Tension and creativity

One of the greatest challenges for companies is building a heterogeneous human group. As we said a few days ago, creativity is born from dissent, and we need that diversity of ideas to grow. We require people who harmoniously relate to each other or even in dissent, but… how is this harmony achieved? What happens when dissent turns into conflict? How to handle stress?

The assumption that annihilates harmony is that, for things to work out properly you have to avoid conflicts, keep the wrongly called personal questions away from the office and interact in a way that is, in short, unemotional. It seems like a logical conclusion: if the team is prevented from arguing, it helps it to stay focused on the task at hand, and from that “doing” the results will emerge. It is not surprising to reveal that, in the long run, this model often fails.

By avoiding tensions, an artificial harmony is generated, sustained only by the avoidance of problems, and other possibilities of growth are sacrificed, which come from the hand of the controlled conflict. Tensions in teams and between members always exist. The role of the leader is not to dissipate, silence or deny them, since this leads to a false harmony -which in turn increases mistrust-, but to know how to manage that tension so that it is the engine of innovation and creativity and not chaos. If this possibility does not exist, the tension becomes conflict and the accumulation of conflicts will damage the dynamics of the group. Now, these tensions must be contained, looking for what generates them. When the answer is a lack of internal confidence, we must sound an alarm. Because the expected consequence of this lack of trust is the fear of conflict: I do not confront because I associate tension with conflict, dissent with conflict, discussion and debate with conflict. All possibility of constructive discussions is closed. We find ourselves in eternal, apathetic, informative meetings, in which the focus of attention lasts only a few seconds, it is difficult to concentrate and the moments of greatest exchange are only on specific issues. On the surface everything works fine, the group probably doesn’t argue; but in the depth of the interrelationships, this fear of exposing new and true ideas holds back the growth of the whole group. 

The leader must then direct the conversation along the most propitious path, fostering creativity and new solutions, without avoiding confrontations that occur naturally, indeed, stimulating them and encouraging their deepening, for which they can use many simple tools that cannot be they are no longer effective. A role-playing, an internal survey, a triggering dynamic can help to overcome this first mechanism of resistance to debate and favor a sincere and rich exchange.

This is where the leader should walk “on the brink”, and ideally, not only foster controlled tension within the work team, but ask questions even when his instinct indicates that it is dangerous, open that “Pandora box”; and allow himself and others for deep reflection. Gathering the courage to face business reality is a sign of a great leader, and this reality often materializes in uncomfortable questions. It is leadership, as Heifetz would say, without “easy answers”: What are the values of the company? What place does the company occupy in the supply-demand scheme? What opportunities does the future hold, and what chance is there to capitalize on? A good leader knows that these questions are too “big” to be answered by one person. 

The role of adaptive leadership is to point the way, to be a guide, an aid to cope with bad weather, but not an answer. 

In fact, the inseparable companions of a leader are necessarily conflict and uncertainty. They are challenged to develop an experimental mindset; some decisions may work, others may not; some projects may work, others may not. But every decision and every project is going to teach the company something, and it serves as a starting point for deep learning.

 If we were used to thinking that the leader fostered the pursuit of a vision in the team, the new paradigm is that the leader guides us towards facing our problems. It’s as simple as that. A self-arguing and refuting team develops more powerful creative skills, finding new paths and solving problems as they arise.

A team that confronts and challenges ideas is a creative team and applies effective solutions that transcend individual capabilities. It is a team that debates and trusts, persists in results and allows growth.

The role of the leader is to create a safe environment so that tensions can play out and result in that creative spark.