Fostering Team Creativity

Creativity

The fast changing business environment is forcing organizations to continuously evolve and innovate. Cutting costs and lean management are no longer the solution to stay ahead of competition. Something different and fresh is the need of the hour – Fostering Team Creativity. The aim of this article is to provide practical insights into the much desired but lesser known topic of creativity.

WHAT IS CREATIVITY?

Creativity is defined as the ability to generate new ideas that challenge status quo and aid problem solving or open up new possibilities. Team creativity, also known as group or collective creativity, is not just the aggregate sum of individual creativity of the team members but it is a synergized result of their interactions and shared commitments. Individual creativity acts as the raw material which is processed and molded by the team climate into collective creativity.

CREATIVITY VS INNOVATION

According to Theodore Levitt, creativity is thinking up new things while innovation is doing new things. Simply put, Creativity = Idea, and, Innovation = Idea + Action.

This means that every creative thought or idea cannot be innovative. Only an idea that can be put to a meaningful use is called innovative. But all successful innovations stem from a creative idea.

FACTORS THAT PROMOTE TEAM CREATIVITY

Just as both soil and seed play important role in the growth of a plant, similarly, both intra-individual and organizational climate factors influence the creativity levels of the team. Some of the factors that promote creativity are listed below:

  • Competent Team Members: Each individual in the team should have the relevant domain expertise, creative thinking skills and intrinsic task motivation. Therefore when selecting the members for a team one should focus on these qualities. A high-tech engineer in the field of genetics should have technical expertise in gene splicing, using computer simulation and latest technology to conduct research effectively as well as functional knowledge to understand the genetics. This has to be supplemented with cognitive skills that favor exploration of alternatives and taking newer perspectives. The creative thinking skill manifests itself as problem solving, managing ambiguity, perseverance and self-discipline. The engineer might be intrinsically motivated to drive a project of his own interest but would not feel detached for the one given to him by his boss.

 

  • Inspiring Vision: A simple ambitious objective that is shared by the team helps to outline the spirit and to set the direction. For example 3M’s vision of developing – technology that advance every company, products that enhance every home and innovation that improves life, goes a long way in giving a sustainable purpose to each employee of the organization.

 

  • Team Conflict: Research studies indicate that moderate level of disagreement among the team members during formative stages of team development enhances the creativity and performance of the team. A moderate degree of cognitive conflict stimulates divergent thinking and brings forth the different perspectives challenging the old ways of doing things.

 

  • Trust: Each individual should be confident of sharing his ideas and opinions without the fear of being laughed at or criticized by others. This promotes participation in decision making.

 

  • Idea Time: When there is long list of tasks to be completed each day, it leaves little room to think outside the structured routine. Therefore some relax or quiet time should be given to each member to generate new ideas or critically evaluate the existing ones – answering what we can do better? For example, Google’s ‘Twenty Percent Time program’ encourages its employees to devote 20% of their total work time on any project of personal interest. This has to led to the creation of newer services like Gmail, Orkut and Google News.

 

  • Risk Taking: The saying ‘No risk, no gains’ holds true to promote creativity. The team leader should let people take calculated risk and fail. Failure should be accepted as part of the process of creativity, learning made and the team should move on. At no point failure should be criticized or punished as that would make people fear taking newer initiatives.

DIFFERENT CREATIVITY STYLES BASED ON COGNITIVE SKILLS

Let us take a step back and understand the way our brain thinks. Physiologically our brain is divided into 2 parts – Left and Right Hemispheres. Left brain is associated with rational and logical method of reasoning; this is called Convergent cognitive skills while right brain relies on intuition or what we call gut-feel to arrive at a solution to the problem; this is called Divergent cognitive skills.

Based on these cognitive skills, Dr. Michael Kirton classified two different dimensions of creativity styles – adaptive and innovative

  • Adaptive Style is dominant on convergent thinking skills. Those with adaptive creativity style, also known as adaptors organize information to look for logical train of ideas to find solution to the problem. They prefer to work in a structured environment and follow carefully planned decision making. Adaptors are disciplined, stable and predictable. They mostly look at finding solutions within the existing framework of assumptions. They are described as ‘doing things better. Their working style is most effective in stable and structured situations.
  • Innovative Style is more dominant on divergent thinking skills. Those with innovative creativity style, also known as innovators seek decision by looking at the problem holistically with more spontaneous or flash decision making. They are more productive in informal work environment with participatory and horizontal hierarchies. They are imaginative and question the assumptions. They focus on radical ways of doing things and cut across boundaries to find a solution. They generally cause chaos in the team and are thus not readily accepted within the team. They are described as ‘doing things differently.’ They are more effective in times when breakthrough changes are required.

