Balancing Clarity and Uncertainty in Leading More Successful and Creative Teams

One of the most important trends in leadership, especially of creative organizations and tasks, over the last two decades, is arguably the shift in attention from firm-level to team-level or project-level design and management. About team leadership, especially, there has been a range of immensely valuable insights generated and best practices shared by the likes of Jon Katzenbach and Bob Frisch.

I was reminded earlier of one of my favorite single pieces about building more effective collaboration on teams: Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson’s 2007 Harvard Business Review article on “8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams.” The article itself bears regular re-reading and, in using it in classes with executives, I’ve found that even experienced and thoughtful team-builders and leaders benefit from its practical insights.

The reminder earlier came in a blog posting on “How Successful Virtual Teams Collaborate” by Keith Ferrazzi, who has recently become a leading voice on the topic of leading teams, particularly remote and virtual ones. In his post today, Ferrazzi lists several key lessons: adjust for size, don’t be afraid of social media, play games, and train for collaboration

For his last lesson, Ferrazzi references Gratton and Erickson’s research, pointing specifically to their counter-intuitive conclusion that the best teams have role clarity but task uncertainty. Collaboration, he notes, “increased when people had clearly defined roles but were uncertain about how to achieve the team’s goals.  The uncertainty encouraged everyone to collaborate and think more creatively about different ways in which to fulfill the group’s mission.” 

That’s a fundamental insight about leading better and more creative collaboration on both virtual and in-person teams. It also touches on the more general value of acknowledging and allowing for uncertainty in the effective practice of creative leadership.