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R & D Creativity & Innovation Handbook by Edward Glassman Ph.D.
Edward Glassman : Good Relationships Improve Creative Output

R&D Leader's Good Relationships Improve Creative Output and Innovation

By Edward Glassman, PhD

Relationships in R&D teams matter. In my own research, summarized in Chapter 24 of my book, fully 50% of R&D scientists and engineers wrote that "other people" were the biggest help to their creativity at work. These R&D people have good relationships.

On the other hand, one R&D scientist wrote that the biggest help to his creativity is "when my boss leaves town." Clearly a poor relationship.

Along the same lines, Rasu & Green (R&D Innovator, Volume 3, Number 11; 1994) found that creative output and innovation tended to increase when an R&D team leader had good relationships with subordinates.

The process of innovation often involves compromise, downplaying egos, and providing rewards fairly in the R&D team. When team leaders and members had good relationships, a climate of cooperation helped R&D success.

In other words, the creative output and innovations of R&D people tended to rise as relationships with the team leader improved. Rasu & Green found that good relationships also had non-material benefits that boost researcher creativity. This includes more freedom: freedom to explore new ideas, freedom to work on personal projects, and freedom to exchange information with people outside the company to help innovation.

Successful R&D scientists & engineers reported managerial support in the form of emotional and administrative assistance for risky projects. When faced with technical obstacles, these people saw their leaders as more motivating and encouraging, quicker to act on paperwork and financial requests, and less likely to penalize failure. A strong correlation exists between good relationships and managerial support for innovation.

R&D people who have good relationships with the team leader seemed more committed to the organization. They reported more inner motivation, higher satisfaction, better attitudes towards innovation, and more willingness to achieve organization goals. And the higher levels of motivation and involvement yielded increased creative output and innovation.

This research suggests that team developing activities that improve relationships take place on a regular basis in R&D. Chapter 25 in my book describes "Techniques For Self Directed Team Building To Help Creative Thinking Without A Consultant" that can help in this process. Check it out.

Rasu & Green believe that when an R&D team leader has good relationships with his or her subordinates, it becomes emotionally and politically easier for scientists and engineers to produce creative output and innovations. R&D personnel in poor relationships with the team leader tended to take fewer risks, engage less in unconventional ideas, and can muster only the minimum of the resources needed for the creative process. In fact, leaders had difficulty motivating R&D people who did not perceive their leader as an ally.

Rasu & Green also found that charismatic leaders create more meaningful relationships with team members, and thus stimulate the best in subordinates. This doesn't lower the importance of technical expertise, which R&D people insist is important in team leaders; its just not as essential as the ability to inspire, motivate, and energize.

Also, charismatic leaders excite and inspire. Interpersonal attraction is important in R&D and these managers created a sense of urgency among the scientists and engineers who report to them. In turn, these R&D scientists and engineers adopted more positive attitudes towards innovation. Charismatic leaders also fostered creative output & innovation by generating higher levels of commitment among subordinates towards the company.

What type of leader are you? What relationships do you foster? •

© 2011 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »