Creating Conditions for Breakthrough Results

Adapted from “THE INNOVATIVE TEAM: Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results” by Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio (Jossey-Bass).

By Chris Grivas

Teams are the way work gets done in business today. The potential of any working group is defined by its members—not just individually but collectively. Whether live or virtual, results are as dependent on team members’ ability to work together as on their individual skills and abilities. CEOs and managers prize “team players” because they know that in today’s collaborative world economy, an organization’s success, and even survival, hangs on its ability to tap team potential.

Knowing how your team works together is key to tapping their creative potential. Research has found that people use a common process for applying their creativity. There are fours stages of the universal creative process:

  1. Clarify the Situation
  2. Generate Ideas
  3. Develop Solutions
  4. Implement Plans

These stages correspond with the different ways people approach problems. There are Clarifiers, who like to dive deep into the data, ask questions, and use their creativity to discover new directions to explore. Ideators, who like to generate lots of options, see the big picture and apply their creativity broadly, without restraint. Developers, who like to tinker and incrementally improve ideas into something solid, apply their creativity “within the box” to create something realistic and applicable to the situation at hand. And then there are Implementers, who like getting results, seeing ideas in action, and applying their creativity to make that new idea a reality.

No preference is better than another, and many people have multiple preferences. Using this framework for understanding team dynamics can have a transforming effect on a team as it gives them a language to sort out their differences, stay on track in the creative process, and perhaps most compelling, an appreciation for the diversity of thinking on the team.

The temptation when using a framework such as this is to form teams based on thinking preferences—to be sure, you have all the thinking styles well represented. It’s a strong temptation, but not an advisable one. When forming a team, it’s best to focus on the candidates who represent key stakeholders and have the skills, abilities, and motivation to do the job first. Assemble the people most able to accomplish the goal of the team, then apply the framework for creative thinking, called “FourSight,” to enable that team to be most effective.

Through developing awareness of the process for innovative thinking, you can cultivate a team in which the collective capacity to innovate is greater than the sum of even the most impressive individual talents and skills. The most difficult part of this development is not your understanding of the process, it’s remembering to pause and reflect on how you are doing. Where are you in the process? Have you devoted enough effort to each of the stages? What has worked well? What fell short? What can you do next time to avoid making the same mistakes?

In our fast-paced, hyper-informative age, finding time to pause and reflect is not as simple as it sounds. To succeed, it should be built into your business plan and every staffer’s BlackBerry. Considering the potential benefits, the time spent regularly checking into your process is more than worth it.

Organizations that actively reflect on their own process:

  • Tend to be more open to novelty because they are striving for innovation, not only end results and deadlines.
  • Can deal with conflict promptly because they see problems as they come up rather than being blindsided later on.
  • May have less conflict between employees because they appreciate the diversity and strengths each person brings to the table.

Although many organizations say they want to create a culture of innovation, few are prepared for the consequences. They will have to balance bringing good ideas to fruition while rejecting those ideas that won’t work in a way that still encourages more ideas. Leadership will have to remain open to novelty despite high-pressured environments that often are geared more toward “making it through the day” and “deliverables” than producing well-developed and novel products, improvements, or new directions.

If you want to make the commitment to have innovation be a central value of your organization, you need to create conditions that enable new ideas to see the light of day. Here are some to keep in mind:

  • Idea time: Leadership must be committed to supporting and developing new ideas and enabling positive change. That means devoting time for teams to reflect on their work and how they work together and time designated for playing with new possibilities.
  • Idea support: People must be aware of how they react to novel ideas. Teach and practice using the POINt method (Plusses, Opportunities, Issues, and New thinking) when new ideas are introduced.
  • Debate: Thorough exploration and discussion of ideas should be encouraged while addressing interpersonal conflict in a timely manner.
  • Freedom and play: People must be allowed the freedom and independence to pursue their interests and seek out innovation. They should be give time and space to experiment, test assumptions, and fail as part of the innovation process.
  • Acceptance of risk: There needs to be a clear level of acceptance by everyone on the team of the risk taking needed for chasing that novel idea.
  • Trust: Cultivate an environment in which it is understood that everyone is expected to pursue innovation and that no idea will be perfect. Trust each other’s skills and avoid quick judgments.

If you create these conditions by weaving these principles into your work plans, your leadership development systems, and your functional teams, you will be laying the path to innovative success. All it takes is devotion to making innovation come alive and commitment to doing the work to get there.

All of us are creative, but knowing how we are creative is key to being able to apply ourselves effectively to any given challenge. Armed with that self-knowledge, we can create conditions for ourselves and others that will enable innovative results. By becoming more consciously and deliberately creative, we can enjoy our days with more satisfaction, enable others to do the same, and together produce results that no one has yet dreamed.

This article is adapted from “THE INNOVATIVE TEAM: Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results” by Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio (Jossey-Bass). For more information, visit http://www.chrisgrivas.com.

Chris Grivas is an organizational and leadership development consultant focused on increasing the creative capacity of individuals, teams, and organizations. His clients have included Ernst & Young, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and New York University. He holds a Master’s degree in Creativity from the International Center for Studies in Creativity in Buffalo, NY.

Gerard J. Puccio, Ph.D., is department chair and professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State. He has written more than 50 articles, chapters, and books.

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