If you want to perform heart surgery, you definitely get a little training first. Ditto if you want to fly planes, cook at Michelin-star restaurants, or build skyscrapers. But if you want to become a manager, there's at least a decent shot you'll be expected to figure out the job based on personal experience, folk wisdom, and maybe some casual reading.
No wonder then that many well intentioned leaders end up inadvertently adopting practices that make their teams less creative and less successful than they could be. According to Kellogg School management professor Leigh Thompson, when it comes to collaboration, popular wisdom and research-backed best practice frequently disagree.
Kellogg Insight recently outlined the five myths Thompson believes managers most often fall victim to, along with suggestions of better alternatives. Here are the basics:
1. The more the merrier.
Two heads might be better than one, but it doesn't follow that six heads are better than two. Inclusiveness has its limits, and bosses often make teams too large and too homogenous, contends Thompson. Rather than weigh your team down with too many viewpoints, if you need to include a range of experts, try bringing in specialists to consult on a part-time basis, she recommends.
"We found that changing the membership of a team -- taking out one member and putting in a new member while holding everything else constant -- actually leads to an increase in creative idea generation," Thompson says.
2. Rules are the enemy of creativity.
Actually, we're usually more creative when forced to think inside the box. "One of the biggest mistakes that leaders of new teams make is that they say something like, 'our rule is that we have no rules,'" Thompson contends. It's far better to take the time to formally lay out the goal of the team, each person's responsibilities, and basic ground rules for how the team will operate at the beginning of a project.
3. Celebrate wins to get people fired up.
Your goal with all your positivity is to fire up your team, but relentless celebration of your collective accomplishments is actually bad for innovation. One of Thompson's experiments proved that sharing an embarrassing memory did more for creativity than sharing a notable win. The safety to express vulnerability is one key contributor to successful teamwork.
4. Status meetings are essential.
Sure, teams need some kind of coordination and group idea generation, but Thompson argues that most bosses simply default to standard-issue meetings that end up being wildly unproductive time sinks. Instead, try shorter meetings, more pre-meeting prep, and other out-of the box ideas like "speed storming."
"Think of it as brainstorming meets speed dating," says Thompson of this practice where participants pair off for brief one-on-one discussions before moving on to pair up with another partner.
5. Successful teams always get along.
In reality, the most productive teams fight productively about ideas. All day sunshine and roses means your people probably aren't pushing their thinking hard enough. But how do you get your polite team to disagree constructively? Thompson suggests written feedback on both the positive and negative aspects of a given proposal.
"When team members are thinking through different possible courses of action, then everybody can be writing cards that talk about a pro and a con. This helps build a balance of feedback," she says. "Let's talk about the positives; then let's talk about the negatives."
Check out the complete post for lots more detail.