6 ways to be a better creative teammate today

Quick, what’s your favorite myth about creativity? That it’s a divine thing that just happens? That big ideas only come from natural born creatives? Or better yet, from drugs?

These are all good contenders, but speakers at the Adobe 99u conference offered a much more stubborn and solution-restricting myth: That the creative process happens in solitude. 

The good news: You don’t have to go it alone. 

“Creatives think they have to come up with every idea and build everything by themselves,” said Karen van de Kraats, senior designer at WeTransfer.

The creative thought leaders from 99u are here to show us how to be better creative teammates – and create healthier teams and more breakthroughs in the process.

1. Think human skills

The 2019 Adobe 99u tagline was this: The future is human. So it tracks that demonstrating human skills will be invaluable to future team success (and may just make you irreplaceable).

So what are human skills? They’re easily overlooked, and undeniably valuable qualities like good communication, collaboration, and curiosity. Brian Quinn and Shana Dressler of DLW Creative Labs double down on the importance of human skills by stating that they are critical for building effective creative teams – with no skill more important than empathy.

2. If you improve one thing, make it empathy

Empathy isn’t just about being nice or agreeing with what everyone says. It’s about curiosity: About wanting to learn about other’s experiences – people you may not agree with, but still, want to understand. 

The best work brings empathy to the forefront. So try it for yourself. Ask the hard questions – not the easy ones. Keep an open mind. You’ll be surprised how quickly your culture becomes more inclusive, your perspective expands, and you gain a deeper understanding of your teammates and the problem at hand.

3. Be accountable, it’s contagious

If empathy is the most important human skill, accountability is a close second. Creative Coach Tina Essmaker made it clear that showing up for your team is no different than leading one. By putting in the work, communicating honestly, setting goals and check-ins, and avoiding the trap of taking criticism personally, you’ll empower your team to do the same. It can be hard, but when everyone buys-in and shares responsibility, better work, and new milestones soon emerge.

4. Let go of that ego

In 2018, WeTransfer launched WePresent, a storytelling site that involved cross-functional collaboration among content creators and designers; cue the egos, red tape, and disagreements.

But that wasn’t WeTransfer’s experience in the slightest. According to creative leaders Karen van de Kraats and Jamal Dauda, creative collaboration thrives when there is no ownership of ideas. Instead, WeTransfer’s leadership encouraged ideas to be ping-ponged across multiple disciplines and groups. “It’s crucial to let go of ego and tunnel vision, and instead, be a gatekeeper of meaningful connections between the content and design teams,” suggests Dauda.

“It’s critical to discourage competition,” said Van de Kraats and Dauda. “The best results come when teams work together – and trust in the team as a whole. Work gets stronger and better when you collaborate and reflect with people from other disciplines and other points of view.” 

4. Unleash the power of POVs

Discovering new points of view is another lesson the file-sharing phenom can teach us. At WeTransfer, they have a monthly exercise that encourages teams to take time off from their normal tasks to learn about other teams within the company. This exercise is known as ‘creative jogs.’

“The brain is a muscle, like anything else, and if you let is atrophy then you’ll see the results in your creativity,” says Dauda. Creative jogs have resulted in many unintentional internal improvements and a few viral sensations including cat face recognition invented by Arkaitz Garro, Lead Frontend Engineer at WeTransfer.

“You have a much better product/project after taking emerging, diverging ideas,” said Dressler. Essmaker agrees it can be hard to work in a group, but it’s important because it gives creatives various perspectives. “We are able to connect the dots in a different way and have insights that we can’t have on our own.”

5. Seek what makes you standout

Realizing you are a part of a whole can empower you to seek out your own professional strengths. This process can be tough and timely, so Essmaker recommends asking others for help. 

“It’s hard to have perspective on your own life,” says Essamaker. “Reach out to friends and colleagues who know you well and [ask], ‘What kind of value do you think I contribute?’ or ‘What do you think is unique or interesting about me?’ Look at the themes and patterns and see how they align with what you think about yourself.”

Essmaker, brought her views about creativity and career success to Adobe 99U with her presentation, “The Great Contentment: Build a Career & Life You Love.”

In her experience, creatives get caught up in work they don’t want to do, which delays their productivity. “Stop procrastinating and avoiding the things that weigh down your brain, robbing you from the space you need to work on personal projects,” says Essmaker.

6. Find your optimal time to create

Creating a schedule will help you produce your best work. Start by identifying your most focused/inspired time of day/week to work on your big nuts. Use the rest of the day/week to knock out the things you can’t ignore, ie. emails, meetings, bookkeeping, you get the gist. “Even better, choose to work on personal projects even when you have a list of things still left as a to-do for other people,” encourages Essmaker.

Final teamwork takeaway

Successful teamwork isn’t always a walk in the park, but leaders from Adobe 99u show us that it’s worth the effort. When the journey gets tough, keep these parting words in mind:

“Have an open dialogue. There’s never a bad time to bring everyone into the room.” -Jamal Dauda & Karren Van de Kirk, WeTransfer

“Empathy is not about agreeing with what everyone says. It’s about curiosity about wanting to learn about other people’s experiences who you might not want to agree with but you want to understand. “ -Tina Essmaker, Creative Coach

“Be aware of assuming what someone else is thinking or feeling.” DLW Creative Labs

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