Sep 18, 2007

How To Build More Creative Collaborative Teams

There are ways to spur creativity amongst your teams. In fact, to spur creativity within your company, building COLLABORATION is critical.

A common myth amongst leaders is that competition fuels creativity. In fact, according to Teresa Amabile, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, and one of the country's foremost explorers of business innovation, the opposite is more true: collaboration fuels creativity. It makes sense: people stop SHARING when they are competing. So, first of all, build COLLABORATIVE TEAMS to foster more creativity in your work environment.

Creative collaboration is a process to combine various team elements to facilitate the creative process and come up with better product ideas, strong service solutions, new sales techniques, and more. How do you do it?

Well, here is a list of 7 ways we suggest you can expand upon creative collaboration:

1. Opposites Attract. Hire people with opposing ways to looking at problems. Combine a "big picture" thinker with someone who processes "linear" thoughts. Combine the rational person with the abstract thinker. You may not have them agreeing on everything, but they'll come up with some interesting combinations.

2. Aliens Among Us. One of the beautiful things about the United States of America that I love most is the cultural diversity. While this is more obvious in major metropolitan cities than rural areas, nevertheless there is a wide diversity to choose from when making hiring decisions. My feeling: find people who come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and combine them to get more creative ideas. Asians think differently, in general, than Latin Americans. People from Russian think differently than people from France. Find people from different cultures, and rather the using that alien nature to divide, use it to find new explorations in service, product, and diversity.

3. Gender Bender. The most boring team I ever worked on was within a company where the management hadn't hired any women. I like women. I find their thoughts, ideas, and ways of thinking refreshing and even sometimes challenging. That's a good thing on collaborative teams. The movie "What Women Want" with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt highlighted how entire marketing programs created by men have been dumped in favor of the way a woman might think, in order to embrace women. Embrace gender differences. It spurs more creativity.

4. Go Outside. Creativity is a two-step process that starts with collaboration. Start with a discussion with your team, your business partners, and people who can benefit the process you're trying to create. If you're finding elements of your team are competing, replace them with people who collaborate. Build upon the collaboration you start with. But beyond that, involve people who aren't normally on your teams. If you're in operations, bring in salespeople. Or, go an extra step, and invite customers and prospects to your planning meetings. You might be surprised by the refreshing ideas that occur - not to mention the empathy you'll gain from customers understanding the insights into what you're doing to meet their needs.

5. Plan Less, Do More. I'm not saying don't plan. I'm just saying plan only 10% of the time you spend on a project. Spend the other 90% doing. There are so many people who get stuck planning, and re-evaluating that they never do anything. In one job I found that for three months I was strategizing on the next way I was going to get my business. In the meantime, my co-worker signed $400,000 of business in accounts I'd previously called upon. Ouch. Get out of the office, drive out there and do what you need to do. If you want creativity, you can plan for so much, brainstorm to get things moving, then put things in action and find out if they work. It's the only way to know if you've got anything real.

6. Design Innovation. I once heard someone say that innovation happens spontaneously. Well, yes, this is true. However, innovation often comes from a spark from something someone has seen before. How do you handle a blank sheet of paper? In writing music, I find that usually, I'll start with something that feels good to me. Maybe a hook for a melody idea, or a rhythm on piano or bass. Perhaps I'll have a rhythm pattern on drums. But, I'll start with something. Do I want the song to feel Calypso? Do I want it to feel Gospel? I'll pick a genre, then try to create towards that. Some companies PLAN for innovation. Do you? Build elements that spur people to think in new ways in your own innovation teams. Is it round? Maybe square would be better. Is it red? Try making it yellow or blue. Is it faster? Maybe slower is more useful.

7. Remove Deadlines. People often think they work better under deadlines. Well, this isn't true. Just make sure people do something every time they meet to keep the idea moving forward. But deadlines don't spur creativity, they stifle it. Ever wonder why a musician can create a great CD, then once they are signed to a label, they must produce three albums in four years, and their music slips? It's because they're on a deadline. They HAVE to create. Someone is coming out with a new program enabling you to text in orders to restaurants to have your coffee or food ready when you get there. For people who like things fast, right? Well, for people who like to take their time with things, tea is better. Get your creative team in the tea modality and out of Starbucks modality. Take time with things that matter, such as creating.

You may find more ways to build creative collaborative teams in your own organization. But, for starters, try these:

1. Pair opposites together.
2. Pair different cultures, different ideas.
3. Put both genders together to spur creativity between the sexes.
4. Go outside your typical team and include outsiders.
5. Plan less. Do more. Plan no more than 10%, spend the other 90% doing.
6. Build innovation into your design. Plan ways to help spur innovation. Create tools, decorate walls, tear down closed spaces, or create labs where design or creative thought can more easily occur.
7. Remove deadlines. Give people the freedom to create within a structured environment on their own time.

According to David Kelley, IDEO CEO, "The more you experiment, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you create." So make the effort to experiment with your teams. You just might be rewarded.

This article is by Scott Andrews, CEO and principal business advisor at ARRiiVE Business Solutions, helps executives build creative, empowered, and productive teams. Learn more about Scott's dynamic SEMANTIC COLLABORATION and CREATIVE COLLABORATION models and tools at

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