Category Archives: collaboration

It was the best of teams and the worst of teams…

“What was the best team you’ve been on?” I struggled to answer this when it was asked on a recent team coaching course I was on. Then, when I heard others’ answers, I felt as thought I had missed out on a really great experience. I believe many other people have not had the joy of being on a ‘high performing’ team, so I was keen to learn the team coaching skills which could help more people have a better team working experience.

The course was on ‘Team Diagnostics’ and run by Team Coaching International. They have four guiding principles for working with teams:

  1. Teams exist to produce results
  2. The team is a living system
  3. Team members want to be on high performing teams and want to contribute
  4. The team has within it the means to excel

Teams are measured on their positivity and productivity, and the team coach will debrief them on their results using graphics such as these:











The key is that the team is treated as a system, there is no focus on individual team members.

This course made me realise the importance of the state of the team for how creative it is. If ideas tend to happen in fluid networks (see ‘Where good ideas come from’ by Steven Johnson), then the team strengths (in the polar diagram above) of communication, camaraderie, constructive interaction, values diversity, respect, trust, goals and strategies, and accountability are fundamental.

The overall ratings on positivity and productivity (see the quadrant diagram above) could also be considered important for idea development. Ideas need to be nurtured, so require a positive, ‘Yes, and…’ environment to thrive. Ideas also need a productive environment – some momentum and hard work in order to develop.

Two of the guiding principles I mentioned earlier struck a chord with me in terms of creativity:

  • ‘The team is a living system’ – creativity is abundant in vibrant situations where “bundles of potentiality manifest their potential in relationship with each other” (from Margaret Wheatley). Creativity needs a ‘living system’ of relationships to survive.
  • ‘The team has within it the means to excel’ – A quote from Steven Johnson’s book mentioned earlier is appropriate here: “This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.” (p.58) Creative ideas exist within each team member, and this creativity will grow and expand just by each individual being connected to the team network.

After three days of learning about teams, I feel I not only have the skills to coach teams, but also, more ideas on the behaviours which encourage creativity.

Is your team a positive and productive fluid network which nurtures ideas? How important do you think teams are for engendering creativity?



Managing the unknown through questioning

The title of this post comes from the International Foundation for Action Learning , as this week I had my first taste of Action Learning. This is all about groups (or ‘sets’) working together on real problems, using the current knowledge of the group and ‘questioning insight’.

In the session I attended one member of the group described a problem and everyone else wrote down one ‘open’ question about the problem. The person with the problem then answered some of the questions, and these answers sparked more questions from the group. This way, the person with the problem was realising the answers and ideas she already had hidden in her brain.

This gentle, yet powerful, process underlines the importance of asking questions when trying to come up with ideas.

In the book Gamestorming five types of idea sparking questions are outlined:

  1. Opening – to generate ideas/options and provoke thought e.g. What kinds of things do we want to explore? What are the biggest problem areas?
  2. Navigating – to summarise key points and check the group is aligned e.g. Is this helping us to get where we want to go? Are we on track?
  3. Examining – for observation and analysis, to narrow your enquiry and focus on details e.g. What is it made of? Can you give me an example of that?
  4. Experimental – to invoke the imagination and make unlikely connections e.g. What else works like this? If this were an animal, what animal would it be and why?
  5. Closing – to gain commitment and make decisions e.g. How can we prioritise these options? Who is going to do that?

Often people equate questioning with interrogation, but when trying to come up with ideas questioning is about collaboration. Having a group of open people asking open questions around a real problem is a simple, but highly effective, way of finding solutions.

How can you build open and exploring questions into your work?

The first follower

Is leadership overglorified? This is the question raised by this short and very entertaining TED Talk from Derek Sivers: First Follower

This video prompts the thought that perhaps alongside thinking about leadership and what makes good leaders, we also need to consider how to encourage the first followers of an idea or movement.

Highlighted in the talk is the need to treat first followers as equals and to nurture them. What should this nurturing include?Perhaps it could include an element of ‘Yes, and…’ so they can build on the original idea,  and so feel more part of it, and then be more confident in spreading the idea? As Derek Sivers says, it takes guts to be a first follower, so being open and inclusive as an idea leader is important for not scaring first followers away.

We are all potential first followers. We have the power to make a lot of things happen just by looking around at others’ ideas and supporting them, as well as focusing on our own ideas.

What ideas have you come across that you could be a first follower of?

Does your workspace support idea generation?

I walked into the first floor space and there was the smell of cakes baking, lots of light, clusters of people talking…and a greenhouse in the middle!

This was The Hub Westminster – a space designed for sharing ideas and collaborating – where I went for a meeting last week.

It’s non-linear – so encouraging a more organic approach to idea development. It’s open and transparent (see the greenhouse meeting room!) – so encouraging meeting new people and sharing. It has cakes – I’m not sure how this relates to idea development, perhaps as sustenance for inspiration?!

This Hub is just one of many around the world, underlining the growing realisation of the importance of collaboration.

There are many other great and cool examples of aspirational workspaces which aim to foster creativity and idea generation – have a look here for a useful list. My favourite from this list is the conference bike! What better way to discuss ideas than by getting some exercise and fresh air together!

The examples from the list are inspirational, but remember – it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to create a workspace for ideas. Just having somewhere informal for people to sit and meet; scattering tools for collecting/developing ideas around the space such as whiteboards, paper and pens or maybe even LEGO. This could be enough to support more idea generation within your organisation.