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How To Improve Creative Output and Innovation In R&D Teams At Work

Relationships in R&D (Research & Development) teams matter - fully 50% of scientists and engineers involved in the field stated that “other people” were the biggest help to their creativity at work
Working on breast cancer research at the Ben-Porath laboratory, Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. (Keren Freeman/Flash90)
Working on breast cancer research at the Ben-Porath laboratory, Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. (Keren Freeman/Flash90)

Relationships in R&D (Research & Development) teams matter. In my research, fully 50% of R&D scientists and engineers stated that “other people” were the biggest help to their creativity at work. These R&D people have good relationships at work.

On the other hand, one R&D scientist stated that the biggest help to his creativity is “when my boss leaves town.” He admitted that he had a poor relationship with his boss.

Along the same lines, Rasu & Green (in R&D Innovator, Volume 3, Number 11; 1994) found that creative output and innovation tended to increase when an R&D team leader had good relationships with subordinates.

The process of innovation often involves compromise, downplaying egos, and providing rewards fairly within the R&D team. When team leaders and members had good relationships, a climate of cooperation helped R&D success.

In other words, the creative output and innovations of R&D people tended to rise as relationships with the team leader improved. Rasu & Green found that good relationships also had non-material benefits that boost researcher creativity. This includes more freedom: freedom to explore new ideas, freedom to work on personal projects, and freedom to exchange information with people outside the company to help innovation.

Successful R&D scientists & engineers reported managerial support in the form of emotional and administrative assistance for risky projects. When faced with technical obstacles, these people saw their leaders as more motivating and encouraging, quicker to act on paperwork and financial requests, and less likely to penalize failure. A strong correlation exists between good relationships and managerial support for innovation.

R&D people who have good relationships with the team leader seemed more committed to the organization. They reported more inner motivation, higher satisfaction, better attitudes towards innovation, and more willingness to achieve organization goals. And the higher levels of motivation and involvement yielded increased creative output and innovation.

This research also suggests that team development activities that improve relationships take place on a regular basis in R&D. Check it out.

Rasu & Green believe that when an R&D team leader has good relationships with his or her subordinates, it becomes emotionally and politically easier for scientists and engineers to produce creative output and innovations. R&D personnel in poor relationships with the team leader tended to take fewer risks, engage less in unconventional ideas, and can muster only the minimum of the resources needed for the creative process. In fact, leaders had difficulty motivating R&D people who did not perceive their leader as an ally.

Rasu & Green also found that charismatic leaders create more meaningful relationships with team members, and thus stimulate the best in subordinates. This doesn’t lower the importance of technical expertise that R&D people insist is important in team leaders; its just not as essential as the ability to inspire, motivate, and energize.

Also, charismatic leaders excite and inspire. Interpersonal attraction is important in R&D and these managers created a sense of urgency among the scientists and engineers who report to them. In turn, these R&D scientists and engineers adopted more positive attitudes towards innovation.

Charismatic leaders also fostered creative output & innovation by generating higher levels of commitment among subordinates towards the company.

It should become clear that most, if not all jobs in most, if not all departments require good relationships to work out well and for the best outcome.



And checkout my 2016 book: “CREATIVITY FOR UNCREATIVE PEOPLE: How To Be More Creative Than You Think You Are.” 


©2017 by Edward Glassman, Ph.D.


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He published 95 research articles. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a ‘Visiting Professor’ at the University Of California at Irvine, and a ‘Visiting Scientist’ at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

Another book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is also available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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