Throughout my career, I’ve heard many managers complain about the need for their teams to be more creative and to demonstrate innovative approaches. The conversations usually moved quickly to the topic of deficiencies of team members and what to do to get them to be more innovative.
It wasn’t until I worked for someone who was amazing at fueling creativity throughout his team that I realized the root of the problem (and it’s one that managers who don’t have innovative teams generally ignore): It’s not the team’s behavior that’s the issue; it’s how the manager behaves that stifles creativity and innovation.
With that in mind, if you’re challenged with a team charged with being more innovative in how it approaches business, look to yourself and work on these 15 items to improve your own performance first!
- Learn each team members’ distinctive talents – the areas (work-related or not) where someone best displays incredible performance and creates tremendous energy. People tend to be most naturally creative in these areas, even if the skills themselves wouldn’t typically be considered “creative.”
- Allow individuals to use their distinctive talents to contribute to business efforts, regardless of how the talents are tied to the job position they fill.
- Treat business like a game where you’re clearly the cheerleader for your team and not the referee.
- Provide training for your team on tools they can use to improve their creativity.
- When introducing a project, spend 90% of your time describing the intended goal and only 10% on how you expect it will be accomplished.
- Don’t answer all the questions your team may have. Instead, ask them questions right back so they’re thinking creatively and strategically.
- Give them more rope than they expect. Point out to them just how much rope they really have.
- Figure out the likely solution to a project and listen for when your team is on the right path, so you can provide lots of encouragement. That way, they have ownership of the ideas being developed.
- Always start a brainstorming session with a clear objective and a list of solid, probing questions. Better yet, have someone other than you facilitate the session to allow the maximum freedom to contribute creatively.
- Have a “Plagiarism Friday” where people bring in great ideas from outside your business category and ask them to share what makes the ideas innovative and creative. (And yes, I “borrowed” this idea.)
- Listen to new ideas before you start talking or even thinking about what you’re going to say.
- Make team members sell their new ideas and recommendations to you, and then let them sell these ideas to your boss too.
- Resolve to accept ideas and answers that work but are different from what you originally envisioned.
- Give the team members more than full credit for any successes the group has.
- When a team member makes a mistake, direct their focus to recovery (i.e., making things right for the external or internal customers) and to figuring out what can be learned to improve in the future.
If you’re legitimately doing these things consistently and predictably over time, you’ll be amazed at how creative your same team becomes.