Guide: Foster an innovative workplace

Lead by example

Leaders play an important role in shaping an innovative environment. Whether you are an executive or a manager of a small team, your managerial style influences how those around you experience their work. Teresa Amabile, a leading researcher on creativity, offers managers six ways to avoid unintentionally stifling creativity.

  1. Don’t default to assigning tasks based on availability. Instead, match people with assignments that provide just the right amount of stretch. Give them tasks that play to their strengths without boring them, and which don’t feel so out of their reach that they feel overwhelmed.
  2. Set goals for your people, then get out of the way. Give your people the freedom to figure out what approach to use. Managers often fail to define goals clearly before handing over the reins, or they offer freedom but already have the “right” steps in their heads and end up micromanaging.
  3. Avoid false deadlines. Time and money are two important tools that managers can use to support creativity; deciding how much of each to give a person or team can be tricky. Managers can kill creativity with arbitrary deadlines but may also miss out on the chance to increase intrinsic motivation with some healthy time pressure. It’s a similar balancing act for money.
  4. Don’t stick to the same agreeable team. It may be tempting to assemble a group of people with similar working styles — especially if it means avoiding any type of interpersonal conflict — but research tells us that homogenous groups often fall prey to groupthink and don’t engage in as much creative thinking as groups with a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.
  5. Check your critical attitude. How do you typically respond to a new idea? If team members see your skepticism whenever a new idea is presented, or if new ideas that fail don’t get the same praise and attention as successful efforts, they will be less motivated to speak up about their ideas.
  6. Discourage silos, politics, and gossip. These things distract from the real work at hand and kill creativity. Instead, find ways to build a sense of shared vision and to encourage connections between teams. Consider requiring teams to share information and collaborate, not just encouraging it.

There is no one way to make innovation happen in an organization. Remember that your actions send a signal and influence the way your teammates experience and understand their work. If you empower people to own their ideas, take risks, and reach across boundaries, chances are they’ll be more innovative.

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