Creativity in the workplace can be motivating but also productive and firmly in line with business goals. See how to increase creativity in your team as a manager or leader.
The first six tips are adapted from Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011) and based on the investigation of Teresa Amabile (1998) and her associates into the links between creativity and the work environment.
1. Provide stimulating intellectual challenges
Problem solving exercises enhance creativity. They can often be approached collaboratively to diversify the proposed solutions and processes. They can also challenge employees to think beyond the status quo – because critical thinking and creative thinking can work well together.
A genuinely stimulating challenge is one that encourages people to stretch themselves and feel energised by the process. You don’t want them to feel overwhelmed by a challenge that’s beyond their current capabilities. Neither do you want them to feel bored.
2. Set goals, but give employees the freedom to choose their own methods
Your role as a manager is to set goals and support team members in achieving those goals. However, in many instances (it depends on your work culture) you could be clipping people’s creative wings if you micro-manage them.
Encourage team members to decide for themselves how to achieve the goals you’ve set. Which techniques will they use? Would they like you to implement the agile project management method? Would their work benefit from the use of one of these 16 different decision making techniques? Giving your team members agency in how they achieve the goals you’ve set can foster their creativity, let them play to their strengths and enhance their motivation to help the project succeed.
3. Are tight resources an asset or a restriction to creative thinking?
Increasing creativity in the workplace can take time and/or money – both of which are often in short supply.
Managers can set a deadline to sharpen the senses and create a sense of challenge. Deadlines that are too tight may overwhelm people, however.
Creativity can often be achieved on a tight budget – and sometimes even on a budget of zero. In some eventualities, spending might need to occur in order to fully support the team. For example, there are many free image libraries of variable quality. In order to achieve a world-class visual project, a manager may need to approve access to a paid image library so that the team can focus on creating visuals that fully meet business goals without being asked to create a slick poster out of paperclip art.
4. Assign diverse work groups to maximise productive creativity
Successful creative work isn’t a pot pourri of ideas that never amount to anything. The final result needs to be tangible, completed and in line with predetermined goals.
Choose a creative taskforce that combines productivity with diversity of perspective and background. You’re not looking for chaos, but you’re not looking for people who all think the same way and plod through the work to produce a workable but uninspiring result with no creative breakthrough. Your experience and intuition as a leader will be required to get the balance just right.
5. AS A LEADER: provide a safe environment for increased creativity
Taking risks is inherent to creativity. As with critical thinking, creative thinking involves challenging assumptions and the status quo. It involves questioning the set way of doing or thinking things in order to create something new.
Employees need to feel they can safely challenge assumptions for the good of the project without fear of recrimination. Otherwise, they will only agree with leaders.
These critical thinking tips for HR leaders and managers express how important it is to foster a creative environment where people can evaluate new ideas, challenge assumptions, and question traditional methods.
Leaders can support the people and process in a supervisory context. They can openly acknowledge and give credit to creative thinking – even if it challenges assumptions held by senior managers. This praise is important, because it sends a clear signal that people’s creativity and courage in expressing it is valued by the organisation. Speaking of which…
6. AS AN ORGANISATION: provide a safe environment for increased creativity
In order to scale up creativity and embed it more firmly and quickly into a company’s mindset, creative effort should be supported by the entire organisation, not solely a line manager or leader.
Collaboration and sharing of information leads to an increase in general confidence, motivation and creative expertise among the team.
A politically charged environment stifles creativity; employees will fear for their professional security if they voice a creative idea that challenges the status quo. Senior leaders who soothe troubled political waters will create safe shallows for their teams to engage in freedom of creative thought.
7. Encourage lifelong learning
Stagnation and repetition are the enemy of creativity. Encourage employees to learn, seek out new knowledge, and explore alternative ways to do things on a regular bases. Encourage team members to undertake training or attend conferences and L&D events, or ones specific to an industry, skillset, or area of focus.
8. Encourage critical thinking along with creative thinking
Some golden rules of critical thinking:
- Seek out multiple solutions before evaluating them. There’s always more than one solution.
- Don’t evaluate or judge work too quickly – give it room to breathe.
- Encourage collaboration among a diverse workforce to ensure final results aren’t subject to the restrictions of the status quo
- Challenge assumptions – even your own assumptions
These guidelines for effective critical thinking apply equally well to fostering productive creativity in the workplace.
9. Consider the benefits of a structured open forum
Leaders might wish to have a suggestions box in the office for employees to make anonymous suggestions. Then again, technology means the office can network in multiple ways. A Slack or Whatsapp group can help team members share ideas in an informal way that’s conducive to fear-free creative thinking.
10. Encourage work breaks and changes of scene
Our brains need frequent time to replenish because they constantly use up so much energy. Rest is key to creative productivity, so foster a working environment where people feel safe to take regular breaks without feeling judged or guilty.
Heading outside can be a restorative change of scene. Consider holding brainstorming sessions in outdoor areas, or convivial spaces that require walking or travel to get there.
A change of scene can also mean revamping the workspace. Plants, décor, repainting, new furniture and layout – these can all positive affect a person’s state of mind. The money and/or time spent revamping a workspace helps employees feel valued, and also acts as a visual cue to get them out of any ruts. They may subconsciously feel they’re working somewhere new now, and that could have a positive impact on their perspective and creative juices.
11. Ask new employees for ideas and insights
New employees have a fresh perspective on the organisation. They might not be aware of perceived restrictions to process yet, because they’re not saturated with the status quo. Invite them to share their insights and ideas. It will make them feel valued. They’ll feel included in a creative culture from day one and could also bring some exciting new ideas to the table.
12. Schedule brainstorming sessions
You can schedule regular lunchtime brainstorming sessions – perhaps fortnightly or monthly – for groups to share creative ideas that might benefit the organisation. To add some welcome structure, you could theme the brainstorming sessions to offer solutions to particular challenges in the organisation.
13. Encourage people to ask questions
Questions take time to answer, and leaders are time-poor. However, questions challenge assumptions. A question can reveal the shaky infrastructure on which an organisational process has been built. Questions can lead to fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. Questions provide a challenge to the status quo without being a threat to a solid, progressive organisational structure. Build a safe space to ask questions into meetings and brainstorming sessions in order to manage your workflow. However, if faced with a question from either a new or established employee, treat it as an opportunity to approach old ideas from new angles.
Workplace creativity can be productive as well as liberating.
Creativity in the workplace may be playful, but it isn’t frivolous. In a thriving work culture, leaders can support ideas, allow individuals to bring their authentic selves to the process, and establish a safe environment in which to experiment, consider fresh angles and ask questions.