Author of The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education
People are often pressured in meetings to come up with incredible solutions on the spot. Some high-performing teams thrive in that environment. It’s also a good approach to stimulate new thinking.
However, a constant dose of pressure-cooker meetings can stifle creative, thoughtful employees from contributing valuable insights. Perhaps they’re reacting to the tension in the room, or are fearful their idea will get publicly – and aggressively – shot down too soon. Some of you might say, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” That attitude may apply to some, but why set up a potential star performer to fail? And burnout is a very real condition that can derail even the best employee.
How can a leader find the right balance in a high-stakes meeting – or when to call one? I spoke with my colleague, Teresa Amabile in my Leadership: A Master Class video series about ways managers can foster a creative team. Here’s what she had to say about generating the best ideas and solutions during meetings.
“Our research showed there’s only one very particular set of time pressured conditions that actually lead to high-level creativity. It’s called being on a mission. People have to feel that what they’re doing is truly important and is justifiably urgent. It’s not that somebody has placed an arbitrary deadline on us, it’s that we’re doing something that really matters. It’s either an urgent need that the company has to address before it can move forward on something important, or because a competitor is about to scoop us. Or because a customer desperately needs our help. It could also be because society has a serious need for a solution to a problem.
A great example of really meaningful work under pressure is the Apollo XIII story. While the space capsule was on its way, the air filtration system malfunctioned. The astronauts were in danger of asphyxiation. ‘Houston, we have a problem’ indeed! Mission Control was scrambling to find a solution.
The engineers who were focused on that problem were completely freed up from doing anything else. They got whatever help they needed from others. They were able to actually solve that problem, because they focused on it, they knew it was urgent, and they understood how very important it was.
While that’s an extreme example, businesses can do something like that by putting people in the situation where they understand the urgency and they’re protected from distractions. They’re on a mission. But even when on a mission, people can’t operate under high pressure for very long periods of time and continue to be creative. They have to get a break, or they’re going to burnout.
Get off the treadmill
Unfortunately the most common type of time pressure in organizations is what we call being on a treadmill. You feel that you’re being constantly distracted by crises erupting around you. We found that under these conditions, people are not able to focus on truly being creative in their work. They may end a day feeling that they got a lot done. ‘I worked for 14 hours, and I solved 14 different problems.’ Yet they don’t have that sense of satisfaction that they’re working on the most important piece of their work. They can go many days on the treadmill without doing anything creative. So that’s one of the most important things managers can give to people – is the time and the focus to do creative work.”