Fostering Team 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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