How to set the mood for collaboration

Image credit: O Palsson on Flickr

Did you know that the words you use can have an impact on how your team works together? Leigh Thomson, author of Creative Conspiracy: the new rules of breakthrough collaboration, found that asking people to read statements that include specific words can either encourage them to focus on themselves, or on others:

“To prompt people to be self-absorbed, we have them write or read statements that contain a lot or personal pronouns such as I, me or mine. Conversely, to get people to focus on others, we have them read or write statements that contain pronouns such as we, us and ours. We find that this simple mind exercise can temporarily activate either pro-self or pro-social concerns”.

In this case Thomson was debunking the myth that people who are more team-orientated are more creative than those who are more individually-minded. In fact she found that that those who have a high concern for their own interests produced more creative ideas, and so temporarily activating this can be useful in team brainstorming sessions.

The effect that the words have is down to the psychological principle of priming, which Thomson defines as “the act of stimulating new ideas and thoughts with a phrase, suggestion, picture or idea”. It also works for encouraging critical thinking, particularly to avoid group think, as described by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie in their article for Harvard Business Review on Making Dumb Groups Smarter.

“In experiments on group decision making, engaging participants in a prior task that involves either “getting along” or “critical thinking” has been shown to have a big impact. When people are given a “getting along” task, they shut up. When given a “critical thinking” task, they are far more likely to disclose what they know. So if the leader of a group encourages information disclosure from the beginning, even if it goes against the grain, members will probably do less self-silencing”

There are other subtle, seemingly insignificant, environmental cues that can set the mood for creativity and collaboration:

High ceilings for more creativity

Rooms with high ceilings not only feel nicer because of the space, but they help us to think more creatively. Researchers Joan Meyers-Levy and Rui Zhu set out to explore the effects of ceiling height on thinking.  They discovered that higher ceilings seem to promote more psychological freedom, encouraging participants to be more creative and develop more abstract ideas. In contrast, lower ceilings encouraged more confined thinking.

Source: Why our brains love high ceilings (via Fast Company)

Arrange your chairs in a circle for better cooperation

According to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research, for situations where communication matters, sit people in a circle to encourage more cooperation and sharing. Those sitting in a circle, rather than in rows, were more drawn towards images that showed groups of friends and family and conveyed a sense of belonging (as opposed to those that displayed individual ‘go-getters’). They were also more engaged and retained more information.

Source: How to boost creativity at work – sit in a circle (via Quartz)

What subtle factors have you found have an influence, positive or negative, on your team’s creativity and collaboration?

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