Effectively Organizing Creative Teams (in Vote Chess and for Other Activities)

Effectively Organizing Creative Teams (in Vote Chess and for Other Activities)

[Comments on the ideas in this article are most welcome. I always strive to provide quality material that is open for improvements -- to share ideas that will serve all of us in what we do in life, and in chess.]

Leading, Not Managing

I've learned through the works of inspired and wise teachers that the key to stimulating and synergizing the work of creative individuals is leading the process, not managing it. This is unlike an industrial process, such as a factory, and much more like a loosely organized group of knowledge workers whose purpose is innovating. (Author and speaker Steven Covey discusses this in his more recent works, for those of you who are interested.)

The point is that "managing" creativity dries up the wellspring of ideas by imposing constraints from outside the realm of creativity, and thus highly productive people often lose motivation quickly. Another explanation of this phenomenon is that "managing" tends to shrink the set of possibilities, while creativity is about exploration, openness, and expansiveness; so because by definition the two missions run in opposite directions to each other, putting them together tends to be unsuccessful.

Set Clear Boundaries, Then Let People Loose

It has therefore been recommended by successful leaders that an effective approach to working with creative and highly intellectual people is to set clear boundaries for the tasks, and then -- and this is the key requirement -- let them loose, with minimal or no outside control. (This presumes that the people in question have a well-developed sense of responsibility, which is usually taken on faith and then verified in the course of the work.) 

Therefore, a strong (which is different from strong-willed or strong-handed) leader tends to be a much more important asset for a team organized around creativity and intellectual work than a strong manager and/or a well-tuned team process.  (Once again, there is an assumption here about the benevolence of the leader -- which will become obvious very quickly.)

Building and Sustaining a Great Team for the Long Term

Finally, sometimes an objective best choice may need to be sacrificed for the sake of the team's cohesiveness and longevity.  An example of what I mean: when several ideas are offered that are seemingly equally good, but there's someone on the team who is really passionate about one of them, that ought to be the deciding factor in favor of that choice, even if the other choice may have marginally better support. (I've seen this often violated in vote chess games, where players tend of insist on some version of strict democracy/equality for the sake of it, regardless of the merits of other choices or who they may come from.)

The reasons are several:

(a) people tend to become energized when they follow a path they believe in, and others around them more readily follow them along, too;

(b) when making important decisions, it's critical that there's always a strong champion of the ideas, rather than a set of individuals who agree on a particular course of aciton but only for lack of a better one; and, lastly but perhaps most importantly,

(c) not alienating a member of the team always has a better long-term "return-on-investment" for the team than picking a stronger choice in one particular situation (game) while jeopardizing a valuable relationship.


  • 5 years ago


    jonswin:  Thank you for your contributions!  I agree with your points, and I have observed such situations as well, both in VC games and elsewhere in teamwork and in life in general.

    The first two points (caveats) you point out -- when one or more teammates attempt to drive their proposals strongly and thus hijack the discussion and the team's attention -- highlight the importance of having a team leader, a person (or persons) with vested "authority" and trust from the team, who present(s) an unbiased view of any proposals on the table, their strengths and their weaknesses.

    I have personally attempted to play this leadership role in a number of VC games, sometimes to the exclusion of my participation in technical discussions on concrete lines and proposals (because if I were to engage on both fronts I would already be biased and less objective, at least in the view of my teammates). 

    So I know well that this can be a very important job and at the same time a difficult job.  Such a team leader has to be constantly aware of potentials in the game development as well as in the discussion / tensions between team members, and to practively point out and help to resolve those.

    But it is an invaluable and irreplaceable job to fulfill!

    I discussed some of these leadership needs in the blog article (above), specifically in the section on "Set clear boundaries, then let people loose".

  • 5 years ago


    Lots of good points in here. I'm fairly new to the site but have become quite addicted to VC, so I want to share some of my own observations.

    The caveat to point (b) is that sometimes one team member may try & drive through an idea that is simply bad, which the rest of the team goes along with because nobody bothers to come up with something better. Doesn't usually happen in VC, but applicable to other situations in life. What is more likely in VC is that the discussion gets derailed for a while while refutations and counter-refutations are posted about the bad line, instead of looking for something else.

    A similar thing I have seen in VC is that two players may argue passionately in favour of 'their line', so the rest of the team focus in on these two options only, which can prevent discovery of stronger moves.

    I also think in VC it's really important not to attribute lines to individual players just because they proposed it first, as that can lead to ego clashes.

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