If you’re a business owner working with a remote team, you know it can sometimes be challenging to stay connected and ensure that everyone is aligned around what’s most important. This is especially true when doing highly fluid, creative work because the way that you personally see the work, the objectives, and the possibilities for the project might change as you’re engaged in the creative process. In order to keep the team in the loop and on-course (and avoid a major blowout!), it’s important to understand what creative people really need in order to do their best work.

There are two primary dynamics that all creative teams need in order to thrive: stability, and challenge. When either is missing, it’s likely that the your team’s productivity, proactiveness, and work will suffer – Quality will lessen, great ideas will go unsaid, and inspiration will be lacking or completely non-existent. These elements are especially important for remote teams, because it’s easier for remote team members to isolate themselves and make assumptions about expectations. Your job as a leader is to know your team, and then, to provide the right mix of stability and challenge for each individual so that they have what they need to thrive. So how do you do it?

Establishing Stability

There are a few things that team leaders can do to ensure that there’s a sufficient amount of stability on their team:

Step One: Define the terms of engagement

Does your team know your leadership philosophy (do you even have one defined? This article has some great info on helping you craft one.)? Do they understand what you expect from them with regard to when it’s OK to take risks, how you make decisions, how you judge the quality of someone’s work, how conflict should be handled on the team, and the like? It’s so important to clearly articulate to your team how you expect them to engage with one another and with you in order to create stability. Again, this is especially important with remote teams, because there isn’t as much casual relational contact or daily context for how you make decisions, it needs to be outlined very clearly, preferably in writing.

Have clear accountability

When team members are even a little uncertain about who is responsible for what, and by when, it can create dissonance and a sense of instability. We can never just assume that everyone clearly understands what’s happening on a project just because an email was sent out about it three weeks ago at 8 p.m. Make certain that you are having frequent touch points with team members to ensure that they understand who’s accountable for specific outcomes.

A great way to do this is by creating some internal systems and processes or an internal calendar that clearly assign responsibilities, tells everyone where a project stands and what their role is, as well as establishing clear deadlines and measurements for success.

Don’t brush off unhealthy behavior

When you’re busy, it’s easy to gloss over small and seemingly insignificant unhealthy behavior on the team. Snark, cynicism, unwarranted anger, passive-aggressive replies, and the like can seem like no big deal as long as people are doing their job well. However, this kind of behavior can create relational instability and cast a pall over the entire team’s sense of engagement. Strive to confront this type of behavior whenever you see it, have a dialogue about your expectations and concerns and why it matters to the team. Although we’re all often guilty of letting things slide once or twice, it can become a detrimental habit to your team’s success if not dealt with immediately.

Keeping Things Challenging

On the other side of stability is the second thing you absolutely need to keep your remote creative team thriving: Challenge. Here are a few ways to ensure that team members feel appropriately challenged:

Know your team members as people

What is challenging to one person might feel ho-hum to another. You have to understand the kinds of work that push individuals on your team to stretch out of their comfort zone, and make certain that there is at least some kind of work they’re doing that will keep them engaged. Do some one on one meetings, ask them how they feel about a certain upcoming project, it will give you great insight into the personality and quirks of your individual team members so you can best assess what will truly challenge them.

Mix it up

Also, strive to diversify the projects on your team members’ plates so that their work doesn’t become rote. Anyone doing the exact same tasks over and over without reprieve will begin to feel a bit stuck after a while. Make certain that you are regularly mixing up the kinds of projects your team members are accountable for so that their days don’t feel like one long run-on sentence. I can guarantee you’ll be rewarded with some unparallel creativity.

Invite team members into decisions

Finally, challenge your team members by inviting them into your decision-making process. By doing so, you expand their perspective on the work, and you help them understand some of the unique pressures and challenges that you face as a team leader. However, it’s important to ensure that your team doesn’t confuse permission to offer their perspective with permission to make the final decision. But when you get input, really put it into consideration. It will make you a better leader, give you a pulse on different things your team is facing or considers important, and ultimately drive your team success.

By keeping a close watch on the level of stability and challenge your team is experiencing at any given moment, you can ensure that they will remain engaged and enthusiastic about the work. Know your team and treat them like individuals, and they’ll return the favor by bringing their best effort to work every day.

Want to learn more about managing creative teams? Check out Todd’s latest book, Herding Tigers: Be The Leader That Creative People Need.