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Are the Strongest Teams Only Temporary?

Broadway productions are mercurial things, but they may hold the key to innovation and creativity.

In the Harvard Business Review, David Burkus explains how the most successful teams aren't a "band of brothers in the organizational world" but more fleeting, like the teams who produce Broadway shows:  

"The best teams might be temporary, with members forming around a given project and then going their separate ways to work on new projects," said Burkus. "The empirical evidence for temporary teams comes from an unlikely arena, but one filled with high-pressure deadlines, conflicting egos, and the need to be outstandingly creative: Broadway."

An old study by Brian Uzzi and Jarrett Spiro, who compiled data from every Broadway musical produced from 1945 to 1989, found the theater district's revolving cast of writers, actors, producers, and choreographers tended to work in a "small world network" that's rich in collaboration and creativity. What's more, the most successful productions had new and familiar colleagues behind them.

"The rationale behind their findings is that old colleagues bring knowledge of the process, as well as prior norms (and awareness of past storms) from old teams while the new members bring fresh ideas that enhance the creativity of the show," said Burkus. "Old colleagues alone wouldn’t have nearly as many ideas and new members might not get out of the storming phase and see their ideas implemented."

The "small world network" theory applies to business as well. Continuum, an innovation consultancy, has successfully created such a network by hiring designers, psychologists, MBAs, ethnographers, and engineers to work on projects in different sectors. After 30 years of business, Continuum's won over 200 design awards and developed best-selling products such as the Reebok Pump and Swiffer mop. The firm's success isn't entirely due to innovation, but a knack for creating teams who find creative ways to draw from their experience. 

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Sep 18, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter,

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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