As paradoxical as it may sound, success many a times poses a serious threat to team innovation. A team that experiences long period of success uninterrupted by difficult challenges is likely to find that its members are firmly nested within their collective comfort zone. Team members may grow complement and strive for marginal efforts towards improving their performance.  If the team encounters new and demanding challenges, team members will respond with routine or safe solutions, thereby blunting their capacity for innovative thinking.

Complacency can be particularly damaging to teams that function in areas as sales, marking and design – because creative thought powers exceptional performance. Complacency isn’t the only reason for lack of innovation; other conditions, which give rise to lack of creativity, are outlined below.

Insulated from outside view

Exposure to cutting edge ideas and best practices within the industries allow teams to explore their limits and test new work approaches. Unfortunately, some teams suffer from a type of organizational inbreeding that provides little access to ideas and individuals outside the organization. Not only that the team are cut off from the flow of new ideas, they also don’t have access to information networks that can keep them apprised of evolving ideas within a given area.

Risk taking is punished

The team members may be feeling that innovation is seldom rewarded and failure is consistently punished with zeal. With consequences of this sort in place, team members quickly learn that they are likely to suffer criticism for proposing new and untested approaches to problems. On the other hand, if they adopt or support solutions proposed by senior level team members or their team manager, they avoid the risk of failure. As a consequence, such teams tend to passively wait for direction from their leaders and managers.

Censorship

Newer and less experienced team members tend to be strongly influenced by the opinions of their experienced and senior colleagues. Within some teams, the team manager or senior team members exert subtle but powerful control over teams innovative thinking process. Some of the censorship behaviors exhibited by oldies and seniors are highlighted below.

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  • They may be sarcastic or give critical response to the ideas of the team members.
  • At times they may argue that the team has partially explored a given line of thinking, it doesn’t merit additional effort.
  • Inappropriately timed challenges to team members to come up with complete solutions when they are just beginning to formulate new ideas.
  • Implying that the presenter of an idea lacks the experience or skills to be taken seriously by the team
  • Taking a team problem solving discussion offline with a subsequent clandestine discussion with selected team members.

Whatever way the censorship takes place, the result is the same, new or junior members are reluctant to express new ideas and have great difficulty in obtaining a fair hearing for their ideas.

Limited time for interaction

Research has demonstrated that creative thinking is not so much an individual trait but rather a social phenomenon involving interactions among people within their specific group or cultural settings. A creative act is not a singular event but a process, interplay among several other factors, thereby making Innovation a synergistic process that thrives within work environments where team members learn from and build on one another’s idea.

This type of symbiotic learning may take many forms – from team members who exchange ideas on a particular project, to the team leader who shares an exciting new Internet research site with the group. Whatever be its form, creativity is severely hampered when team members lack ready access to one another, or if team norms discourage them from freely discussing their ideas.

Summing up, the impact of lack of creativity is subtle and insidious, for unlike many other team problems; the lack of innovation does not show up in errors, or in damaged interpersonal relationship but results in ideas and actions that are mediocre. If left unchecked the team may never play to its full potential.

Jappreet Sethi

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