Attention employers: Building a great creative team doesn't have to be a challenge. Knowing that the process is part art, part science will keep you on track.

I recently spoke at the HOW Design Live Conference about top trends impacting creative teams, including accelerating technological advancements and an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining highly skilled employees. (If you’re interested, you can view the slides from my presentation on SlideShare.)

A hot topic was how employers can assemble a standout creative team in the face of talent shortages. Here’s my five-point prescription.

1. The right people

In order to build the best creative team, you need the best people (and the right number of them). A few ways to assess if you have the right people is by evaluating technical skills, collaboration abilities, productivity and team size.

  • Skills. With any team, you need to begin with intellectual assets. This is the science part of building a creative team. Your job is to ensure the individuals on your team have the right technical skills and expertise (like software knowledge) as well as a sufficient level of experience.
  • Workplace fit. Can you define what makes a good match for your team and organization? This is the art of building a creative team. After all, there's a job description and there's the right fit. The right fit needs more than the rote skills to execute the tasks associated with the job; the team member must also have the personality, soft skills and work style to fit in with the workplace culture.
  • Team size. Integral to creative team building success is making sure you have the right staffing level. Do you have the flexibility to seamlessly staff up or down during slowdowns and busy seasons? Being able to add key skills as needed to handle elevated work periods keeps teams running smoothly.

2. The right process

Having the best creative team means team members are not just passionate and creative, but also productive and efficient. And to be productive and efficient, you need clearly defined expectations. Effective teams have a leader who sets tangible targets, such as deadlines and production schedules, in order to achieve team goals and expectations, with checks and balances along the way. Creative teams can be brilliant, but you can't overlook the need for defined process, direction and focus to keep that brilliance on target.

3. The right leadership (and leadership approach)

Without a doubt, your creative team leader must have the technical expertise to communicate with the team, but that's not what will make him or her an effective leader. The best leaders need to identify and communicate a vision and inspire others to create. They must also be humble, approachable and decisive. A strong team leader should know when to be open to the team's thoughts and when to stand firm and make a decision. In general, creative team leaders should focus on:

  • Having open communication between team members and management. While there should be rules of engagement, it should also be understood that there are no dumb questions.
  • Using team-based approaches to solving problems. Don't just tell; ask how others would handle problems or setbacks.
  • Fostering a safe-to-fail and safe-to-risk environment. Creativity can't thrive if risk and failure aren't options.

4. The right environment

Creative teams need creative workspaces. Inspiration can be hard to come by when teams are divided, isolated or restricted. Find opportunities in your team's physical environment to inspire creativity. That may mean using a conference room as a collaborative work environment, or structuring desks like a bullpen, with all team members working in open space. The right environment might also mean access to proprietary tools and software, even when team members are away from the office. Flexibility to work from home and access information whenever creativity strikes – even in the middle of the night – means your creative team can be effective and productive anytime, anywhere.

5. The right vision

It's integral that your creative team understands the bigger purpose of the project, department and company. What's the mission of each? How does each of those individual missions come together to serve one greater goal? For example, if you are building a website, every team member, from the UX designer to the copywriter to the web developer, needs to be unified on mission, goal and purpose, not just for their roles, but for the final deliverable. This is the core of an effective creative team – understanding not just your individual contributions but how those fit into the greater picture.

Diane Domeyer is executive director of The Creative Group.