Adaptors and Innovators view each other with some amount of skepticism. Adaptors view innovators as unreliable and disruptors while innovators perceive adaptors as bureaucratic and dull. This causes conflict and tensions in the team. But to achieve high level of team creativity both adaptors and innovators are required because idea generation requires innovators and idea evaluation and improvement requires adaptors.

Therefore it is important for teams and managers to use psychological measures to understand their own creativity style as well as that of the others. This helps to determine self awareness and promote inter-personal harmony in the team. Most effective of these measures is Kirton’s Adaptor-Innovator Inventory (KAI) which states that any individual’s cognitive style can be placed on a continuum ranging from adaptive to innovative style. The inventory consists of 32 question statements which are based on three factors – Efficiency (E), Rule/Group Conformity (R/C) and Originality (O) described below:

  • Efficiency refers to attention to details and supportive data set. Adaptors focus on methodical data management to reach solution to the problem whereas innovators enjoy starting from scratch and re-inventing the wheel.
  • Rule/Group Conformity refers to the regard for existing framework of team rules and procedures. Adaptors emphasize on team consensus and cohesion and hence focus on problem solving within the rules. Innovators often break rules to create ideas, with little conformity to the group.
  • Originality refers to the manner in which individuals handle ideas. Adaptors prefer to produce fewer ideas most of which would be useful and actionable. Innovators prefer to produce large number of radical ideas which would be risky to action upon.

The KAI score range from 32 to 160 with a score of 60-90 representing adaptive and 110-140 representing innovative cognitive style. Managers can use this score to build a diverse team with individuals possessing both cognitive styles, adopt different approaches to manage each style and make both work effectively to realize the vision.

CONCLUSION

In order to drive profits and stay ahead of change, organizations have to encourage creativity. With teamwork being the norm, it is much more important to focus on ways to enhance team creativity rather than looking at creativity at individual levels. In these times of diversity and change, managers are advised to utilize KAI assessment tool to help the team members realize their creativity style, understand differences in creativity tendencies of each other and thus create more collaborative and cohesive teams.

 

Stress Management – Go the Outdoor Way !

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Turkey-Shaped Foam Stress Reliever

 

In a life of constant pressure and cut-throat competition the youth and working class of metropolitan cities face a constant threat of health issues related to stress. In a world-wide poll of over 105 countries by Gallup, only 20% of people reported that they were not stressed.  According to estimates by PPC Worldwide, a global provider of employee assistance programmes (EAP), more than 62% of health concerns in India Inc in the year to October 2012 were due to work stress.

So what then are we going to do to solve this problem that only seems to be getting more serious by the day? What do we understand about stress and its effects?

When talking about stress people generally refer to two phenomena, an event or a reaction. When we associate stress with an event, that event is called a stressor. Stress is our reaction to an event or stressor. The classic stress response is the “fight or flight” reaction in which your body activates a number of physical and behavioral defense mechanisms to deal with an impending threat. It is often this physical and psychological sensations associated with these mechanisms that we are detecting when we say that we ‘feel stressed’. The ill effects or negative effects of stress are felt when the body goes through an adrenalin rush after detecting threat or stressor and there is no physical activity or “release” for the bodily changes. People report having body aches, catches, headaches, palpitation etc. which is generally the result of this.

How do we deal with stress?

Stress occurs and will only occur if we perceive a situation or stimulus as stressful or threatening.  Thus it is very important to have clarity of perspective and clear evaluation of situations to be able to distinguish real threat from general inconvenient situations. Today if we take a look at our lifestyles our demands from things around have increased and our tolerance for frustration and inconvenience has reduced tremendously. Hence coping skills have reduced. A day without a washing machine or microwave can cause stress to the modern metropolitan individual.  We of course also have the real threats of increasing finances, job competition, traveling, work life balance, time management etc. for these real stressors it is important to find healthy ways of re perceiving the intensity of the threat.

Spending time in recreation outdoor activities:

There are numerous ways of dealing with stress.  Yoga, meditation, exercises and of course thought reforming or changing faulty perceptions.  Recently corporates have been taking special initiatives to provide recreation and exercise solutions within the office premises. Games like football, pool, table tennis, gyms etc. have been introduced in many offices.  Outbound trips and recreation events have become a major part of corporate initiatives. These events serve many purposes, not only are they great stress busters but a solid ground for training and team bonding. Spending time in sports and outdoor activities gives people a change from routine and also physical exercise helps majorly as a way to deal with pent up stress.

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