How do you build a creative, collaborative and agile team?

Sally Dooley

We all know that the landscape is rapidly and significantly changing the way we do business, but many of the leaders I work with are less sure about exactly what that means for the way they lead.

They understand that building creative, agile and collaborative teams that can handle the complexity they are regularly faced with is critical for success. They also know that resilience is now a key capability as team members are confronted with constant change. But, how do they achieve all of this?

 Research highlights four building blocks that are critical in creating the kinds of teams we need:

 Psychological safety

A few years ago,Google undertook a massive study of its organisation to discover what made teams successful. They looked at every dimension imaginable, from the personality of the leader to how often the team socialised together outside of work. What they found surprised everyone! It turns out that where teams had a high level of psychological safety, the creative juices really flowed.

 So, what is this psychological safety? It boils down to a culture where each team member feels they are able to give voice to their ideas without fear of put- downs or punishments. In other words, teams where there is a high level of trust and a sense that people have a positive intent towards each other create a culture where people feel safe enough to put themselves and their ideas out there.


My favourite quote at the moment is from Francois Gautier, who insightfully notes: “More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” To me this encapsulates both the dilemma and the answer for our workplaces today. With the rapid change and unknown frontiers, certainty is a luxury that no longer exists. But, if we as leaders, can keep providing clarity at the strategy level so everyone in the organisation is clear about what’s important now, what could be ahead and where to focus their energies then we are ticking important boxes.

 Microsoft has a recent great example of this. They wanted to simplify their leadership framework so they took their extensive list of leadership competencies and reduced them from over one hundred to just three: ‘Create clarity, generate energy, deliver success’. Everyone at Microsoft now knows that this is what good leadership looks like and that no matter what changes in their environment, they just need to stay focused on the behaviours and activities that produce clarity, energy and success.



Diversity goes beyond meeting quotas. It is about intentionally building teams where members come from different backgrounds, disciplines, have had different experiences, and therefore, think differently. Numerous studies have found the same thing:diverse teams are smarter, more creative and less likely to suffer from group think which often reinforces current protocols and practices whether they are effective or not.

 However, although difference is encouraged, teams are at their most effective and creative when every team member is genuinely interested in and feels a level of satisfaction with the work itself. This intrinsic motivation leads to higher levels of engagement, helping people to consistently perform at their best.



In his book,Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age, Greg Satell notes that organisations don’t need to have the best people to be innovative, they need to have the best teams. Today’s problems are complex and often cross the borders of line areas and traditional organisational structures. Leaders need to invest their focus and their learning and development budgets not just in building technical capabilities but also in areas such as collaboration, listening, networking and emotional intelligence. When everyone in an organisation is highly effective as a team member then you have a highly flexible workforce that is agile, more able to adapt to whatever comes their way.