I am a bottleneck: 5 ways I’m trying to fight it.

My days are a constant battle, which are full of meetings and fire drills. I try to embrace the team more than just brief individual check-ins and team reviews, but my Outlook continues to populate. Jumping from meeting rooms to conference rooms and back. I have come in hours early before the team starts, pushed off my own lunch time, even gone so far as to setting up blocks of time to combat my meeting requests. But despite my best efforts–I have become a bottleneck.  


Most relevant leaders try to build a transparent culture where everyone contributes value and can share their position and rationale. But especially in creative teams, what ends up happening is that someone needs to make a final call. I remember my early years as a junior designer at my internships, resenting the hold up—the waiting for direction, feedback, or the golden word—approved. “How the hell can it take three days to look over a few screen flows?” As a Creative Director leading a team of 20 creatives (and growing), I'm the one making them wait—between last-minute requests, client calls, status meetings, pitches, presentations, emails on emails on emails, oh boy, I can make them wait.

Although we want things to move forward, most leaders need to be involved in the delivery of work and provide feedback along the way. A leader’s motivation for looking at everything is quality control. It’s not about power, it’s about keeping the vision on track and adopting ideas that have been generated along the way.  

Like most creative work, I am a work in progress. Right now, I have five favorite approaches to fight my tendency to become a bottleneck. As I focus on growing the team again with the next wave of hires, these will become invaluable.  

  1. Trust your people. Hopefully you’ve built an all-star team and have set a high bar for them. Empower them to take ownership over their work. Allow them to make their own mistakes, and encourage them to learn along the way. 
  2. Know that you can carry a team through its challenges instead of trying to steer them away from them. I have no problem taking the heat if an assignment is late or overdue or misses the mark, and that’s better than giving someone half-assed feedback on my way to another meeting.
  3. Don’t ever stop the work. It’s impossible to see all the work at all stages, so let your team know that you expect them to make decisions and move forward when you’re not available. Position yourself as a coach and a tastemaker instead of an approver.
  4. Make it clear what you need to be there for and what you don’t. If you’re looked to as the leader, strive to be the glue that comes in at the right moment with the right comment. Embrace the output, know that it’s on track to delight, and own it. Even if it isn’t 100% what you thought it was going to become. Deadlines don’t move.
  5. Protect your team and their bandwidth. Saying no to requests is always difficult, but it’s always easier than letting someone down. Less bottlenecks happen when I can be honest with myself and others about bandwidth and I can protect my team from doing more work than they should.

I’m curious to see the coming quarter of this calendar year as I’m looking to hire another ten creatives, and not only be conscience of these five key methods, but also making sure to structure the right layers so that the work can flow seamlessly.