My summer coursework included a class on team interventions. One of the topics we covered was creativity. I’ve been thinking about teams I’ve been a part of in the past and how what I’ve recently learned fits with my prior experience.
Teams often face tasks that require creativity and innovation to be accomplished. However, even if there are many creative people on the team, the team itself may not be creative. Creativity on teams depends on many factors, including the ability to foster an environment that allows creative people to share and co-develop ideas. The tendency of people in groups to conform to one another’s thoughts and behaviors and the prevalence of social loafing, among other things, contribute to teams producing less creative outcomes than might come from the team members working individually.
In my experience, the teams I have been a part of thrived in their creativity when roles and responsibilities were clearly defined, they were purpose-led and values-driven, and engendered mutual respect for team members while still being able to laugh at ourselves. When everyone understands the part that they play on the team and their responsibilities with respect to tasks, there is less uncertainty and overall team anxiety.
Purpose is another contributor, in my experience, to creativity in teams. Specifically, purpose motivates people to apply greater effort and drives individual engagement. Teams are more effective when their members are actively engaged which contributes to fluency, flexibility, and originality—all of the three required attributes of creativity. In my experience, when my colleagues and I felt that our work had purpose and we understood how our tasks connected to the larger strategic aims we were trying to achieve, we were more active in our discussion and came up with more innovative and creative solutions to problems.
I have found that contextually appropriate humor contributes to team creativity. Humor can disrupt the status quo positively. Some of the teams I have been on have had people who were confident in their abilities to the point of arrogance. They took themselves so seriously that they could not show vulnerability or open themselves up to build true rapport and trust with other team members. As a result, the teams were not creative. Typically, they produced results that were inferior to what the (very intelligent, creative, and capable) team members could have done individually. Everyone converged in their thinking to the point that originally and innovation were lost. Teams where members could laugh at themselves have been more creative, in my experience. Shaking things up on a team by building rapport can help to build cohesion which contributes to an environment where creativity can thrive.