How does middle management leadership go about building creative teams? What, exactly, can a manager do to prepare a team for creativity and exceptional achievement?
A manager asking this question is usually starting from one of two possible starting conditions:
- The first condition is, the right people are in place, and this manager needs to find a way to create an optimal environment for the emergence of a high performance, creative team.
- The second condition is that in the process of creating an environment favorable for a creative team, new people need to be hired on.
Whether adding people to the team will be part of the process, here are a few principles for the manager intent on building a creative team.
Establish Environment of Openness and Trust
Building a creative team means establishing an environment of openness and trust. You could even say you are fostering a whole new culture of openness and trust – a culture where people feel comfortable bringing ideas forward, and having robust, healthy discussions about those ideas.
What typically hinders the presence of an open and trusting culture are (a) unspoken / unshared issues, and (b) the absence of authentic and honest conversation, based on authentic and honest personal connections.
One of the best ways to form authentic and honest connections among people is to facilitate feedback exchanges.
Bring everyone into the room. There should be two statement-prompts on the board:
“One thing you do incredibly well is ______.”
“One thing you could do even better is ______.”
Bring your team members in, have them pair off with each other for 5 minutes to exchange these statements with each other. Repeat the exchanges until everyone has had an opportunity to exchange with everyone else. At the end of all the exchanges, debrief with the group to take the temperature of the room, and to assess whether any participants need further closure before wrapping up the meeting.
In addition to these regular feedback exchanges, be sure to bring the team together on a recurring basis for open brainstorming and ideation, not only about projects at hand, but also on how the team could more effectively collaborate. These exchanges will further the level of openness and trust across the group.
Lead The Way With Vulnerability & Authenticity
While feedback exchanges and open conversation are key to fostering an open, trusting environment where creativity can thrive, the thing that enables those activities to produce the desired reality is you. The leader.
Your team members will be watching, and tracking, to see if your behavior matches up with your words. If you are asking them to exchange feedback with each other – you need to participate alongside them with sincerity and forthrightness.
If you desire for your team members to be more real and authentic with each other, and even lean into the vulnerability of allowing others to see them without their defenses and barriers, then you go first.
The high performance leader always goes first.
By modeling the desired culture of openness and trust with your behavior, you communicate to your team members that you don’t just want them to run with your ideas – you are encouraging them to offer their own unedited ideas and get them on table.
Now the team is gathering momentum on developing a team culture of openness and trust, and embodying it in the team’s shared workspace. You are well on your way to building a creative team.
Hire for Diversity In As Many Categories As Possible
If hiring new people to build out your new high performance, creative team, be sure to prioritize hiring for diversity in as many categories as possible. Gender, race, socio-economic background, and most importantly, viewpoint. Great creative ideation on a team hinges on getting as many differing viewpoints as possible. This approach limits the risk of adopting a monovision approach, and likely fosters better ideas
Initiate Leadership Training & Development
With your team and desired culture taking root in your work environment, it is worthwhile to reinforce the new culture of openness, trust and creativity through individual leadership training and development.
Your creative team depends upon a free flow of information. You have the manager (you) fostering an environment where people are comfortable sharing, presenting, debating and even engaging in healthy conflict. You have the need for the environment to encourage authenticity and genuine human relationships. The more individuals you have fostering and championing these behaviors, the more effective your interactions will be.
Leadership training and development focused on supporting your people in creating a shared vision, and realizing a company culture that everyone is enthusiastic to participate in – this is the most effective leadership development you can come by, and well worth the investment.