I’ve worked for nonprofits, corporations and agencies throughout my career in communications. But the best part of having spent my last 13+ years working on the agency side of the industry is having an insider’s view of my clients’ workplace cultures. It’s not always the biggest brand or the smallest start up or the most dynamic leader who fosters great creativity and team synergies. It often simply comes down to team members who work well together.
Recently, I caught a story on PRI, “The surprising ways companies can foster creativity,” by Marc Sollinger that is worth sharing. He turned to one of the foremost experts on workplace psychology and author Teresa Amabile. Marc mentioned that Amabile found some surprising insights that might make you rethink the way you work in your own office.
1. Pressure isn’t always a bad thing
Nobody (except maybe David Bowie or Freddie Mercury) likes being under pressure at work. There are emails filled with seemingly unrelated tasks, an avalanche of meetings featuring long-winded speakers and a never-ending pile of paperwork on your desk. At the end of the day, you might go home exhausted and unhappy — and still not feel like you accomplished all that much. Amabile agrees that this type of pressure, which she likens to “being on a treadmill,” is terrible. It’s negative for creativity and creates an unhappy office.
However, there’s another type of pressure that can actually be positive. “We call it ‘being on a mission,'” Amabile explains. “There are times when we’re working on something when we’re not fragmented and distracted. When we’re entirely focused on one urgent problem. It could be a big one, and it could be consuming us for many hours of the day, but if we’re able to focus on that, if we’re able to understand why it’s important, why the urgency exists, we can be extraordinarily creative under those conditions.”
2. People work better If they believe in what they’re doing
A huge salary, a company car and a great cafeteria aren’t nearly as important as one simple thing: Whether or not employees believe in the work they’re doing.
Amabile’s research, which collected over 12,000 daily diaries of people working in a variety of industries, showed that people were happiest when they made progress on work they cared about and believed in. Once they were happy and satisfied, they were much more creative and successful.
So if you’re feeling unmotivated because you’re just moving numbers around for a company you don’t care about, you might want to move numbers around for a company you do care about.
3. Upper management isn’t THAT important
When you think about creating a culture of workplace creativity and innovation, the first person you think about is usually the CEO: Steve Jobs at Apple, Jeff Bezos at Amazon; they made their workplace creative and successful, right?
Well, partly. Amabile says that upper management can help shape an office. If they give their employees clear goals and the right level of autonomy, they’ll be able to do their best work.
But what’s happening at the top isn’t as important as what’s happening at the middle, according to Amabile.
“What upper management does matters, but the actions of your immediate supervisor and your colleagues that you work closely with, that matters more on a day to day basis. They have a larger impact on your experience of the workday, and therefore, your ability to be creative and productive, in your work.”
Validation, emotional support, collaboration, all of these are extremely important to someone’s work life, and these all come from someone’s immediate colleagues. Mark Zuckerberg might be a great CEO, but whether or not you get along with the person in the next cubicle is going to affect the way you work in a far more profound way.
I have to agree 100 percent with these insights, but I will add another big factor in being creative and successful at work and that is trust. I trust my colleagues to jump in when needed, back me up or champion an idea, raise a red flag when things are not moving along smoothly, and most importantly, cover me if I’m not available or taking a day off. I work for a company and a team of people who care about each other and our clients, because it is the right thing to do. And it shows in our work every day.