Effectively Organizing Creative Teams (in Vote Chess and for Other Activities)

Dec 29, 2010, 11:52 PM |

Effectively Organizing Creative Teams (in Vote Chess and for Other Activities)

[Comments on the ideas in this article are most welcome. I always strive to provide quality material that is open for improvements -- to share ideas that will serve all of us in what we do in life, and in chess.]

Leading, Not Managing

I've learned through the works of inspired and wise teachers that the key to stimulating and synergizing the work of creative individuals is leading the process, not managing it. This is unlike an industrial process, such as a factory, and much more like a loosely organized group of knowledge workers whose purpose is innovating. (Author and speaker Steven Covey discusses this in his more recent works, for those of you who are interested.)

The point is that "managing" creativity dries up the wellspring of ideas by imposing constraints from outside the realm of creativity, and thus highly productive people often lose motivation quickly. Another explanation of this phenomenon is that "managing" tends to shrink the set of possibilities, while creativity is about exploration, openness, and expansiveness; so because by definition the two missions run in opposite directions to each other, putting them together tends to be unsuccessful.

Set Clear Boundaries, Then Let People Loose

It has therefore been recommended by successful leaders that an effective approach to working with creative and highly intellectual people is to set clear boundaries for the tasks, and then -- and this is the key requirement -- let them loose, with minimal or no outside control. (This presumes that the people in question have a well-developed sense of responsibility, which is usually taken on faith and then verified in the course of the work.) 

Therefore, a strong (which is different from strong-willed or strong-handed) leader tends to be a much more important asset for a team organized around creativity and intellectual work than a strong manager and/or a well-tuned team process.  (Once again, there is an assumption here about the benevolence of the leader -- which will become obvious very quickly.)

Building and Sustaining a Great Team for the Long Term

Finally, sometimes an objective best choice may need to be sacrificed for the sake of the team's cohesiveness and longevity.  An example of what I mean: when several ideas are offered that are seemingly equally good, but there's someone on the team who is really passionate about one of them, that ought to be the deciding factor in favor of that choice, even if the other choice may have marginally better support. (I've seen this often violated in vote chess games, where players tend of insist on some version of strict democracy/equality for the sake of it, regardless of the merits of other choices or who they may come from.)

The reasons are several:

(a) people tend to become energized when they follow a path they believe in, and others around them more readily follow them along, too;

(b) when making important decisions, it's critical that there's always a strong champion of the ideas, rather than a set of individuals who agree on a particular course of aciton but only for lack of a better one; and, lastly but perhaps most importantly,

(c) not alienating a member of the team always has a better long-term "return-on-investment" for the team than picking a stronger choice in one particular situation (game) while jeopardizing a valuable relationship.