Creativity is the cornerstone of innovation. It’s what takes your work from average to outstanding. And we have creativity to thank for great products, services and ideas.
Sometimes, your team is facing a creative block and they clearly need a creativity boost. At other times, you might simply want to take your team’s creativity to the next level. Either way, your team members’ creativity at work stems from a place of feeling appreciated and taken seriously. They need a place where they can comfortably share their ideas and feel they are contributing to something meaningful.
So how exactly do you create this place?
1. Improve brainstorming sessions
Brainstorming should be a creative activity, but the problem is that often it’s not approached with creativity in mind. Before launching into a brainstorming session, you want to create an environment where everyone on your team feels comfortable sharing his or her ideas. You can even start with a game like word association. This will help your team members to not feel judged, which will make them more likely to tap into their creativity.
Once everyone is comfortable, start the session with a clear objective in mind, and clearly define the problem that you want to solve. However, don’t make it a goal to solve the problem during this session, but rather to come up with a few viable ideas that might solve the problem.
The brainstorming session is not a time to judge ideas, but to welcome creative ones. If you criticise team members’ ideas at this stage, they will likely not want to contribute in the future. On the other hand, successful brainstorming sessions will translate into more creative work outside of team meetings.
2. Coach individual team members
At times you might notice that individual team members are feeling particularly uninspired. Getting to know them and what makes them tick will help you coach them through unfruitful times.
Of course, this means that you have to make an effort to get to know your team members before they show a decrease in productivity. Make it a point of knowing what their aspirations are and what keeps them up at night. A good relationship with your team members will help them to open up to you when they’re going through rough times, but will also help you to guide them.
3. Communicate outside of formal meetings
Scientists at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory have discovered that the best predictors of a team’s success are the energy and level of engagement between team members outside of formal meetings. Another Gallup study found that quality relationships at work are a predictor of a healthy, productive workplace, which will likely improve the creativity of your team.
Although it might appear to go against the idea of efficiency, scheduling coffee breaks or lunches where team members can get to chat and socialise will definitely increase your team’s creativity.
4. Harness the power of small wins
The power of small wins is often underestimated when it comes to your team’s creativity. It’s important for your team to have a sense of forward momentum in order to tap into their creativity.
Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile argues in her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (co-authored with Steven Kramer) that a sense of progress at work makes for more creative team members.
As Amabile points out, “on the days when people are feeling happiest, proudest, and most motivated, the single most prominent event in those days is making progress in meaningful work.”
5. Give your team autonomy
Mapping out where you want your team to go is good for your team members, but dictating how to get there isn’t. Smart people need autonomy in their work. And assuming you have smart people working with you, this means that you need to give them more room to make decisions and to think for themselves.
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us, Daniel Pink cites a study conducted at Cornell University, showing that businesses that gave employees autonomy grew four times faster than businesses that used command and control management. They also experienced significantly lower turnover rates and higher levels of discretionary effort from their team members.
When talking about a new project, try to spend 90% of your time describing the goal, and only 10% on how that goal might be achieved.
Last, but not least, you should always find ways to reward creativity. If you want your team members to think outside the box, show them why they should. But know that simply rewarding won’t prevent your team members from running into creative blockages. A day-to-day commitment to a creativity-conducive environment will.