How to Lead Your Team to Top Creativity
Employee creativity can help organizations weather storms, survive downturns,
out-innovate their competition and take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
So it’s in a manager’s best interest to help his or her team be creative.
Kathryn Bartol, Robert H. Smith Professor of Management and Organization,
says that the way you lead your team may be the key to fostering a creative
environment in your organization. Bartol, who has been studying the effects of
empowering leadership for years, studied both managers and professional-level
employees (such as software developers and new product developers) at a large
information technology company in China. Bartol found that an empowering
leadership style had a strong influence on the factors that encourage employee
Empowering leadership involves highlighting the significance of the work
employees do, letting team members participate in decision making, conveying
confidence in their performance, and removing bureaucratic constraints that
might keep employees from succeeding.
Employees who had more autonomy felt empowered by their managers and were
more motivated in their work. But that was not enough to encourage creativity.
Managers then needed to communicate the importance of creativity to the
organization and identify areas that require creative solutions.
“You have to channel people,” says Bartol. “It’s not enough just to empower
people and let them go; you have to urge creativity and set the direction.”
Managers must also help team members understand the creative process. That
involves identifying the problem the organization needs to address, gathering
data to fully understand the problem, and generating possible solutions. Giving
sufficient time and attention to each stop of the process is an important step
to uncovering all possible solutions before choosing the one that works best in
any particular organization.
How can you encourage creativity in your team?
- Make it clear that you are looking for new ideas. “You’d think this
would be obvious, but it doesn’t have an impact unless you actually TELL
people you want them to be creative,” says Bartol.
- Give your team autonomy with direction. Empower your employees, but make
sure they’re addressing the issues you really care about.
- Don’t evaluate ideas too quickly. At the beginning of the creative
process, let people spend time gathering data, exploring options and
generating ideas without judging their usefulness. Some ideas will work and
some won’t, but you want to mine all possibilities before you hone in on a