How to Unlock Your Team’s Creative Potential

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Creativity is a slippery notion. For some, it’s an intangible concept. For others, it’s a talent limited to the production of specific works: novels, paintings, graphics, and sculptures.

This definition persists even in business, where creativity is often seen as a skill set exclusive to design or marketing teams. But as the workforce evolves, the best businesses know better.

According to a McKinsey study on company growth and innovation, a whopping 94% of executives reported that they were unhappy with the innovative performance of their company. In an era of technological disruption, the most forward-thinking companies know creativity is a necessary skill for every employee — not just for capturing crucial market share, but also for building more engaged, creative problem-solvers who can roll with the punches (and can throw a few, too).

To succeed in a saturated and competitive market, modern companies––especially those in tech––must cultivate novel attitudes, ideas, and experiences in all their employees.

Here’s how:

Design a culture of creativity

Low engagement is the number one reason your employees leave.

Whether it stems from outdated processes, inflexible routines, or wasted resources, Millennials are the most restless and disengaged generation in the workplace. This explains their reputation as job-hoppers, but it also underscores the need for businesses to make their organizations more personally rewarding places to work.

According to Harvard Business Review, one way to coax commitment from Millennials is by providing genuine investment in their development ––investment that goes beyond competitive salaries and nonessential perks like kombucha on tap.

Since a company’s culture starts at the top, aligning company values with the spirit of curiosity is a great way to start. Think: less “tact” and “humility” and more “discovery” and “exploration.”

But it’s not enough to swap out a few nouns. To stoke creativity in employees, your organization must also enforce and embody those values in ways that inspire people to take risks and embrace the value of failure. 

Highly creative people share several habits: They lead rich lives, they put themselves in new and stimulating environments, and they purposefully explore topics outside of their comfort zone.

To build a culture of creativity at your organization, you must enable your team to do the same.

1. Provide the time and space

Giving people the room to experiment makes them better workers.

The primary reason is simple: New ideas result from the interconnection of old ones. The more we learn and experience, the more we can pull from when faced with new challenges. Known as “broadening,” the pursuit of knowledge-rich experiences also staves off the cognitive entrenchment that inhibits innovation.

In short, it makes us more creative.

At work, driving creative engagement means giving employees the time to explore areas unrelated to their jobs without feeling guilty. To do it, take a cue from renowned innovator 3M. Since the 70s, they’ve allowed employees to devote 15 percent of their work hours to discretionary projects, as well as providing funding opportunities for these projects and permitting project failure without risking anyone’s career. One of the projects coming out of this initiative resulted in the invention of the Post-It Note, 3M’s most successful product of all time. Same story happened with Google — a company who famously allows up to 20 percent of free time for engineers to work on “creative projects” — and the development of their mail app, Gmail.

Organizations looking to promote creativity should also strive to provide their employees with flexible workspaces that complement a variety of work and personality needs. From informal “play” areas to digital classes, catering to a spectrum of creative needs will keep morale and productivity high.

2. Provide the resources and training

Increasing workplace creativity is a lot like building muscle mass: the greatest gains depend on the right techniques.

Aside from providing the time and space, an organization should also provide employees with training in areas that have nothing to do with their current areas of expertise.

Pixar runs its own university of free opt-in workshops and classes in everything from sculpture to improv comedy and Etsy provides classes on a wide range of topics like tap dancing or how to navigate a difficult conversation.

No matter how you decide to embark on building creative skills on your team, invest in a mix of digital and in-person experiences. Look into workshops, bring teachers on-site, and investigate online learning platforms like Skillshare.

You should also give employees an opportunity to play teacher. When employees complete noteworthy projects or experiments, having them share their insights with others will not only allow them to learn while doing, it’ll also make them feel more valued and more engaged.

3. Build creative leaders

Sure, it’s important to cultivate creativity across your entire organization — but without the buy-in of people managers and executives, it’s near impossible to build and maintain any culture. And a non-creative, non-curious leader can ultimately be the biggest creative blocker for an entire department.

Aside from hiring and building creative leaders (in a survey of more than 1500 CEOs, IBM found that creativity is the #1 desired skill for leaders), it’s also important for leaders to model that behavior for their own teams.

Include these tips in manager training. Train your leaders to instill expression and innovative thinking in their own employees. Encourage leaders to encourage their teams to experiment and make mistakes, make decisions that alter the status quo, and be comfortable with ambiguity. Have leaders schedule team meetings devoted to brainstorming or new ideas.

This can start at the recruiting stage (leaders should hire people who are naturally curious and can thrive in experimental environments). But leaders should also bring out the best in the employees who are afraid of bringing up new ideas or trying new things — whether that’s providing alternative channels for expression or encouraging solo learning experiences.

About Skillshare: Skillshare is an online learning platform whose mission is to connect curious, lifelong learners everywhere. Their enterprise offering — Skillshare for Teams — is designed to maximize the creativity, engagement, and development of the most innovative companies in the world. With Skillshare for Teams, brands can empower and inspire their teams with online classes, in-person speaking events, customized learning paths, world-class teachers, and powerful, actionable insights. 


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