What Do the Most Innovative Teams Have in Common?

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I recall leading a team that I wanted to become more innovative. I thought the key was to set aside time for them to think about how to add more value to our clients and how to solve our most pressing problems. That was before I understood what the most innovative people already know: innovative thoughts don’t come about thru logical thinking. Study of successful, repeat entrepreneurs minds shows that they rely far more heavily on intuition than logic. Innovative thoughts arise as flashes of insight, and these can be facilitated in a team.

Intuition is a process whereby information normally outside the range of cognitive reach is sensed as a certainty. Traditionally, most work on intuition assumes that it’s the result of the unconscious brain accessing existing information from forgotten experience stored in the subconscious, but it’s really access to information external to the brain. Strong, repeatable evidence proves that humans have access to such information, and study of the minds of successful entrepreneurs shows that they are generally more adept at accessing this information as compared to the rest of us.

The trick is to be in the right frame of mind to trigger an insight and to be able to recognize it when you get one. To get a snippet of the feeling of the right frame of mind, try this exercise. First mentally pose a question about something you genuinely want answered. For me as a consultant, my question may be “How do I provide greater value to my clients?” While holding the question, look down towards the floor. Become aware of your perceptions. If you’re like most people, looking down triggers your subconscious where you’re just recycling old patterns of thoughts and impressions. Now, while holding the same question, look up towards the sky. How does that feel? Most people have a feeling of expansiveness while looking up, and a greater likelihood of triggering new insights. This is similar to the energy you want your teams to hold, but it’s a bit more complicated than just looking up instead of looking down.

First, in order to have insights on achieving the team mission, the mission has to be held as top of mind for the team. It’s important to note that this is not the same as the team being motivated to achieve the mission, which is incentive to take action. Innovation requires mindfulness of the goal. We are emotional beings, and we willingly put our attention on what we feel strongly. Therefore, you want the team to feel strongly about their mission or purpose, so use techniques to define it in a meaningful manner.

Secondly, we all have thoughts that constantly arise, but the trick is to be able to distinguish a random thought from a profound insight. This requires that the team is mentally aroused and emotionally positive. If their minds are passive, they’ll be too receptive to images from the subconscious. They’ll never distinguish the ones of value. If they’re in a state of worry or anxiety, the negativity hijacks their ability to emotionally detect the insights of value. This propensity to be mentally aroused and emotionally positive can be fostered in a group and a strong team spirit helps individuals achieve this state more readily.

One more thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t make sense to set aside time to be innovative, but it does make sense to work in rhythmic patterns where there is intense focus on action followed by short periods of relaxation and fun. It’s during the lulls that the innovative thoughts are most likely to arise.

To answer the question of what the most innovative teams have in common, they have 1) a strong sense of heartfelt purpose, 2) an aroused and positive temperament, 3) an emotional bond, and 4) a work pattern of rhythms. As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Istvan KENYERES  October 14, 2012

    Very True: … I usually have my most innovative thoughts between 3 and 3.30 AM … and my most productive innovation was when I put my iPhone beside my bed to be able to jot down the good ideas without turning on the light and disturb my wife :))

  2. Scott Span  October 16, 2012

    Many of those traits are also what make for the most innovative, and high performing, organizations. Then again, since people make up teams and organizations that comes as no surprise, and is good to hear. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mark Haubry  October 16, 2012

    Great insight Jackie and very applicable, thanks for sharing! I look forward to reading the book.

  4. Peter Berg  October 21, 2012

    I agree with that , accessing intuition to become more creative also not being afraid to take a risk. Seeing risk as exciting and a path to innovation.

  5. Peter Callender  October 21, 2012

    Great, another rich seam. As well as the ideas on your web site, I think a lot depends on the leadership shadow cast by the team leader. Team leaders with great people skills create a team culture where innovation and great results are the norm!

  6. Peter Herring  November 4, 2012

    Good article, thanks for posting.


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