By: Leif Denti
Are you thinking about ways to transform your workplace into an environment more conducive to innovation? This article takes a closer look at six components of creative climates that have shown to be significant at facilitating creativity according to new research.
In my last article, I wrote about how leaders can craft a creative climate by thinking of themselves as role models. This article will continue investigating creative climates with the goal of identifying the most substantial components that facilitates creativity.
What is a creative climate?
A climate can be seen as various aspects of the psychological atmosphere in a team and the surrounding organizational environment. The climate often conveys expectations about which behaviors and attitudes that are acceptable. In the creativity research field there has been many attempts to conceptualize the idea of a ‘creative’ climate – i.e. such a climate that facilitates outcomes that are creative. Examples of such conceptualizations are the Team Climate Inventory by Anderson & West (1996), the Creative Climate Questionnaire by Ekvall (1996) and the KEYS by Amabile et al. (1996).
Many components of a creative climate have been proposed during the years. Some examples are the degree of individual freedom, psychological safety, support and positive relationships among team members, vision provided by supervisors, creative encouragement, mission clarity, available resources, and even joy (Denti, 2011).
The search for significant components of a creative climate
For this article I want to highlight six components of a creative climate that have been shown to be among the most salient in predicting creative and innovative outcomes. To identify these components, I have scrutinized two recent meta-analytic studies on factors that influence creativity and innovation (Hülsheger, Anderson & Salgado, 2009, and Hunter, Bedell & Mumford, 2007). Meta analytic studies have the best ability to detect effects across multiple settings since they combine the results from a large amount of studies¹. The factors are presented in no particular order.
Complex, challenging and interesting tasks and goals spur intrinsic motivation, which is a critical component of creativity. Yet here also lies an important caveat. Tasks and goals should not be too overwhelming because then the challenge risk becoming an obstacle – effectively stifling motivation.
Also see The Best Motivation for Innovation is ‘Being in Flow’ by Bengt Järrehult.
2. Intellectual debate
When working with complex and challenging tasks, problems often surface. The nature of these problems is that they are often novel to the people that encounters them and complex in that they can be solved in different ways. To ensure that a project can move forward, many viewpoints must be heard and people must feel secure enough so that they put forward their best ideas. In organizations where there is no debate people tend to stick to “tried and true” ways of doing things – applying old solutions to new problems.
3. Flexibility and risk taking
A basic reality of creative endeavors is that they are inherently uncertain. Often, there is no valid information that ensures that an idea or an innovation is guaranteed to succeed. Even a creative idea itself may not be practical enough to be realized into a new product, service or process improvement. Thus, risk is inherently built into innovation. Research shows that tolerating this risk, not minimizing it, is the best strategy. Thus, it is crucial that organizations accept and allow risk, encourage experimentation and failure.
Also see The Innovation F-word by Susanna Bill
4. Top management support
Another salient component of a creative climate is the perception of support from top management. This support entails both espoused support; when top management communicate norms that encourage innovation, risk taking and experimentation, and enacted support. This latter form of support is perhaps the most important, since it is the amount of resources such as money, time and facilities that top management is prepared to commit to innovation. If resources are not available, employees will see through the rhetoric of encouragement, effectively undermining these efforts.
5. Positive supervisor relations
Support for new ideas by the supervisor or team leader is critical for the further development and implementation of these ideas. Especially supportive leaders listen and give feedback to ideas, and tolerate a certain degree of experimentation. Furthermore, leaders should publicly recognize and reward creative efforts.
6. Positive interpersonal exchange
The last salient component of creative climates is joy. When team members experience a sense of “togetherness” that comes with a common goal, team members will want to cooperate efficiently for their mutual benefit. This increases both team performance as well as individual performance. With increased togetherness communication is facilitated, which will allow different perspectives and keep conflict away.
Also see Conflict in Teams – Does it Stimulate Creativity & Innovation? by Leif Denti
By Leif Denti
About the author
Leif Denti is pursuing his doctoral degree of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg, Department of Psychology. His main research venue is how project leaders stimulate creativity and innovation in their project teams (project name: Management for Sweden). Leif Denti also works as a consultant at Prospero Technology Management. Leif Denti holds a licentiate degree in Psychology at the University of Gothenburg.
Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39, 1154–1184.
Anderson, N. R., & West, M. A. (1998). Measuring climate for work group innovation: Development and validation of the team climate inventory. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 19, 235–258.
Denti, L. (2011). Leadership and Innovation: How and When do Leaders Influence Innovation in R&D Teams? University of Gothenburg. Sweden.
Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5, 105–123.
Hülsheger, U. R., Anderson, N., & Salgado, J. F. (2009). Team-level predictors of innovation at work: A comprehensive meta-analysis spanning three decades of research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1128–1145.
Hunter, S. T., Bedell, K. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2007). Climate for creativity: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 19, 69–90.
Denti, L. (2012). What do innovative leaders do? A critical incident study examining innovation stimulating and hindering leader behaviors in R&D. Manuscript: University of Gothenburg. Sweden.
 Hülsheger et al. (2009): sample of 104 studies. Hunter et al. (2007): sample of 42 studies.