By Sean Harper, CEO and co-founder at Kin Insurance.
Perhaps the best lesson to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least for the business world, is that creativity is essential for success. Gym owners took their classes outside. Restaurant owners added cooking lessons to their menus. Through hard work and ingenuity, entrepreneurs of all stripes figured out how to keep going.
There will always be situations where businesses have to adapt and pivot, and leaders who tap into their employees’ creativity will have a team of engaged problem-solvers on their side. Here are some ways you can boost your team’s creativity so they’re ready to take on any challenge.
1. Enable Autonomy
Smart leaders know that trusting employees usually results in higher engagement and better performance. One way to provide the autonomy so many workers crave is to ditch the traditional 9-to-5 workday. This allows them to set a schedule that works best with their natural energy levels. Some employees are morning people while others really get rolling after lunch. Either way, letting them decide how to approach work usually produces better results.
But here’s the real trick: Creativity requires a certain amount of confidence. We’ve all been in brainstorming sessions where everyone is afraid to speak up. Those autonomous employees are already tapping into their creativity because they’ve been trusted to do the work. Their better results simply breed more creativity and even more good work.
The takeaway: Take a step back and look at areas where team members can have more control over their days and workflows. At the very least, you’ll see improved engagement, but you’re likely to get better performance, too.
2. Sponsor Team Retreats
Sitting in the same place, looking at the same view is literally mind-numbing for some people. My co-founder, Lucas Ward, and I both believe a change of scenery not only reinvigorates a team but also sparks the kinds of conversations that lead to new ideas. That’s why we’re big fans of periodically getting employees away from the daily grind through a team retreat.
A retreat doesn’t have to be for the entire company or take up a full workday. Even just a few hours away from typical tasks for a department or smaller team is often enough to get creative juices flowing.
You may want to try more organized retreats with expert facilitation. Professionals can guide employees toward better connections that help them identify obstacles and come up with solutions.
The takeaway: Getting your team away from everyday tasks gives them the ability to look at projects and problems from a different perspective.
3. Diversify Your Team
Diversity is a net good for many reasons, but we don’t discuss enough how vital different perspectives are to the creative process. A more diverse team offers more voices, experiences and perspectives — all of which are fodder for creativity and problem-solving. With the right encouragement, those perspectives can deliver unique solutions and open up new opportunities.
As the leader, you want to first demonstrate that everyone’s perspective is heard and valued. Check your own biases and keep an open mind to ideas that don’t fit your own.
The takeaway: Diversity is worth the extra effort. Make sure the people on your team have a variety of backgrounds and skills and set an example by listening to everyone.
4. Break Your Systems
When you’re just starting out, most situations require all hands on deck. That’s great because everyone gets a chance to learn different parts of the company. But as the business grows, you need processes to get a consistent product or service to consumers. Unfortunately, established systems can crush creativity.
The goal, then, is to strike a balance between the systems that get work done and the creativity that generates innovation. If you have a team that’s struggling to solve a problem, take away the rules. Ask them what they would do if a certain procedure wasn’t an issue. Give them the flexibility to do what they think is best, not what fits your system.
The added bonus is that you may learn what’s not working in your company. You may end up fine-tuning some processes and ditching others altogether. Business owners that are open to tossing out an antiquated system keep themselves relevant to consumer needs. These are the companies that stay ahead of the competition.
The takeaway: Business is constantly changing, and a rigid adherence to doing things the way they’ve always been done is a quick way to go nowhere. Be open to doing things differently.
While all these tips are tried and true, remember there’s no formula for creativity. The only real key to fostering creativity is to try new things and see what works. Even failed experiments are opportunities for learning, and that’s the most fertile ground for new ideas.