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The top 10 skills for leading creative collaboration in teams

17 December 2018

Posted By Louise Austin

What is the most important skill for leading in the 21st century?

A landmark IBM 2010 study asked 1,500 top CEOs “what are the most important leadership qualities”. 60% of CEOs put creativity top of the list; ahead of integrity at 52%.

As the world becomes more complex, volatile, and uncertain, many leaders are increasingly faced with the stark realisation that their business models and ways of working are outdated. In the present economic environment, businesses know they need a different kind of leader, one that is creative and collaborative.

This new breed of leader turns their back on the traditional hierarchical business model and embraces and fosters the communal creative intelligence of their teams to solve complex problems and generate innovative solutions.

The DNA of a leader of creative collaboration?

Artgym has spent many years studying what makes great leaders and facilitators of creative collaboration. This DNA profile has been honed through our creative leadership programs with leading brands, such as Adidas, and underpins the curriculum of our pioneering Facilitating Creative Collaboration Advanced Diploma course (the world’s first fully accredited qualification training course for individuals).


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What are the top ten skills for leading creative collaboration?

1. Let go of ego

A creative leader should avoid being or seeming the ‘expert’. Such egotism can lead to defensiveness and rigid thinking. Creative leaders are always learning: focussing on listening and asking for feedback from their team and encouraging everyone to participate.

2. Ensure psychological safety

Psychological safety is defined as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up” by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson in a 1999 research paper. It’s a concept that Google considers critical in its quest to build the perfect team.

Good leaders engender a culture where every member feels safe to participate, make mistakes, take risks or open up without fear of embarrassment or criticism.

Photo shows two climbers on cliff, with caption: Essential skills of the creative collaboration leader: #2. Ensure psychological safety of the team. Original photo: USASOC News Service
3. Master of improvisation

In this age of uncertainty, complexity and change, creative leaders are open to responding and innovating in the moment — in the same way as an improvisational comedians/performers take queues from a live audience or deal with hecklers. In fact improv classes are an essential part of a creative leader programme. It is difficult to plan or predict innovation, often it is triggered by something spontaneous or unexpected within group collaboration.

4. Disruptive thinking

Creative leaders challenge the process, ask difficult questions and shake up assumptions. Teams, even whole organisations, can easily get into the rut of ‘this is the way we do things around here’. Creative leaders encourage disruptive thinking and challenging the status quo.

5. Take courageous action

Creative collaboration takes courage: the bravery to voice unpopular opinions, to experiment with new ways of working and the strength to champion, test and turn novel ideas and concepts – however offbeat – into reality. Leaders of creative collaboration take bold steps and initiate change.

6. Seek the new

Creative leaders are insatiably curious with a spirit of the pioneering explorer. They encourage their teams to seek out new ideas by learning from the world around them. They practise outside-in thinking, by learning from latest thinking and trends and considering the business from an outsiders e.g. customer or client perspective.

7. Go for diversity

The best teams thrive on diversity: idea diversity, cultural diversity and – particularly – cognitive diversity. Creative leaders do not build teams in their own image. They seek out collaborations from other disciplines to spark their ideas and inspire their teams.

Cognitive diversity is defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles – it is less visible than gender, ethnicity, or age diversity – but 2017 research by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, published in Harvard Business Review, suggests it has a bigger impact. The chart below shows that the more cognitively diverse teams A, B and C completed tasks quicker and more effectively than more homogenous teams D, E and F.

8. Build on ideas

There is nothing worse than a team who greets every idea that’s put on the table with “yes but”. Learning from the world of improvisation, the creative leader builds on ideas – however out there – with a “yes and” approach.

9. Catalyse energy

A creative leader generates energy in a team, harnesses their creative intelligence and galvanises action. They light the spark that inspires a team to work together towards a common vision.

10. Encourage experimentation

Innovation doesn’t happen without experimenting, prototyping and trying things out. The creative leader supports the team to constantly learn and rewards those team members who take risks.


Can you learn the skills of leading creative collaborations?

Absolutely. Artgym has been working with global organisations, such as Adidas, to set up and run creative leadership programmes. Artgym Academy has been running the Facilitating Creative Collaboration programme for last three years in the UK and recently launched in Shanghai.

This is a 10-month fully accredited course training individuals in the essentials skills of creative leadership and creative collaboration. This programme attracts team leaders and heads of department as well as people involved in coaching, facilitation, and learning and development.

  • Is it time to update your leadership style?
  • Do you want to harness the creative intelligence of your team or business?
  • Have you got what it takes to lead creative collaboration?

Find out more about the Facilitating Creative Collaboration Advanced Diploma. Our next programme kicks off on February 2019. Click here to request a discussion with the course director [opens email], and author of this article, Louise Austin.


The header image is a photo by Antonio Scicchitano. We added the caption.
The climbers image is a photo by USASOC News Service. We added the caption.

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Download the brochure for Artgym Facilitating Creative Collaboration Advance Diploma. Next course: London February 2019.
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