There’s a special state that every team is trying to achieve. It’s those magic moments when everyone has clarity, goals are being met, and the team as a whole is in perfect alignment.  Athletes call this being “in the zone.” Techies call this being in “sync.” Psychologists call this “flow.”

The ability to get into and remain in flow is absolutely critical for creative teams. This is where the most creative ideas, highest productivity, and greatest sense of work satisfaction exist. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who pioneered research about the flow state, describes it this way:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

When the flow is interrupted, the whole team suffers. Deadlines are missed, clarity is lost, and momentum grinds to a halt. Working with thousands of creative teams, we’ve identified six roadblocks that sabotage creative collaboration. And drawing upon the insights of the experts, we’ve also discovered the keys to overcoming them:

Roadblock #1: Confusing and Vague Requests

Creative work typically starts with a request or creative brief that outlines the requirements of a project. When this request is unclear or incomplete, time is wasted trying to decipher what is actually being asked for. Even worse, the request could be misunderstood completely. Misunderstandings like these are costly, wasting time and resources doing work that can’t even be used.

The solution: Create an official request process. Map out the types of requests your team receives and all the information needed to complete the tasks, then make sure everyone who works with your team understands the new process and knows exactly where to find the relevant request forms. The hard part is holding people accountable for using it. Whether ideas are discussed in meetings or informally in hallways, work should not begin until a formal request is made. By sticking to the process, you’ll save both yourself and your team some serious headaches.

Further reading: Why Won’t People Fill Out My Creative Brief?

Roadblock #2: Endless Reviews and Iterations

The key to great creative work is receiving and acting on feedback. It’s critical to seek an outside perspective because it will help you cut through your own personal bias. But when these feedback loops are left unchecked, projects can end up in iteration limbo. Vague and conflicting feedback can stall projects, introducing unnecessary friction in your organization.

The solution: Seek as much clarity as possible from the beginning. A well-crafted request process is the first step, but the work doesn’t end there. You’ll need to identify your stakeholders and ensure the decision-making group stays small enough to prevent projects from stalling.  When it comes to feedback, specify exactly what you need feedback on and set deadlines for when people can share their thoughts. This ensures you get the feedback in a timely manner with enough leeway to implement it before your work is due.

Further reading: “5 Steps to a Stress-Free Design Revision Process”

Roadblock #3: Siloed Teams

It’s always a struggle to keep a team connected and in a flow, but it’s especially hard during high-growth periods. As organizations expand, silos form and collaboration suffers. Before you know it, messages get lost, people lose a sense of who’s working on what, and communication breaks down. The resulting confusion is a momentum killer.

The solution: Team leaders need to step up and set the example for others. When teams see management working together, they’ll follow. If possible, bring everyone together in the same space for the project kickoff so assignments are clear and everyone knows who they can turn to for help. Leverage work collaboration tools to keep the communication flowing. Hold regular updates where everyone shares their progress, which provides visibility to other teams. Regular check-ins may feel a little laborious and time-consuming, but they prevent communication breakdowns, ensuring constant progress, and save time in the long run.

Further reading: “How to Break Down Work Silos Between Departments”

Roadblock #4: Too Many Tools

The internet has enabled a level of collaboration that was impossible only a few years ago. But even though so much is possible, the complexity of collaborating on digital work across distributed teams is still a challenge. Modern creative teams need to edit files in real time, share documents, discuss progress, and track multiple versions of assets. When your team’s tools are underpowered or overly fragmented, forward progress can slow to a crawl.

The solution: Agree on the project’s tools, file formats, and naming conventions before work begins. Once these are in place, define a collaborative workflow and ensure everyone on the project understands it.   Then deploy the tools you’ll use and provide training if necessary. Lastly, use a project management or work collaboration tool as your single source of truth. This ensures all files and data are in one, easily accessible place.

Further reading: “5 Steps to Implementing a Collaboration Tool for Creative Teams”

Roadblock #5: Lack of Automation

There’s a pervasive myth that all creative work starts from scratch. However, “new” work is often built on previous work, which in turn can be quickly revised to meet current needs. Templates, macros, and custom presets are useful creative tools. More and more, creatives use automation to take care of repetitive tasks that clog up time. But when there isn’t any automation, teams can burn out recreating past work That leaves them with less time to do more impactful work for the business.  When teams spend most of their time doing busy-work, collaboration suffers.

The solution: Build automation into your processes wherever possible. Create templates for repeatable tasks. Streamline requests with custom request forms. Set up custom workflows that automatically assign dates and tasks in your work management system. Leveraging technology to handle administrative and low-level tasks frees up your team, which gives them more time to collaborate on the work that really matters.

Further reading: “How Automation Leads to Creative Confidence”

Roadblock #6: Limited Visibility

As teams grow and start working with other departments, it’s critical to have a bird’s eye view of what is being accomplished. Trust is built when everyone sees progress, knows who’s doing what, and feels that time and resources are being put to best use. Visibility grows more difficult as more people are involved and when teams are distributed around the world. Mysterious bottlenecks can pop up, and resentment and distrust can take root.

The solution: Invest in a project management and work collaboration platform. Build dashboards that highlight key metrics and share them with everyone involved in the project. Report on progress regularly so problems can be identified early. Building a culture of openness and sharing will build trust amongst your team, allowing them to do their best work.

Further reading: Why Visibility is Critical to Improving Your Team's Workflow”

Find Your Flow

Tackling these six problems before they spiral out of control can help your creative team get into the flow and stay there. When everyone can get into alignment with goals, amazing things can happen. Teams in flow have more trust, are more productive, less stressed, and much more positive.

Having the right work collaboration tool can alleviate many of these hurdles and keep your creative team on track for success. We've assembled a creative buyer's guide to help you identify the key needs of your team, compare existing tools on the market and zero in on the right solution for you and your team. Fill out the form below to download your free copy.