Excellent teams don't just come together by accident. It takes a lot of hard work to create synergy.
This was a theme at the recent 99% conference on creativity in New York City, where innovative minds like Nest Founder Tony Fadell and Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal spoke about how to come up with—and act upon—big ideas.
The conference was hosted by Behance Network, which is an online platform devoted to showcasing creative work. Founder Scott Belsky held a workshop on how to create effective teams, based on his book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality.
Fret not if you didn't make the conference. Here are some highlights of Belsky's ideas:
1. Understand the lifecycle of ideas. When a new idea strikes, energy and excitement is extremely high. But when the hard work really begins, excitement drops. Belsky calls this the "Project Plateau."
"It's the doldrums of project management," Belsky says. "We hate that place so we try to escape it. There are more half-written novels than there are novels."
There's the gravitational force of operations—which pulls you away from what's important to what's urgent. The key is making time for both.
2. Accountability is key, and it begins with leadership. Effective teams hold each member accountable for their contributions. For this to happen, there must be a clear leader who knows each person's strengths.
Keep your team (and yourself) accountable by giving and requesting feedback. Part of accountability involves keeping people honest. "We often say we want feedback," says Belsky, "but we don't seek it."
3. Workflow needs to be forward-thinking, not just reactionary. If you simply respond to what's urgent, that's a reactionary way of thinking and working. It may get you through the day, but it doesn't lay the groundwork for long-term innovation. Belsky offers a formula:
Making ideas happen = creativity/ideas + organization and execution + communal forces + leadership capability
When it comes to organization and execution, since there's often an endless stream of reactionary workflow, there's a lost "forced space for deep thinking." Good leaders will create space for this by "creating windows of non-stimulation." During this time, leaders will read reports, data or whatever it may be, but not react to anything—only process it.
4. Organization will make or break ideas. "Spend energy on staying organized," says Belsky.
Belsky points out that Apple, the company with the best supply chain management, is also considered one of the world's most creative. "Organize with a bias to action," he says.
In order to stay organized, create an "action method," which includes action steps and backburner items (which are consistently revisited at a designated time each week).
5. Run effective meetings. Meetings can also make or break an organization. Long, ineffective discussions will waste precious time and energy—not to mention break up the workday.
Belsky suggests looking at companies like Google, which hold standing meetings. People only discuss what needs to be discussed, and everyone walks out with "actionable steps."
6. Surround yourself with progress, and plan for more. Effective teams surround themselves with testaments to progress, such as full calendars or checked-off to-do lists. "Progress begets progress," he says.
Successful people celebrate small wins every day and know how to prioritize projects. They also know how to divide up their time.
"Pretend you have an energy line," Belsky says, "which runs from low to extreme." Work on your toughest, most important assignments when you're at your peak energy level. Save the more monotonous work for when your energy levels are lower.
7. Know everyone's strengths and create a diverse team. There are three different types of workers, says Belsky: dreamers, doers and incrementalists. All bring valuable skills, but are exponentially more effective when working together. "You need people with an opposite or different tendency to round you out," he says.
There should also be a culture of open innovation. "Share ideas liberally," he says. "Entrepreneurs share ideas quickly and get them out there. They all say the benefits outweigh the costs (of someone potentially stealing their idea). They believe they'll get more refinement, more accountability and potential collaborators. They're willing to make that tradeoff."
8. Create a culture that encourages risk-taking . Too many companies don't allow for true innovation. They punish risk-takers who don't meet expectations. But to become a risk-taker—and truly innovate—is to also accept that there will be many failures along the way.
"So much of the latest research around innovation is rapid prototyping," says Belsky. "The third time you try, you’ve figured it out." Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
9. Stay passionate and focused. "Fight your way through breakthroughs," says Belsky. "Apathy screws over clients and customers. Fight apathy ruthlessly. And don’t become burdened by consensus ... Nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means."
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