How to Motivate Your Team to Be Their Most Creative Selves15 March 2017 / By Molly Owens Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 15, 2017
In dynamic and competitive markets, it's almost universally understood that the old ways of working don't work any more. Every company has to think outside the box if it is to achieve higher levels of performance. Creativity is the tool that allows teams to work faster, and smarter, and quickly find their way to workable solutions to unique problems.
For anyone in charge of teams, this poses something of a challenge. Boosting your own creativity is one thing; improving the way a group innovates is another. Collaboration - the defining characteristic of creativity - is messy. It doesn't sit well with structured processes and it doesn't follow the cause/effect pattern of regular business. But there are some ways you can create a work environment conducive to collaborative innovation. Here are three key strategies to help your team become their most creative selves.
1. Use humor
It's well established that making work fun can make employees more productive. But did you know that it can also amplify their creativity? Research since the 1950s suggests a symbiotic relationship between humor and creativity, such that people exposed to humor tend to be more creative, and those who operate in a creative environment tend to have more laughs on the job.
Why is humor so successful in boosting creativity? Two reasons. Humor supports original thinking by emotionally distancing you from the problem for a while. In a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, teams can quickly become overwhelmed by the pressures of the job, and brainstorming can quickly spiral down into petty conflict, resentment, and gridlock. When people are having fun, often a solution just pops into their heads.
The second benefit of humor is that it makes us happy, and positive moods make us more receptive to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. Under playful conditions, team members are more likely to let go of their own viewpoint and actively assimilate new information. People engage with each other instead of pushing their own agenda. This degree of collaboration significantly increases the creative effectiveness of the team.
2. Introduce scarcity
Innovation thrives in unstructured environments, but too much freedom can encourage your team to drift into bad habits. Without structure, your team can quickly fall back into old patterns of behavior or waste time on activities with ambiguous results. A better strategy is to put up some boundaries. Teams often succeed because of the pressure of working through challenging obstacles, not in spite of it.
What kind of boundaries are we talking about? Any kind of scarcity, real or perceived, will do the trick. For example, a challenging deadline can force teams to come up with their most creative work, and one study found that taking away a team's resources can put them in a problem-solving frame of mind. When teams are not able to fall back on their tried-and-true processes, they have no choice but to get creative.
Much of this sounds counterintuitive. Managers are used to pushing out deadlines, raising budgets, and adding team members when projects are running off track. But if you want your team to innovate, you're better off doing the exact opposite.
3. Support emotions
Keeping a watchful eye on the emotional barometer of the team is one of the most critical ways a manager can spend their time. Team members who are tasked with creative exploration need to feel safe, empowered and supported as they share their unvarnished ideas. If leaders criticize the team's candor, or attempt to moderate the clash of ideas, or put a lot of pressure on team members to get the project out the door, they're going to have a problem.
Ironically, giving free reign to the ups and down of emotions is really hard to do. Managers are taught to deliver, and it can be incredibly tempting to micromanage an emotionally charged situation, especially if a conversation is coming off the rails. This is the wrong approach. Monitoring individual team members, or quelling the inevitable tide of disagreement and debate, will deprive the project of the creative ideas the team might have generated if given more elbow room.
A better solution? Provide the team with latitude for creative idea generation and encourage them to put their emotions on display. This can help even your most rational thinkers get out of their own heads and explore other ways of thinking, which is an important asset to creative work.
As the premium placed on creative problem solving continues to rise, managers will have to think hard about empowering their teams to think more creatively. Scarcity can be a valuable tool in supporting these efforts, while humor and creating a lighter, more emotionally expressive work environment encourages creative thinking at the same time it makes work more enjoyable. If you and your team use these three strategies together, you'll collaborate better, you'll increase team members' commitment to creativity, and you'll get a more creative output faster. Before long, you'll start to see your team flourish with creative ideas to help differentiate your organization from the rest.
Marc Voi Chiuli (not verified) says...
This is very true when one is required to mannage millenials in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. Millenials are averse to structural thinking, which in most cases may impede innovation and productivity.
Susi Titchener (not verified) says...
Hi i really like this for it is powerful and simple with its 3 strategies....accept more of a challenge to implement! I work with a leadership practice process which enables teams and leaders to identfy their leadership skills. In addition it assists in realising which skills are potentially being eclipsed....often it is the innovative and creative skills which are eclipsed.
I'd like to ask - what suggestions and experience do you have of approaches to bring humour into a work situation? Some creative ideas are always helpful!