Organizational creativity has to be maintained at three levels: the organizational culture, individual creativity, and team dynamics. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, being part of a team will increase your own creativity, but only if you have the right team members, and productive team dynamics are in place. Here is what you need to do to achieve both.

1. Assure strong and productive team diversity.

I am not referring to the politically correct "team diversity," that assures inclusion of members based on their demographic backgrounds. I'm talking about task-related diversity. Make sure you include members with diverse experiences. Having a team of employees who worked together in the same business unit for 10 years is easy, but will not provide diversity of ideas. Including members who worked in different companies, or at least different business units will increase the breadth of perspectives and thus ideas. Assure that you include members with diverse domain knowledge. Include engineers, customer support personnel, finance people, marketing people, and everyone who might have knowledge to share that will affect idea quality. Balance specialists (know a lot about a very narrow field) with generalists (know little about a very broad field), and finally include extroverts with introverts. They bring different, yet equally valuable input.

2. Keep only team members who respect each other.

Sounds onerous, doesn't it? Team creativity is based on having open debate, and free flow of ideas. For that to happen, trust must exist within team members. Where trust is lacking--so will creativity. One of the most basic building blocks for trust is mutual respect. The respect is for two things: the other person's professional competence in what they do, and sharing the same values. Lacking one of those will prevent the type of respect that will lead to trust and creativity. You can learn this by interviewing individual team members, or even conduct an anonymous survey, but you need to make sure that each team member respects all other team members on both dimensions. Let me be clear about something: this respect either exists or it doesn't. It cannot be forced. Telling team members that they must respect each other is meaningless. It is nothing more than a politically correct statement to make. As team members get to know each other, this respect may develop, or break down. You will need to continuously monitor whether team members respect each other, and if they don't--address it. It is better to remove a team member that others don't trust than to keep them in the team, and lose trust, open debate, and creativity.

3. Time together

Having initial respect to one another does not immediately generate trust. Trust will develop over time. In my creativity in organizations research, I found that one team lacked respect initially, and gained that respect over 3 years of working together. They reported low trust and creativity initially, and high trust and creativity after 3 years. I encountered a Fortune 500 company that, in order to increase team diversity, would shuffle teams every 18 months. This way, they believed, members will bring different perspectives to different teams. While they did increase team diversity this way, they prevented teams from developing the level of trust needed for them to be creative. Let the team work together for a long time. Let them develop the needed trust. It will not happen overnight.

4. Promote out-of-work friendships.

What can shorten the time it takes to go from respect to trust is the positivity of relationships. Team members that go to movies together, hang out, drink beer together, will turn respect into trust faster. Specifically, out-of-work friendships will allow them to explore how much they share the same values. If they are not willing to spend time together, they either don't share values (which will prevent trust from ever developing), or it will take a long time to develop that trust. You should not force friendships. You can't. But you should do whatever you can to encourage it.

5. Life altering events, or team-building.

Most companies consider team-building activities as boondoggles. A waste of time and money, that does not yield any performance improvement. They are wrong. Life-altering events bond people more than anything. They allow them to really get to know each other, and explore the values they may share (or find out they don't) very quickly. However, life-altering events (being in an accident, tornado, serving side-by-side in battle) are not something you can order. Team-building events, on the other hand, are. The more intense the team building events are, the more effective they are in learning to respect shared values and build trust. Do them on a regular basis, and make sure they are effective. You should explore bad feelings out of a team building event. Are those an indication of lack of respect? Lack of shared values? If so--consider yourself lucky to discover those early, and make personnel changes in the team.

6. Pre-existing acceptance.

Imagine a new member is introduced to your team. However, this member is not introduced by the team leader, but rather by one (or more) of the other team members, who says "I worked with her before, and she is really great. I'm so happy she joins us!" What do you think at that time? You don't know her, but somehow she got pre-qualified by someone you trust. This, obviously, will only work after you have already worked with the team member who made the introduction for a while, and you trust him. However, if someone you trust introduces someone new with a glowing recommendation--it will shorten the time to trust the new person.

7. Prevent internal competition.

Competition for a promotion, pay raise, a bonus, or anything else among team members has catastrophic effect on team creativity. Team members will try to promote their own ideas, or even not share ideas within the team, and rather share them outside the team with the team leader, or upper management. Whomever controls the prize. Make sure there is no such competition within the team. This can be tricky when members come from different groups within the company, that are not within your control. In that case, you will need to speak with the managers of those other groups. No internal competition among team members should exist.

8. Establish ground rules.

I was surprised to see how many times this simple tool of setting ground rules changed the dynamics. Include rules such as "nobody gets to monopolize the conversation," and "nobody gets to be quiet all the time." Establish what happens when someone is late to a meeting. Will you allow using computers and phones in the meeting (hint: do you want their full attention or not?) Make sure you keep a "parking lot" list of things so you do not forget any idea. Make sure that whomever the idea scribe is--he will be truthful to what was said. People don't like their words being twisted in any way. When you capture something--make sure you ask the idea originator if this is what she meant. If not--modify it. If you had an idea as a result--write hers first, and then yours, but don't replace hers with yours.

 

Published on: Apr 27, 2016
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