A kinder, more human-led approach to management and teamwork is proved to increase team creativity and productivity. Performance expert Sharon Aneja has some tips
As many of us confront a return to the physical workplace, at least some of the time, many organisations are focused on boosting creativity and productivity within their teams.
For positive psychology expert Sharon Aneja, that means an overhaul of the way teams lead and communicate. “At the moment, around 64% of employees are not engaged in their work,” she says. “They’re not motivated, they’re exhausted, they’re stressed, they’re burnt out, and they’re fearful of change.”
The philosophy of positive psychology aims to ensure that each person in an organisation feels empowered to show up to work as their best self. Coaches like Aneja work with companies and individuals on building resilience and flexibility, improving communication between colleagues and playing to each team member’s strengths. It seems that it’s an investment worth making: the companies Aneja has worked with have seen staff turnover reduced by 20% on average, while teams saw an increase of 58% in engagement and motivation. Here, she shares her first steps towards creating a more people-centric work environment.
Find what energises you
“In a business setting, we often set employees up for failure when it comes to being creative,” says Aneja. “They work to impossible deadlines, often by themselves, and not necessarily in the environment that’s going to allow them to be creative. Culturally, we have this idea that we’ll just ‘work harder’ and come up with better ideas, but it doesn’t work like that.” Instead of simply pressing on with longer hours or tighter deadlines, she recommends reviewing what stimulates each team member’s creativity, and allowing the space and trust to factor it into the working week. That could mean going for a daily walk, doing a yoga session in their lunch break, or working earlier or later than the standard hours. Ensuring that each colleague gets these opportunities to recharge throughout the week will have a long-term and sustainable effect on a team’s creativity, says Aneja.
Feel your feelings
Warnings about ‘toxic positivity’ are everywhere at the moment, and Aneja agrees that a ‘just be positive’ approach won’t necessarily boost creativity. “People tend to think that improving quality of work is all about ‘positivity’ – but both negative and positive emotions can actually work in your favour,” she says. Giving your team permission to acknowledge both the good and the bad at work can contribute to a more creatively fertile workplace, since both positive and negative emotions can be used to fuel better work. “If you are angry about one of your ideas being rejected by a manager or by a client, instead of dwelling on it, channel that anger into developing some even better creative ideas that will blow everyone away,” says Aneja.
Encourage ‘controlled chaos’
Positive psychology champions an environment of ‘psychological safety’ – which means ensuring that your team feels secure enough to put ideas out there, to change their minds when presented with new information, and to challenge others on their ideas. The flexibility of being able to cope with opposing views is key, says Aneja. “Management expert Adam Grant talks about building ‘challenger networks’ within organisations, where you can go and seek feedback from people who you trust to tell you the truth,” she explains. “For organisations to really thrive, we need to get used to the idea of a sort of controlled chaos: building adaptive capabilities in our people so they can respond to change, listen with empathy, consult each other with curiosity, think again, and challenge each other constructively.”
Collaborate in bursts
The move to virtual and remote work has resulted in different types of fatigue, suggests Aneja, especially around meetings and collaboration. She recommends switching to the ‘concentrated bursts’ of ideas exchange championed by Anita Williams Woolley. Rather than relying on ongoing conversations, which are likely to fizzle or stall, teams should engage in shorter, high-energy sessions of group work, interspersed with periods of quieter individual work. Woolley and her team found that these bursts of activity led to a 24% performance increase for those who participated. “Think about how you can collaborate with teammates less often, but in a more concentrated time frame,” says Aneja.
Take suggestions from the group
Another issue with the traditional workplace, says Aneja, is that work culture is expected to be purely communicated from on high. Instead, individual colleagues and teams could be suggesting and negotiating the ways of working that make the most sense to them, says Aneja. “Don’t wait for the culture to change, because you are the culture. The way that we as workers act and behave are the things that will inform that.” On the employee side, she suggests setting regular reviews with team leaders or line managers that set boundaries and ensure processes that work with, not against, your natural style – whether that means having fewer meetings, more meetings, shared documents, more or less feedback, or whatever you need to be your best self at work.
Sharon Aneja is a positive psychology coach, award-winning strategist and the founder of Humanity Works Consultancy.
Enjoy this? You might also like these Spaces magazine stories: