“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.“ – Bryant H. McGill, American self-improvement writer and speaker
Effective teams are most often led by leaders who expect innovation and therefore encourage diverse viewpoints. (click to tweet) This is no secret, despite the fact that—as cynics will surely point out—we rarely practice the concept adequately, and I would agree. However, we also let pettiness, bureaucracy, groupthink, disengagement, laziness, and other failings hinder our creativity and slow us down. Business as usual runs down and crushes flexible creativity.
When I think of respectful creativity, I think of Steve Jobs and Apple. Steve Jobs was no saint; he had his flaws, but that just makes his story all the more amazing. The Apple Computers that reinvented home computing with the Macintosh in ’84 couldn’t have done so without a corporate atmosphere that both encouraged and nurtured creativity. When his own Board of Directors ousted him, the creativity seemed to stop.
Meanwhile, Jobs turned his creative genius to NeXT Computers and Pixar, until NeXT actually merged with Apple later and Jobs took over operations again. Was it a coincidence that game-changing products like the iMac, iPod, and iPad debuted in the years after his return? Not likely.
Growing the Pie
In order to increase their profits and beat their competitors, businesses have to either take over more of their market segment or grow the size of the market, so their slice of the pie gets bigger. Jobs did both. Once way to achieve these strategies, especially the latter, is by innovating more. You can’t innovate if people don’t feel free to do so; it’s not something you can order like pizza, or a higher quota on widgets. Instead, you choose innovative, imaginative, even quirky people to staff not just R&D teams, but all teams: people liberal enough to believe in themselves and their capabilities, but different enough that their knowledge, skills, and abilities vary. Then you put them together and let the creative sparks fly.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they should argue all the time, though friction has its place. While the members of highly productive teams often fit together snugly, sometimes it’s a good idea for the fits to be imperfect—so rough edges rub together enough to produce spirited debate. Taken from another angle, consider flint and steel. Both have their value as individual products, but strike them together and you get sparks that can light an acetylene torch or kindle a fire. The intellectual analogs are obvious. Sometimes, fighting for your ideas makes them better.
Supportive vs. Destructive
Most of us share the common experience of learning to ride a bike. Remember the encouragement from your parents? “You can do it! Keep going! Won’t be long now!” Remember the feeling of freedom when you realized you could suddenly go much faster than you’d ever run before, just by pumping hard on the pedals? Would you have ever felt that thrill if your parents had told you, “Don’t bother, it’s not worth it,” or “You’re a terrible bike-rider,” or “You’d just fall down and hurt yourself”? Probably not. It’s simple: encouraging comments are supportive; discouraging comments are destructive.
I suspect a lot of people told the inventors of automobiles their products would never prove more popular (or go faster) than a good horse or a train. If they’d given up, the development of the automotive industry might have been significantly delayed.
Innovative teams allow their members to propose plenty of ideas, in hopes of finding a few that increase their productivity and help the whole organization. Most little idea plants may not bear fruit, but it’s still best to allow them to grow until it’s clear they won’t. If nothing else, it helps all team members feel invested in the team’s outcome; this can’t help but pump up productivity. It may even result in something insanely profitable. G-Mail and Google+ started as side projects that Google allowed its people to pursue on their own time—and look at them now.
Destructive team language like, “What a dumb idea!” and “We already tried that and it didn’t work,” much less personal insults, have no place on the modern business team. Your team may even want to put together a list of things NOT to say during brainstorming sessions or meetings. If an idea won’t work, explain why. Your teammate may have hit on a workable solution that wouldn’t have worked ten years ago. Supportive team language examples include, “That’s worth looking into,” “Have you figured out a different way to make that work?”, “Anybody have any reasons why this can’t work?” or simply, “That idea has merit! Let’s talk about it more.”
Give your teammates something to work for—don’t cut them off at the knees, no matter how dumb an idea sounds at first. Dig deeper and clarify and get to the heart of their thinking. Otherwise, they may not bother to try next time. When this happens, you’ve lost a valuable contributor who could have help put your team at the top of the heap. You never know when a good idea will pop up, or who it’ll come from.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.