and agreed upon role
    • Be positive, energetic and highly engaged with the team

    Hangdogs are in every department and in every business, but the in-house breed can be a tricky bunch to deal with. With patience, openness, and by building strong relationships, creative leaders can turn the hangdogs into happy pups.