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Team Creativity

Team Interaction Patterns: Who Talks Most and to Whom

By Edward Glassman, PhD | Posted October 30, 2011 | Updated December 26, 2019

Patterns of team interaction during meetings greatly affect the team's communication, and, in turn, the creativeness of its members.

A TRUE STORY: I stumbled onto the impact of team interaction patterns when I served on a committee I found particularly frustrating. I disliked those meetings, and I couldn't figure out why.

I asked one of my colleagues what he thought. All he said was, "I wish he (the team leader) would stop talking so we could talk." Yet we both agreed that the team leader did not talk that much. Rather his timing threw us off. He followed an interruptive pattern in which he always made a short comment whenever anyone else said anything. This stopped free discussion.

So I asked the team leader how he viewed the meetings. "It's like pulling teeth to get that bunch to talk," he said.

How remarkable. We wanted to talk, and he wanted us to talk, and yet we all allowed an unproductive team interaction pattern to stop an open discussion.

I asked him what he would prefer, and he described an ideal interaction where each team member talks freely in order to move the team closer to its goals.

Asked how we could achieve this pattern, he said that he would stop talking. Wow, he realized that he was partly responsible for what happened. I suppose in his mind an interactive pattern would emerge if he stopped talking.

When he did stop talking, a long silence ensued. Finally someone asked if he felt okay. At his insistence, the discussion continued without his usual short comments. Very quickly the old interruptive pattern appeared as another person took over the role of team leader. Apparently we liked this dominant team leader pattern.

Thus I learned the power and effects of Team Interaction Patterns. Actually, these patterns produce good results in the right situation. They only become anti-creativity when a team uses one pattern almost exclusively or uses a pattern at the wrong time.

Team Patterns

Teams use many patterns:

  • Spray And Pray: One person talks in a long-winded monologue, and hopes, in the absence of feedback, that people remain interested and understand the monologue.

  • Tinkers to Evans to Chance: Three people form a dominating clique and exclude other people from the discussion.

  • Endless Dialogue: The team leader and one person engage in extended dialogue, often with little apparent substance.

  • The Outsider: One team member uses silence, doodling, reading, and facing away from the team center to show lack of attention.

The interaction patterns of your team will tell you a lot. Do your team's interaction patterns prove useful? Do they move the team toward desirable goals or do they waste valuable time? Are they anti-creativity? Worse yet, do you contribute to the problem?

Share this concept with your team and discuss it at the end of a meeting. Ask everyone to identify at least two team interaction patterns that occurred during the meeting and assess their helpfulness. Were they anti-creativity? And discuss ways to improve the interaction patterns of your team to help achieve your goals and improve team creativity. What creativity triggers might you employ?

Consider this an important part of self directed team building and one way to help your team move toward creativeness and excellence.

© 2011 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

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Edward GlassmanEdward 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 ...

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