Boosting creativity in your management team
During a recent management team development session we had arrived at the point where the team would establish their norms.
Thinking out loud, one member suggested the norm we encourage creativity. This proposal emerged from two milestones we had recently passed in the workshop. The first was the team having defined its purpose: Continuously developing the organisation they headed. The second was the team having agreed on a vision for its collaboration: Unleashing the team’s full potential.
If you combine the desire for development with the ambition to release potential, the norm we encourage creativity makes perfect sense. The member who came up with the idea also reflected, however, that such a norm does not automatically have the desired effect. We cannot, after all, be creative on demand.
Before I tell you how we moved forward, now’s a good opportunity to take a closer look at the concept of creativity. The Cambridge Dictionary defines creativity as the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas. The Swedish Psychology Guide suggests that “in creative thinking, four components can be distinguished: (a) ease of coming up with new ideas, (b) fluidity, (c) originality, and (d) constructive processing.”
This team – like the vast majority of management teams I work with – consisted of competent and experienced managers. However, in the data collection preceding my meeting the team, the members had rated the team’s productivity as low. In addition, when I met the team and had an opportunity to observe their group process, I noticed some phenomena that restrained creativity. These phenomena overlap one another, but for the sake of discriminating between them, let me discuss them one at a time:
A lack of building on one another. One person in the team expressed what they thought, and then the next person expressed what they thought, but the two thoughts weren’t necessarily connected and there was not much integrating going on. It was as though every individual member contributed a piece of the puzzle, but the group could not put the puzzle together.
A lack of exploration. The normal pattern for most of us, when we hear something we don’t agree with, is to utter “yes, but.” If we refrain from doing so and instead ask the other person to elaborate, we sometimes realise that the difference is ostensible. And if there indeed is a real difference, a team that strives for exploration will at the very least have a more nuanced discussion which increases learning and discovering – ultimately leading to better decisions.
A lack of encouragement. Even if you disagree with someone, you could still say that you appreciate that the person raised the issue. If you agree, it costs nothing to say "that’s a great suggestion!"
Leaving people hanging. When someone has finished speaking and you respond with complete silence or start talking as if what was just said never happened, you leave them hanging. During the workshop, both myself and another person experienced this phenomenon and we shared with the team what an unpleasant experience it is. One consequence for both us was that we started mind-reading. Paired with a strong feeling of awkwardness, thoughts like “they think I am stupid” and “not one single person agrees” emerged.
As the rest of the team reflected on this, it became obvious that those mindreads were wrong. Rather, people were silent because they were processing what had just been said. But if you’re the one being met with silence, you don't know that.
After having discussed the phenomena, I reminded the team that they had agreed on two additional norms which were related to the norm we encourage creativity. These two norms were we explore different perspectives and we are curious. Applying these norms increases the ease of coming up with new ideas, fluidity, originality, and constructive processing. And, equally important: Psychological safety and job satisfaction.
What are your thoughts on boosting creativity in your management team? Or in any team, for that matter.
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.