4 Ways to Build a More Creative Leadership Team

1. Hire for creativity. A 2009 study by Drexel University professor John Kounios published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that there are 4 primary characteristics that directly correlate with more creative people. They are:

  • People who have lived (not merely traveled) internationally
  • Individuals with a diverse work experience (particularly those with experience well outside  the field you are seeking them for)
  • People with a strong sense of humor, and
  • Individuals with a rebellious streak

These indicators of creativity can all be incorporated into your hiring process, and will almost certainly generate a leadership group with high creative potential.

“Provide an environment where executives can conduct distraction-free thinking.”

When our team reviews new candidates, we use a scoring system that reserves 30% of an applicant’s score for these characteristics. And we each score new candidates individually so that we can each come to our own conclusions rather than being swayed during the scoring process by a particularly vociferous member of our team.

2. Create a distraction-free environment. Once you’ve assembled a team, you need to create an environment that fosters creativity. We’ve all expressed the feeling that it’s “too loud to think” in a particular environment. It turns out, that’s not just a common saying, it’s actually backed by empirical scientific studies.

The implications for you as an executive trying to foster creativity and innovation in your leadership team is to provide an environment where they can conduct distraction-free thinking. Perhaps that means designating 30 minutes per week as an email-phone-web-talking-free brainstorming period, where your team members are each asked to spend the time thinking through how to solve a challenge or puzzle that your company is facing.

3. Eliminate spontaneous meetings. A 2014 time management study by Bain and Co. revealed that an average organization’s workforce spends 15% of its employees’ time sitting in meetings. But even this 15% doesn’t capture the full impact of meetings on your team’s time, because they’re often tasked with leading the meeting, which means prep time, and following up afterwards. Thus, it’s not unreasonable to assume that nearly half of your leadership’s time is spent in meetings.

Digital scheduling through software like Google calendars actually contributes to spontaneous and poorly planned meetings. Many companies are adopting a policy now that only allows meetings to occur once per week and all participants are required to stand throughout the meeting. Moreover, they’re always at the same time, so that all parties know well ahead of time when they’ll be and can plan their day so as not to lose yet more time via breaking and restarting. This has led to very short meetings and has had the surprising effect of creating more intra-office quick dialogue between the two or three members of the leadership team who actually needed to communicate mid-week, which would have otherwise taken place at a formal meeting.

4. Encourage classical or rhythmic music. It seems counter-intuitive that adding music to an office environment would promote rather than discourage creativity, particularly given the Kounios study, which demonstrated that creativity thrives in the absence of distraction.

However, Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral Science at Stanford University, explains that the predictable patterns in the music actually enable the brain to better disengage from the world around them and think creatively. It’s important to note, too, that this creativity boosting effect exists only where the music has predictable rhythmic patterns and can exist in the background. By contrast, any music in which the beat regularly changes or which demands the attention of the listener actually has an opposite effect.

In our offices, our team has each contributed to a single playlist of classical and rhythmic music which we play on very low volume. It’s just loud enough that it drowns out ancillary office noise, but you can still have a conversation without the music being a distraction.

Developing a more creative leadership team is a worthwhile goal for any organization that seeks dynamism and growth. Developing that team, however, requires that you implement affirmative steps to create an environment where creative thinking thrives. Implementing the 4 techniques described above can get those creative juices flowing.