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How can a leader improve a team's creativity?

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Leaders have consistently reported that the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world is their primary challenge.

So what do they need to do to help their teams adapt and generate new solutions to cope with the changing working environment they face?

Research has consistently shown that teams working together are less effective at producing new ideas than individuals working on their own.

Great breakthroughs it would seem are produced from individuals not teams.

Not exactly helpful when you are the CEO trying to get your new executive team to work together to develop a new creative strategy to beat your competition!

However, more recent research suggests that teams will produce better, more original and useful solutions than individuals if a team uses a methodology of combining new ideas and team brainstorming techniques.

Using this team methodology will speed up and improve the process of developing ideas/solutions than an individual working alone.

Researchers Nicholas Kohn, Paul B. Paulus, and Yunhee Choi, divided 108 participants into teams of three and gave them the brief of developing new ideas to improve their university.

The teams were split with members who shared their ideas with their team members, while the other teams had each member work alone.

After this first task, all the teams were given access to the ideas of the other participating teams. They were then asked to "brainstorm” and combine the ideas from the first task to produce new and better solutions for the university; again half of all participants worked on their own while the other half worked with their team members.

Consistent with past research, Kohn and his colleague found out that participants who worked individually in the first task produced more ideas than participants who worked with their team members.

However, teams that worked together were more effective in the second task, in that the solutions, based on brainstorming a combination of ideas, were rated as more useful, more feasible and having more impact by independent judges than the solutions developed by teams whose members worked independently of each other.

The EBW View

The main takeaway of this study by Kohn and his colleagues is that team collaboration is only an advantage at certain points during the creative process.

This research suggests that to improve your teams creativity it is simply a matter of first ensuring your team members work independently to create new ideas before bringing them together to brainstorm and combine the best ideas into innovative new solutions.

However, in the real world it is never that simple, leaders have to work with team members' personalities, their egos, their different motivations to succeed.......

Previous research suggests that for teams to be creatively successful it is not just a matter of setting the functions of the team but ensuring that leaders and members understands what motivates each team member and how to manage each others personalities. This is especially true in disruptive teams (teams with strong personalities and a lot of expertise and experience).

In other words, to have developed a strong team Emotional Intelligence.

We help leaders and managers do this by using EBWt Team Diagnostic to assess, benchmark and boost a team's Business Emotional Intelligence. 

Leaders who want to develop creative teams need to not only understand how to maximise the functions of the team; when to encourage individual efforts and when to work as a team, but also understand the factors that are inhibitors and activators (passion, stress, working style, experience, knowledge, organisational politics etc) to effective team performance.

Kohn and his colleagues' research offers 4 key lessons for improving a team’s effectiveness in developing creative solutions:

  • Assign team members to independently work on developing their solution first, ask them not to share their solution with other team members.

  • Schedule regular "creative” meetings for the team to work together to combine the best of their solutions to develop innovative new ideas.

  • Learn how to run "creative” meetings to keep the members sharing opinions productively, focusing on the objectives, whilst understanding team members 'personal needs.

  • Always evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of your "creative” meetings. Were the objectives met?

Focusing on when to change the function of the team and investing in helping a team understand how they compare to successful teams is the first step to developing a creative and resilient team.