I love this paradox. It makes sense in so many different contexts. Habits eliminate choices; freed from choices, there is more room for imagination. Habits eliminate the friction of decision-making. In teams, when there is structure, there is more room for creativity.

How so?

In an interview on the podcast, author of the Innovation Mindset, Charlene Li explains it this way:

“The most innovative teams have the most structure.”

When teams know how decisions are made, what kinds of permissions are needed, what the parameters are, they can shape their ideas within those constraints. They don’t waste time and energy on hygiene matters like who needs to approve what. They know, and they get on with it.

Constraints unleash creativity.

When I do Culture Compass workshops with teams, we develop the structure and parameters for these hygiene issues. What we find is that it eliminates a whole lot of tension that shows up in things like silos, jealousy, undermining and suspicion. There’s just no room for poor assumptions when processes are crystal clear.

When we have strong boundaries, we feel more free.

My friend *Esmerelda (not her real name) complained that she felt like she was constantly reacting to other people’s priorities and urgencies. Somehow her calendar was now being driven by other people’s agendas. And she’s the CEO!

This is a case of boundaries that have weakened over time. A CEO who wants to serve their business and their team wants to make sure everyone has what they need to progress and get their jobs done. They don’t want to be the bottleneck for a productive workforce. Ironically, as Esmerelda attends to everyone’s ‘urgent’ needs, the important stuff, the strategic stuff is not getting done, and everyone will suffer the consequences of a business falling behind.

Esmerelda decided to put in stronger rules around her time, to communicate what the business priorities were and provide reasonable time frames about how she would address each of their challenges.

She instantly felt more free.

Where do you need more structure? Do you need to create stronger boundaries? Better habits? More consistent routines?