10 Ways to Build a Positive Agency Culture and Thrive in It

Four happy employees smile with work tools in the background

When creative professionals talk about what they enjoy most about their job, they often speak about agency culture. Maybe they appreciate a firm's approach to a healthy work-life balance or its emphasis on collaboration. Or perhaps they like having opportunities to learn and grow in their career (or being able to bring their dog to work).

Agency culture is a tricky concept to define. It's a combination of a company's vision (its purpose or reason for being), values (the way people behave in support of the vision) and actions (the way it treats employees and clients and conducts its business).

Of course, people matter to an agency's culture too. Managers need to walk the walk by acting according to the firm's vision and values. Employees need to buy in by embracing the vision and respecting colleagues and clients.

And the workspace should also reflect the agency culture — from furniture arrangement to meeting spaces to snacks in the kitchen. When any of these elements is missing, or when they contradict each other, agency culture can suffer, and employees receive mixed messages about what the agency really stands for.

The Creative Team of the Future project, published in 2014 by The Creative Group in conjunction with AIGA, outlines key aspects of agency culture. Here are 10 ways creative managers and employees can contribute to building a positive culture:

1. Embrace failure

Creative work involves innovation and risk-taking. If employees fear reprimand for making mistakes, they'll hesitate to propose new ideas. If your colleagues or team members miss the mark, help them analyze the situation, rectify the situation as needed and learn from the experience.

2. Over-deliver

Creative agencies should always remember that they're in the service business. If clients ask for a solution you think is a bad one, or if you realize they've missed an opportunity, give them what they really need — not just what they asked for.

3. Develop more than one solution

In a culture of creativity and service, there's always more than one solution to a client's problem. Explore multiple options and offer your best recommendation.

4. Strive to improve

An agency culture that embraces improvement presents an opportunity for individuals to learn and build new skills. It encourages creative teams to always do their best work — no mediocrity allowed. Put forth your best effort and also challenge your colleagues to constantly step up their game.

Check out the free creative and marketing training resources The Creative Group offers to all its registered professionals.

5. Listen

The ideal agency culture is one where staffers ask each other and their clients, "What do you think?" When you invite input, take the feedback graciously and learn from it.

6. Have an active life outside of work

Creative professionals tend to pour themselves into their day job. But it's essential to refill the well of creativity from time to time. Make time to pursue the hobbies and activities you love to maintain a productive work-life balance.

7. Expand your expertise

When staffers know their contributions are valued, they'll feel motivated to challenge themselves by learning a new skill or taking a leadership role. Take advantage of any career-development opportunities so you not only build your resume but also contribute to your team.

8. Don't expect to know everything

A supportive organizational culture is a cohesive one in which everyone has expertise and talent to contribute. Embrace what you don't know and ask for guidance when you need it.

9. Cross-pollinate

An agency culture focused on collective effort and collaboration encourages team members to share their best ideas and teach each other. Identify the experts in your firm and seek opportunities to learn from them. Likewise, be generous with your own expertise.

10. Communicate

When managers won't (or can't) speak openly with employees about the company's mission, challenges and vision, agency culture suffers. Likewise, when colleagues talk behind each other's backs or withhold information, morale drops. Commit yourself to communicating openly and honestly, even in difficult situations.

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