PART 2: Develop Team Operating Agreements To Enhance Team Creativity
Written by G. Eric Allenbaugh, Ph.D.
Team creativity requires a safe, open environment to facilitate generation of ideas. Developing and supporting a mutually agreed upon set of Team Operating Agreements or ground rules can make a significant difference in the creative flow and how effectively the team works together. Team Operating Agreements become the guiding principles which impacts communication, creative flow, behavioral norms, and decision making. The
following Team Operating Agreements have been successfully applied in a variety of industries.
1.Commit to active listening (Allenbaugh, 2009)
Step 1: Pause before responding.
Not just a time pause, this is a conscious intent to become quiet inside
and to be fully present before responding (or reacting) to the thoughts
and ideas of others.
Step 2: Say “Help me to understand.”
At this point, you are encouraging others to voice their interests,
perspectives, and- concerns. You are not debating or offering another
point of view, you are genuinely seeking to understand their point.
Step 3: Listen with every bone in your body. Rather than listening,
we often waiting to talk or preparing our rebuttal. Neither of these, of
course, demonstrates listening. Listening with every bone in your
body is one of the highest forms of respecting another human being.
Step 4: Seek to understand their facts, feelings, and perceptions.
Typically, “Three Truths” exist: Your truth, My Truth, and The
Truth. Issues often arise between individuals when each considers
their own facts, feelings, and perceptions – “Their Truth” – to be “The
Truth.” By seeking first to understand the other person’s “Truth,”
however, you have a greater chance of “hearing” and understanding
what is really important to them. In this step, you are seeking
understanding, not necessarily agreement. Once the other person
feels understood, they are more likely to now listen to “Your Truth.”
By seeking to first understand then to be understood, we can often
mutually discover “The Truth.”
Step 5: Reward the feedback. Even if you may not agree with their
perspective, genuinely thank others for sharing their feelings, facts,
and perceptions directly with you. By acknowledging the feedback, you
make it safer for interactive communication while encouraging others
to talk directly with you rather than talking about you later
in to so-called parking lot meetings.
2.Introduce “Likes, Concerns, Suggestions” (LCS)
Have you noticed what happens when a team member offers “not-so-constructive criticism” or expresses why someone else’s idea will not work? The creative flow tends to cease, relationship tension between individuals- often increases, and a potentially good idea or variation of it evaporates. A communication tool, referred to as “LCS” or Likes, Concerns, & Suggestions, provides a productive mechanism for dealing with differing points of view while maintaining the creative flow (Bersbach, 2010). Here is how it works.
Step 1: Likes. If you are going to offer an alternative view, first share something that you genuinely like about the other person’s idea. This demonstrates that you understand the potential merits and have respectfully listened.
Step 2: Concerns. Express what might be a concern about the idea only if you have an idea about “plussing” or improving the idea. (A word of caution: Do not offer constructive criticism during a creative brainstorming process. Use this later during the critical thinking phase or when open discussion is encouraged in a meeting.)
Step 3: Suggestions. If a team member states a concern, that same person must follow it with a suggestion. This is called creative piggybacking or plussing.
For example, team members of a paint manufacturing company were discussing how to deal with problems with their product when, years later after application on commercial buildings, the paint started chipping and
cracking. One team member suggested putting gunpowder in the paint and blowing it off the building when problems occurred! Another member of the team shared: “I like the concept of integrating a substance directly into our product that can facilitate dealing with the chipping and cracking issues. My concern, however, is that we might damage the building. As a suggestion, what if we put an inert chemical into the paint and later spray painted another chemical on the eroding paint, causing it to slough off the building as a result of a chemical reaction?” Using creative piggybacking, a new product was developed by the company.
“Ask yourself this daily question:
How would the person I want to be
do the thing I’m about to do?”
3.Reward risk taking. Acknowledge and reward appropriate risk taking – even when the risks may not pay off. If the only risks we honor are those that succeed, we might as well say, “I want you to take risks – and you better not make any mistakes.” This punitive philosophy quickly discourages creativity and risk taking. At Southwest Airlines, by contrast, celebration of risk taking is part of their culture and hilarious awards are provided for both great ideas and for those that flopped. People laugh, have fun, and are culturally encouraged to continue their creative risk taking. Appropriate risk taking needs, however, to be within the context of alignment with the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll
never come up with anything original.”
4. Look for the learning when mistakes are made. Mistakes happen. How mistakes are handled, however, can significantly impact the corporate culture and either stifle or encourage creativity. The president of a client organization, for example, has a bell in his office that associates ring when they make a mistake! In that culture, ringing the bell signals a time to pause to 1) laugh, and 2) learn. They support the individual by laughing at the mistake, then seeking the learning as a means of encouraging even higher levels of performance. On the other hand, failure to ring the bell will likely result in experiencing a career opportunity elsewhere! This culture supports growth and learning, not cover-up and non-accountability. How safe is it for people to “ring the bell” in your organization?
“No more mistakes—
and your through.”
5. Aim High and Celebrate Successes.
Celebrating successes and acknowledging the contributions of the team in general and individuals in particular significantly motivates people to both create and perform at their best. Honoring even movement toward the ultimate goal of a large project can inspire people to “keep on keeping on.”
“The greatest danger for most of us
is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,
but that it is too low and we reach it.”
Typically, people can be enormously ingenious– especially when the corporate culture encourages the creative exploration of ideas. In so doing, the organization, the associates, and ultimately the customers all benefit from engaging associates in generating ideas to enhance products, services, and processes. Like the conductor of an orchestra draws the music out of the musicians, your job is to draw the creativity out of your associates in service to the mission and vision of your organization.
“You can’t use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have.”