Creative leadership: The importance of the creative team


I have in a previous blog post, written about the differences between traditional and creative leadership. An important task for the creative leader is to take care of the staff and give them “inner nourishment” by creating a creative working environment. This is done by encouraging and strengthening the creative team.

Team spirit is the bond of mutual appreciation, trust and sometimes deep friendship that is the glue in the working interactions between co-workers. In today’s working life with project employments, teleworking and temporary project groups, the need to feel cohesion and a sense of belonging with the colleagues does not disappear, and can even become bigger. Creating a sense of belonging within a team is therefore one of the most effective ways to increase commitment and satisfaction with the work.

In today’s complex world, it is very rare that a new idea or product is the result of a single individual’s mind efforts and work. Instead, there is almost inevitably a team effort behind the achievement. Some of the individuals in the team may be more important and more influential than others, but everyone’s efforts are essential.

It is important for several reasons to encourage and celebrate the team rather than the individuals. In a system that focuses on individual performance, knowledge and own ideas become hard currency in the competition within the group. This means that the employees become hesitant of sharing their ideas, knowledge and experience for fear that someone else will gain the honour and the opportunity of higher pay and perhaps the possibility to advance to a higher position.

It is not about stopping giving each individual feedback about his or her ideas and achievements, but an important part of the feedback should also focus on how much they have contributed to the team. Give special attention to those individuals who try to take credit for the work of others without contributing to the very best of their own ability.

Feel free to celebrate often, but always focusing on what the team has achieved. This stimulates the team spirit while encouraging everyone in the team regardless of the role to do their best. The more the ideas stay in the team the more the team will thrive.

But there are also other benefits of identifying ideas and products with team efforts rather than individuals. Different people have different roles in the process from the first idea to finished product. If the first idea is largely linked to an individual, this person can easily get a too influential role in the continuing process, which can easily lead to conflicts and to a suboptimal end result if other employees having refined the first idea feel that their work efforts were not valued.

It is also better for the company that the ideas and products are associated with the organisation rather than with any specific individual.

A strong team spirit where everyone feels safe and accepted is also a good foundation for everyone daring to convey their views even when they oppose others. Conflicts and disagreements may be helpful if they are about an issue rather than a person. In the creative team, these conflicts are not hidden under the carpet, but the conflicts that arise are becoming constructive instead of destructive.

But how will these teams look like to maximise their creative potential? In a team where the members have about the same age, background, education and maybe even the same sex, there are good chances for a homogeneous environment that is characterised by a sense of safety and a minimum of conflicts. This does not have to stand in contrast to many new ideas if other conditions are favourable, but the ideas are likely quite similar.

To get real diversity among the ideas, you will first need to create diversity among your staff members. When it comes to original and innovative ideas and problem solving, it is an advantage to create mixed teams, where employees have different education and experience, both sexes are represented and, if possible, also with elements of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The different team members should always complement each other so that the whole becomes larger than the sum of the parts. The best results will be achieved if you consistently aim to put together interdisciplinary teams of people with “T-skills” (broad overview combined with deep skills in a specific field).

Such teams may preferably be truly interdisciplinary. Mixed teams, however, require a much larger investment from the group and management side to get a sensible communication and the risk of misunderstanding that can have negative consequences is significantly greater than in the homogeneous work environment.

The team’s composition can then vary over the life cycle of the project, where the broadest competence is most important in the first stage when the project is to be defined and the outer frames are set. At this stage, the team is also relatively small and only when the direction is properly clear, it is time to call in the armies to realise the ideas.

In this situation, it may be tempting to keep the original team but add more and more persons. For complex problems, this is often a bad strategy, and the skills and creativity of individual employees are more efficiently utilised by creating a network of smaller teams each responsible for a subproject, but constantly interacting with and fertilising the work of the other teams. Physically sitting close together and inspired by the activity in the surrounding rooms can be a big advantage, but if this is impossible, there are more and more virtual ways to communicate – not least different wiki systems.

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Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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