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Effective Teams For Creative Innovation

Posted on December 23rd, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

Lightbulb idea

We’ve begun to look at the Belbin Team Role Framework  (if you missed that post, read it here) with the intent of using it to give insight into what makes successful R&D teams successful.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the roles which tend to bring the much needed creative input to innovative teams.

The Creative Roles

There are two roles which the Belbin Framework denotes as being “creative”. And so we’ll begin with those two. There is also another role we’ll look at though, which according to research published in 2015, is also important for creativity in R&D or innovative teams.

The Plant

Plants are natural innovators. They are usually highly creative and can be a great source of original ideas. Plants are often introverted and prefer to work by themselves and keep their distance from other members of the team.

Plants tend to have a different perspective on things than others around them and their ideas may not always be practical. As such, it can sometimes be difficult for plants to effectively communicate their ideas in a compelling way.

As a part of an R&D team, it’s often the plants who come up with the initial spark of an idea, which may then need to be honed and carried with the support and guidance of others. Plants often find it easier than most to challenge the established or conventional ways of doing things in their pursuit of a solution to the problems they’re solving.

The Resource Investigator

Unlike plants, resource investigators are not usually a good source of original ideas. They are very good though, at taking other people ideas, sharing them and promoting them. Resource investigators tend to be extroverts with a lot of enthusiasm. They’re great communicators, natural negotiators and very comfortable exploring new opportunities.

Resource investigators are inquisitive by nature and are particularly good at finding out what is available, who has it, and what they need to do to get involved.

They can think quickly on their feet and share ideas in the places they need to be shared to develop them further.

The Specialist

Although not originally recognised as one of the creative roles in the Belbin model, because of the nature of the work in R&D, the specialist often plays a key creative role as a part of an R&D team.

After using the Belbin Team Role Framework to investigate team dynamics among more than 700 people in R&D teams, Nel Mostert had the following to say about Specialists playing a creative role in their teams:

“In my view… the Specialists are extremely creative in their field of expertise. Crazy thoughts, strange links or synergies expressed by Plants or Resource Investigators can give new creative insights.

Specialists are able to translate those thoughts, links or synergies into applied practical ideas and/or opportunities because they know what they are talking about and they are able to make the creative connections between completely unconnected topics or thoughts.

Creative discussions between Specialists consist of sentences like ‘What if we …’, ‘Would it be possible to …’, ‘Why don’t we try to ….’, ‘Have you ever done ….’, ‘Do we know anyone who can …’, ‘Did you know that some years ago I tried to …’.

Although specialists will often only want to work within their area of expertise, in an R&D context that’s exactly where we’d want them to be working anyway. For teams working to solve complex problems, or develop innovative solutions, it’s common for the expertise of a specialist to be an essential requirement for making creative progress.

Where Do You Fit?

If you’re in a creative team, do you identify with taking on any of these three roles? Or can you see any of these roles in your peers?

Next time, we’ll take a look at two of the other roles which are often synonymous with effective leadership and/or management of R&D teams.



All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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