Why running better workshops will make you a better creative leader

Improving your workshop facilitation skills might have more of an impact on your work than you think.

study of top management teams across 500 organisations showed that CEOs had a specific role to play in encouraging creativity in their teams. The researchers, Abraham Carmeli and Paul B. Paulus called this ideational facilitation leadership which they described as:

“leadership behaviour that cultivates openness, exchange of ideas and effective discussion for creating thinking and work in top management teams”.

Research has identified that to enhance creativity, teams need to: share knowledge, be aware of each team member’s expertise, and communicate effectively. Carmeli and Paulus conclude that the leader is crucial in creating the right environment for this and ensuring these interactions happen, particularly in meetings.

When I interviewed Ije Nwokorie, CEO of Wolff Olins, he placed enormous emphasis on the value of facilitation for leaders across the organisation. Wolff Olins’ 2015 report “Impossible and Now” is the result of interviews with 43 global CEOs and 400 employees to explore how leadership is changing in complex times. An uncertain fast-moving environment means that, at times, leaders need to focus less on making every decision, and more on enabling their employees to do their best work:

“Leaders… are learning to be less the visionary, less the sage, less the objective-setter, and more the shaper, the connector, the questioner”.

In Collective Genius – the art and practice of leading innovation, the authors (Hill, Brandeau, Truelove & Lineback) found three essential characteristics of innovative organisations – collaboration, discovery-driven learning and integrative decision-making. These factors, and the tensions they bring, seem to challenge the traditional, directive and linear style of management, leaning more towards a more facilitative approach:

“Every person in your group, whether that’s a small team or a large corporation, contains a slice of genius. Your task as leader is to create a place where all those slices can be elicited, combined and converted into collective genius”

And finally, in “The Progress Principle” Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer found that progress (defined as “making headway on meaningful work”), even in small amounts, was the biggest difference between a good day and a bad day for knowledge workers. Collaboration was a regular part of their routine:

“Project team work in most contemporary organisations is collaborative and complex, requiring ongoing problem solving and deep engagement…In settings where people must work together to solve challenging problems, high performance has four dimensions: creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality”

Leaders of teams have a key role to play in making sure these four dimensions are in place (which to me, looks a lot like a successful workshop too), as well as enabling progress.

The point is, facilitation is not just for workshops. It’s also an essential part of leading complex, creative and innovative organisations.

Related: Four skills that will help you to facilitate effective workshops

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