We had some friends over recently for dinner. It was a wonderfully sunny, warm day, and the conversation got going quickly. The chatter eventually got around to ‘how things are at work’. One of our guests stated that where he worked, there was so much staff complacency that it had him feeling depressed.
I told him that he was not alone.
Recent studies in Canada and the US demonstrate that the majority of employees are either disengaged or not completely engaged in their work. Yet the demands for higher and higher levels of performance are unrelenting. Teams are being challenged like never before to be creative and innovative. And many, despite the best efforts of their members, are struggling and falling by the wayside.
Why is that? The answer can probably be found in a study conducted by Goran Ekvall, of the University of Lund in Sweden, over twenty years ago. He and his researchers found that the climate within an organization had a profound effect on the degree to which people were willing and able to be creative and innovative.
Out of that pioneering research came a number of conclusions, which have stood the test of time. Of particular interest to managers, is the impact that their behaviors as leaders has on the climate for creativity.
As Ekvall describes it…
“Sixty-seven percent of the statistical variance accounted on the climate for creativity in organizations is directly attributed to the behavior of the leader”
Sixty seven percent.
Based on Ekvall’s work, Scott Isaksen and other researchers at the Center for Creative studies, State University of New York-Buffalo, defined nine dimensions of the climate for innovation, that a leader can directly influence. These are:
1. Challenge: To what degree are employees challenged, emotionally engaged and committed to the work?
2. Freedom: To what degree are employees free to decide how to do their job?
3. Idea Time: To what degree do employees have time to ‘ideate’, that is think things through before having to act?
4. Idea Support: To what degree are employees provided with the resources to give new ideas a try?
5. Trust and Openness: To what degree do employees feel safe speaking their minds and putting forward different points of view?
6. Playfulness and Humor: To what degree do employees feel relaxed at work – is it okay to have fun?
7. Conflicts: To what degree do employees engage in interpersonal conflict or ‘warfare’? How well is conflict managed?
8. Debates: To what degree do employees engage in lively debates about problems, issues, challenges and opportunities?
9. Risk-taking: To what degree is risk-taking encouraged? Is it okay to fail?
As a leader, if you want to spark creativity and innovation in the workplace, ask the above questions of your team. Ask your team members to rate the climate for creativity and innovation in their workplace, against these nine dimensions, using a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being Excellent, and 1 being Lousy (yes, the opposite of excellent is ‘lousy’!). This will give you a rough estimation of where you need to pay most attention. Then have a discussion about the results, and agree on what changes can be made that might improve the climate.
Is that all there is to it? Unfortunately no. There are other factors involved, and these relate to the personal preferences of team members. You may find, even after paying attention to improving the climate, and achieving some success with it, that team members still struggle in either bringing creative ideas forward, or implementing them even if they do.
Why is that? While team members work together toward common goals, individuals still must play their individual roles in the process. To achieve these common goals, leaders need to clearly understand and capitalize on the roles individuals play in group processes, especially processes for creativity and innovation. People need to be able to play to their individual strengths.
The Innovative Team is really made up of individuals with personal preferences. Further research has identified four key roles individuals play, based on their identified strengths, in innovative team performance. These four roles need to be harmonized in order for a team to be successful.
These roles can be described as:
Creator: Generates original concepts, goes beyond the obvious, and sees the big picture. The Creator hands off tasks to an…
Advancer: Recognizes new opportunities, develops ways to promote ideas, and moves toward implementation. The Advancer hands off tasks to a…
Refiner: Challenges and analyzes ideas to detect potential problems and may hand plans back to an Advancer or Creator before handing off tasks to an…
Executor: Lays the groundwork for implementation, manages the details, and moves the process to completion.
If a team has too many or too few of any of these roles, then creativity and innovation struggles to get going. The ideal would be to have enough of each type on your team, or at least individuals who demonstrate a high degree of flexibility in playing a number of these roles (these are referred to as ‘Flexers’).
But how do you discover these preferences?
It is possible to accurately assess each team member’s preferences for fulfilling these roles, and the strength of these preferences. An instrument known as The Team Dimensions Profile is in use in many organizations, and is making great inroads in helping teams become more creative and innovative. This instrument maps these preferences amongst team members.
The demand for creativity, innovation and employee engagement in organizations is on the increase, yet the evidence shows, through research, that organizations are failing to capitalize on the strengths of their employees by engaging them sufficiently to meet this need.
If you want to improve creativity and innovation within your organization, then focus on a combination of climate enhancement and leveraging of individual strengths. Tackle it from both ends, and your chances of success will dramatically increase.