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How to Activate Team Creativity and Innovation

Are you looking to level up innovation and creativity in your business to produce a competitive advantage? Maybe you're skeptical of whether it is possible to develop a creative and innovative team and believe you should just hire for it. It's the debate of nature versus nurture. A common argument presented in support of team development is that if people were born with creativity, we would observe more consistency in creativity among team members. Evidence suggests creativity is activated by both and your company culture. Cognitive skills, personality traits, work habits, and social and environmental variables affect innovation and creativity. Here is what you need to know about creativity and innovation development and five low-cost and high-impact steps leaders can take to develop an innovative team and competitive advantage.

Why talent development matters

As the world changes, people and businesses must change too. Team development needs to keep pace with the changes in the workplace or risk falling behind on creativity and innovation.

Evidence from a large-scale study revealed that training and development positively affected innovative performance by building employee competence and organizational commitment. Leaders need to consider the desired knowledge, skills, and abilities of the employee, the desired organizational culture, and the workplace climate.

However, evidence has also revealed that if employee capability development becomes the goal, the training program does not produce the desired competitive advantage. Leaders seeking to develop innovative and creative employees should take a results-based focus versus an activity-based approach.

What are the right innovation behaviors to develop?

Enhancing an employee's self-leadership capability improves self-awareness, inspiring experimentation with new ways to solve existing challenges. Evidence suggests that self-observation, goal setting, reward, correcting feedback, and practice moderate employee creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Evidence suggests the following behaviors activate creativity and innovation:

  • Idea generation: Including the desire to try new things, a preference for original thinking, and finding solutions for existing problems.

  • Idea search: Collaborating with others for new ideas and an interest in how things are done in other organizations.

  • Idea communication: Persuading others toward new ideas and showing others the positive sides of new ways of thinking.

  • Implementation starting activities: Developing project plans to launch new ideas, secure funding for innovation, and search for new technologies to support implementation.

  • Involving others: Seeking others in finding solutions to problems and involving decision-makers.

  • Overcoming obstacles: Not giving up on new ways of doing things and persistence.

  • Innovation outputs: Being successful with implementing new ideas and improving processes valuable to the organization

What are low-cost and high-impact steps leaders can take to foster innovation and creativity?

Organizations searching for efficiency tend to hire and promote employees who conform to group norms and encourage unity. According to US Department of Labor statistics from 2017, 47% of the workforce in the United States is women. Yet, only 22% are in c-suite positions. Companies have historically viewed differences as detrimental. But, the benefits of leveraging diversity within organizations include more viewpoints, new ideas, and reimagined solutions.

“A homogenous workforce limits the range of a company's innovation capabilities." Gary Oster

Organizational culture consists of artifacts, values, and underlying assumptions:

  1. Artifacts: These are the things you can see, feel, or hear in the workplace. Examples include what is displayed, office layouts, uniforms, identification badges, and what is discussed and not discussed.

  2. Espoused Values: What you are told and beliefs that you can use to make decisions. Examples include a company's vision and values or mission statement. They are explicitly stated official philosophies about the company.

  3. Basic Assumptions: These are the things that go without saying or are taken for granted. Examples could include speaking up in meetings, holding a door for someone, smiling, or greeting someone by name when walking down the hall.

The following are proven leadership strategies in addition to continous employee development and role modeling that can change how employees behave, and what they think, feel, and perceive creativity and innovation behaviors.

Innovative Workforce Development Step #1: Define Desired Results

This is one of the most potent mechanisms leaders have available. What leaders choose to systematically measure, reward, and control matters, and the opposite is also true. Define desired results in terms of explicit business goals and innovative behaviors.

Innovative Workforce Development Step #2: Leverage Data

Leverage data analytics and empirical testing to discover and communicate what works quickly. Rewards and recognition come in many different forms. Also, what is considered a reward varies from person to person. Both what gets rewarded and how it gets rewarded and what does not get rewarded reinforces organizational culture. There are tangible rewards and social rewards. Simply saying thank you for presenting a decision using data analytics is a social reward.

Innovative Workforce Development Step #3: Embrace Interesting Failure

Much can be revealed when a business or a leader faces a significant challenge. These crucible moments are like a refining fire. It is the heightened emotional intensity that increases individual and organizational learning. Innovation and creativity will challenge the status quo, which is risky in most organizations. How a leader responds to interesting failure will reinforce if the team will take risks in the future.

Innovative Workforce Development Step #4: Recruit and Retain a Diverse Workforce

Who gets hired, promoted, and fired, and for what both creates and reinforces your organization's culture. Talent management decisions can be viewed as a more subtle nuance to culture change because decisions are influenced by explicitly stated criteria and unstated value priorities.

Innovative Workforce Development Step #5: Leadership Style

There are several well-researched employee and company benefits associated with servant leadership, such as creativity. Evidence suggests that a servant leadership style improves employee productivity and creativity. Employees are more likely to provide constructive criticism and engage in productive conflict without fear of exclusion or retaliation. It is in this environment that employees can be creative.


Amabile, T. M. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 357-376.

DeWolf, M. (2017). 12 Stats about working women. U.S. Department of Labor.

Ghosh, K. (2015). Developing organizational creativity and innovation: Toward a model of self-leadership, employee creativity, creativity climate, and workplace innovative orientation. Management Research Review, 38(11), 1126-1148.

Lukes, M., & Stephan, U. (2017). Measuring employee innovation: A review of existing scales and the development of the innovative behavior and innovation support inventories across cultures. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 23(1), 136-158.

Oster, G. W. (2011). The light prize: Perspectives on Christian innovation. Positive Signs Media.

Schaffer, R. H., & Thomson, H. A. (1992). Successful change programs begin with results. Harvard Business Review, 70(1), 80-89.


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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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