When you work on a creative team, some issues are universal. Situations like these:

“Our co-workers wanted us to turn around a big project in a matter of days, and now they’re upset that the quality isn’t what they imagined.”

“People stand over our shoulders while we write/design/edit. Why don’t they just trust us to do our jobs?”

“When we get together to dream up new ideas, it’s a waste of time. Nothing good ever comes from it.”

“Why does everyone we work with want us to just copy what is already popular?”

There is so much feedback coming from every direction. Who are we supposed to listen to? Sound familiar? If you are a part of a creative team and you haven’t experienced at least one of these situations, then you are on the most magnificent team in the world.  Or…you are oblivious. Or…one of these issues is just around the corner.

When we are creating Calcustar – The Best Graphing Calculator Guide, we faced these issues. As we were struggling with some of these circumstances on our team, we realized that before a creative team can even begin to tackle issues such as these, the team has to go waaaaaaaay back. Back to the basics.

If you were to build a house, a roller coaster, or a towering skyscraper, you wouldn’t start construction without laying your foundation first, would you? If you did, your structure would be unsteady and unpredictable.

Maybe even dangerous. Now, think about your ministry or your team. If you want to build it into something sturdy, you’ve got to get your foundation in place first. You can’t answer questions like these >>>Why don’t they just trust us? Why are our good ideas failing? Who should we listen to?>>> if you don’t have a solid foundation.

From our experience, we believe these are the foundational elements of a healthy creative team:

Don’t read them from top to bottom. Instead, view them as building blocks. Each block relies on the one beneath it to hold it up.

You can’t worry about your PROCESS until your RELATIONSHIPS are in check. And you can’t worry about your RELATIONSHIPS until you are clear on your PURPOSE.

In this post, we’ll focus on the first foundational element of creating a healthy creative team: PURPOSE.

If I asked you your team’s purpose, what would you say? Would you say ,”We’re designers.” Or maybe, “I’m here to write.” Or perhaps, “I make videos, simple as that.”Well, it’s not “simple as that.” That might be what you do.

But your PURPOSE is why you do what you do. To break it down, let’s dissect the evolution of creative projects. We can break every project down to three parts.

#1: There’s a NEED. An example of a need could be, “We don’t have enough volunteers on Wednesday nights to help lead our youth group.”

#2: The IDEA. An example of an IDEA for the NEED listed above might be a funny promo video to play on the weekend that gets adults to sign up to volunteer.

#3: The EXECUTION. And, the example of the EXECUTION would be to gather the people to star in your video, shoot it, and then edit it. To find your purpose, you need to know at what point in the process you and your team are supposed to come in. Are you supposed to pinpoint the NEEDS, meaning you come in at Step 1?

Are you the one tasked with generating the IDEAS, meaning you enter the process at Step 2? Or do you come in at Step 3 and EXECUTE ?For example, are you the one that needs to look around on Wednesday night and see that you NEED more adults to be mentors for your youth group?

Are you the one that needs to notice that people aren’t using the recycling bins like they should be? Or that you have a lot of new people at your church and they don’t know how to join a small group? Is it your responsibility to figure out the NEEDS? Or, do you come in at Step 2? Does the youth pastor come to you and say, “Hey, we need more volunteers,” and then you figure out how to get the word out? Do you generate the IDEA?

Or are both Step 1, the NEED, and Step 2, the IDEA, the responsibility of the youth pastor or the missions coordinator, etc, and your purpose is to come in and hear the NEED and the IDEA and then do Step 3, EXECUTE, and actually make the final product?

(For our team, most of the time, we’re Step 2 and Step 3. The leaders of the other teams come to us and tell us what their NEEDS are. Then we come up with the concept, or the IDEA for the project. And then we EXECUTE and bring that IDEA to life. It’s not always that cut and dry, but for the most part, we enter at Step 2.)

So what are you?  Step 1, 2, or 3? I know, I know. It sounds simple. However, any blurriness here will cause heartache and botched projects.If you incorrectly believe that your team is supposed to begin at Step 1 and find the NEEDS, you are going to waste a massive amount of time creating unneeded videos and websites.

Or if another team wrongly believes that they are supposed to generate IDEAS, they will write scripts and dream up concepts. Then you get to have an awkward conversation and explain to them why their hard work will be thrown in the trash.

You would imagine that after one problem or one miscommunication that a team would figure this out and clarify. However, this is a cycle that can happen again and again. Especially in an organization that is growing or changing, which a lot of creative ministries are these days.

Avoid the messiness and be sure you can answer the question of where you come in. Do you find the needs, come up with the ideas, and/or execute those ideas? If you can figure that out, you’ll know the first foundational element of building a healthy creative team; your PURPOSE.

No matter what you believe to be true about your PURPOSE, talk about it with your leader to make sure you’re on the right page. And then, talk about it with everyone that you work with!  They all need to know your PURPOSE.

In future posts we’ll continue the conversation and talk about the other two building blocks for great ideas and a healthy creative team; RELATIONSHIPS and PROCESS.

So, what is your or your team’s PURPOSE? Are you supposed to find the NEEDS? Dream up the IDEA? Or EXECUTE? Portions of this post were inspired by the breakout session, “Great Ideas and Healthy Environments” hosted by Beth and the LifeChurch.tv Creative Director, Kevin Ely, at this year’s Echo Conference.