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Leading creative teams

Leadership Teamwork Wisdom

23.1.2023 — The consequential goal is an absolutely necessary condition for teamwork: We did something, does it work, is it useful. This creates special expectations towards the leadership in creative work like theatrical performance or visual design.

Leading creative teams
Ari Tikka
Ari TikkaFounding Partner

I was honored to train teamwork for stage director students at the Helsinki University of Arts. Stage directors are explicitly expected to have a significant personal contribution to the artistic result. How do you combine this with creating teamwork in the group of artists? How do you balance the expected directiveness with harvesting the team's creativity?

Leadership is a function of the team, which is always present when the team works as one team. When doing individual work, it is in the background. By agreement, the nominated leader has a special responsibility and expectation of taking leadership.

Richard Hackman distilled his 40 years of research into a dozen or so essential conditions for teamwork. One of my favourites is that the compelling goal needs to be clear, challenging, and consequential. We did something; does it work; is it useful? Just imagine any work without this feedback.

My key takeaway from our workshop was that the director actualizes this feedback mechanism. Let's think about it:

  • The director can balance directiveness with participatory decision-making in different situations. Directiveness and dependency from the leader are needed in confusion. The director may choose to be directive when driving her artistic expression.
  • Often the feedback is just an intuition that "this does not work." A strong expectation for the right answers from the director often prevents necessary early interventions. A non-personalized responsibility for the feedback makes it easier to say "I don't know" and to use the whole team's wisdom in these situations.
  • From the team development perspective, the team is first facing the questions of "agreeing to be led" and then "balancing alignment and individuality." The team really starts to work as one team only after these leadership questions have been solved. The proposed leadership principle provides all the flexibility to solve these fundamental questions.
  • The quality of the launch has a significant impact on the future performance. The nominated leader can win the trust of the team by clearly explaining her leadership principles. This clarity helps the leadership to function from the very beginning.

These principles are also valid for creative leaders in the business world.

Strong change leaders are expected to save a failing business or to create dramatic growth. They also face the dilemma of dictating what to do versus empowering the top team to work as one team. Remember the feedback mechanism.

Ari Tikka
Founding Partner

Before finding Agile, Ari built software for embedded distributed fault tolerant software for seven years. For the next decade he worked as an organizational therapist with cultural change, teamwork and leadership. Since 2006 he has contributed to LeSS-flavoured Agile transformations including mechanical engineering, market automation, and embedded system development. For the last couple of years Ari had international coaching assignments ranging from teams to board.

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