In Order to Foster Creative Success, Successful Leaders Ask Great Questions

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DigitalVision/Getty Images

What should leaders of creative teams know to foster success? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Suzanne Howard, IDEO Partner, Founder and Dean of IDEO U, on Quora:

Instead of defaulting to having all the answers, leaders should be asking great questions. It’s your job to stir the embers, not start the fire. The greatest skill of truly creative people is to constantly ask truly interesting questions.

In our course with Tim Brown, Leading for Creativity, he talks about leading through culture as a way to set the conditions for creativity to thrive. By culture, we mean what people believe and how they act, and it’s a powerful force that impacts the way work gets done.

One effective way to nudge culture is by designing rituals—intentional moments that focus on establishing trust and building relationships. Rituals are a way to recognize a behavior that’s getting in the way of our ultimate objectives and put something in place to alter it. Over the course of 30 years, IDEO’s culture has evolved to put trust, purpose, and impact at it’s core. For example, IDEO’s weekly tea time ritual was designed as a way to encourage collaboration and “casual collisions”—a time when people step away from what they’re working on and connect with each other. Small, consistent moments like tea time are a prime way to deepen relationships and trust over time.

And building trust is essential because your team needs to feel trusted and trust that they have the support of their teammates. Google recently led a two-year research project to determine what makes a successful, innovative team. They found only one distinction between innovative and non-innovative teams—psychological safety. A team that has psychological safety is a team that allows people to feel safe trying new things, openly share ideas, and bring their full selves to work. It’s not so much who is on the team, but how they communicate. It’s essential that they have empathy and communicate openly and honestly. To promote psychological safety, leaders can be vulnerable and role model what trust looks like in a team.

Fostering a culture of experimentation is another way to create psychological safety and help teams succeed. In our conversation on creative leadership, David Kelley talked about shifting toward an experimentation mindset. He said, “The trick is building a culture of experimentation. Then by definition, if you’re not failing some of the time, you’re not doing an experiment.” Changing into this experimentation mindset where you can quickly adapt and go in the direction of what's working creates a workspace open to failure—a place of rapid learning and iteration.

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