Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Self-Directed Employees Enhance Team Creativity and Innovation

There is a lot that a leader can do to boost the creative output of employees. Among these is to emphasize responsible self-direction and inner motivation.


Research has shown that self-directed subordinates have higher levels of creative output and innovation. This is because they tend to enjoy creative effort. This enjoyment is their internal reward and it boosts creativity and innovation.

So train your employees toward responsible self direction, “responsible” because they respect the organization’s goals; and “self-direction” because they become self-motivated to…

  • Perform their job competently and effectively
  • Take responsibility
  • Set high and realistic goals
  • Negotiate and keep agreements
  • Solve problems creatively
  • Accept direction from others, when necessary
  • Plan and use their time wisely
  • Work productively alone and with others to accomplish goals.


In addition, employees that perceive the reward for creative effort as inner enjoyment will turn out work that is more creative and innovative than those employees who work for external rewards.

So, if you help subordinates become self-directed with high inner motivation to enjoy creative effort, they will enhance the creative efforts of your work group. Internal rewards for creative effort include the daily excitement, enjoyment, interest, novelty, a sense of control over one’s work, curiosity, positive feedback to oneself on competence, etc.

In contrast, external rewards (focusing on salary raises, promotions, awards, etc.) spoil creative thinking by distracting people from the daily enjoyment of creative work.

Leaders can do more to enhance creativity and innovation in their work units.


When you, the leader, dominate meetings, you hinder subordinates from solving problems creatively and you reduce self-direction. Participative interactions in meetings occur when you and your work group…

  • use effective group discussion skills
  • collaborate instead of compete
  • use consensus decision making
  • rotate the chair of meetings
  • periodically review and discuss ways to improve problem solving during meetings.

If your team lacks these skills, consider team excellence training. Research has shown that trained work groups often produce creative solutions of high quality. These approaches focus discussion on relevant topics and help achieve consensus, while increasing team cohesiveness. Commitment to implement decisions also increases.

In contrast, untrained work groups frequently produce outcomes of lower quality. Such work groups often contain dominating individuals or cliques who pursue personal agendas rather than group goals. Use ‘self-directed team building,’ described in my book, to develop creative thinking, teamwork, and cooperation.


Negotiating disagreements using win-win problem-solving techniques can help people become more self-directed and more creative when solving problems. Success depends on your ability to…

  • assert
  • listen for understanding
  • respond non-evaluatively
  • mutually generate and agree on solutions with the people in your work group.

If you do not possess these skills, you may want to learn them or call in a third party to help manage conflict.


Empower subordinates for innovation & creativity through challenging tasks. Do not confuse this with making changes in routine work tasks that lead to job enlargement or mere job rotation. True empowerment occurs when you…

  • remove some controls
  • increase accountability for their own work
  • assign a complete task
  • grant additional authority
  • introduce more difficult tasks
  • assign unique roles.
  • Changes like these encourage more self-direction and creative thinking in your work group.


Mutual description of the subordinate’s job roles, mutual setting of work goals, and mutual evaluation of goal accomplishment boost creative output.

Consider reversing the usual annual goal setting procedure. Instead of telling your goals, ask each person in your work group to state his or her goals. If you like them, back them to the hilt, and encourage creative effort. If you do not accept them, negotiate mutually acceptable goals.


People in your work group need the following skills to carry out organization goals responsibly with a minimum of supervision…

  • teamwork and team interaction skills
  • time management and stress management skills
  • communication skills for resolving conflict creatively
  • advanced creative thinking triggers to shift paradigms and achieve quality solutions.

These are just a few ways you can help creativity and innovation in your work unit. List your own ideas on how you will lead your team for greater creativity and innovation at work.

And check out my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” CLICK here OR HERE.

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 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.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is 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.