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3 steps to improving your teams' creativity

Before considering the practical steps of developing creativity skills within your team, it's crucial to first understand why creativity is so vital in today's professional landscape. 

In a world where organisations and businesses face ever-shifting challenges and fierce competition, the ability to think creatively to generate new ideas and turn them into reality is imperative for overcoming obstacles. As a manager or leader, creating a culture of creativity within your team is not just about encouraging artistic expression. Creativity is the complement to problem solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process. 

This 3 step guide on how to be creative is specifically tailored to managers and leaders seeking to enhance professional development within their teams by nurturing a culture of creativity and innovation. This blog will show you:

  • How to create a supportive environment
  • The tools and resources you need to foster creativity skills
  • How to support others to innovate through coaching

Why are creativity skills important?

Innovation isn't reserved for the Einsteins and Da Vincis of the world. A culture that values and nurtures creativity skills will be more effective at empowering your team to generate ideas, consider different perspectives and innovate both individually and collectively.  So, why is creativity important for your organisation?

  • The demand for creativity is only increasing. In 2020, creativity was ranked as the most in-demand skill for the second time in a row by Linkedin, appearing in over 20 million job ads. It will be one of the top three skills needed in the workplace by 2025, along with critical thinking and complex problem-solving – the partner components of creativity. By cultivating a creative environment now, you are helping yourself later.
  • Data from the Career Explorer Tool demonstrates one of the biggest essential skill gaps in the labour market is in creativity. Evidence of lacking creativity among UK workers was reported in the Essential Skills Tracker 2023 research. The need for resources, tools and coaching is heightened by this skills gap.
  • Creativity is imperative to the short and long-term development of your team. Coaching members to generate ideas and solutions in a more efficient manner will lead to both short and long term successes. This includes aiding with the personal development of members of the team. 

The Universal Framework's ‘supporting others to innovate’ stage makes you a catalyst for creative growth. Here's how:

1.) How to create a supportive environment for creativity

A supportive environment is essential for a culture of creativity. As a manager or leader, it's essential to encourage a workplace culture that encourages open communication, collaboration, and risk-taking. 

Encourage team members to share their ideas freely, without fear of judgement or criticism. Having a team who are able to and feel comfortable generating, developing and sharing ideas can lead to a greater breadth of ideas and perspectives. 

However, this can be jeopardised if your team doesn’t have access to the right tools and resources to achieve this goal. Read on for the tools and resources that will support you to overcome this.

2.) Tools for generating ideas and boosting creativity skills

To boost your teams’ creativity skills, it’s essential to equip them with the right tools to generate and develop ideas effectively. When you offer a range of tools and resources to your team, you are amplifying the chances  of being creative. The exploration of different tools and ways of being creative will support professional development too, as teams learn how to reenact this skill over time. 

Tools for Generating Ideas:

  • Idea briefs: Don't underestimate the power of constraints. Setting clear parameters around what needs to be created can spark creativity by focusing efforts. These briefs could outline the problem to be solved, target audience, or desired outcomes.
  • Success criteria: Take the ‘idea brief’ a step further by defining and describing what a successful outcome looks like. This provides direction without stifling creativity and allows individuals to self-assess their progress during and after the ideation process.
  • Combining ideas: Break down ideas into their core components to compare, combine, or choose the best aspects from different options. This technique helps refine and build upon diverse ideas, leading to a final concept.
  • Idea trackers: Inspiration can strike at any moment. Encourage your team to carry a small notebook or use a digital tool to capture fleeting ideas.

Imagine you are a marketing team leader, your team is tasked with creating a presentation for their new sales team to introduce a recently launched product. By using an idea brief everyone is more likely to be on the same page, with clear goals and expectations. Equally, the team members are likely to feel more comfortable contributing their ideas because they are aware of the overall objectives. This can also help avoid spending too much time on ideas that don’t meet the brief.

Tools for Exploring Ideas:

  • Mind mapping: This visual tool allows individuals to explore ideas non-linearly, fostering connections and identifying hidden relationships between different aspects of their concept.
  • Questioning techniques:  Asking the right questions and teaching your team the internal questions that they should ask helps individuals to explore their ideas more fully, and to deepen their thinking.
  • Perspective widening: Challenge your team to consider viewpoints outside of their own. This can be achieved through team discussions with varied perspectives or by encouraging individuals to actively empathise with the needs and motivations of different/imagined groups.

If we return to the previous example, members of your team are tasked with creating a presentation for their new sales team to introduce a recently launched product. Traditionally, they might gather around a table and throw ideas out, leading to information overload, domination by vocal members and a limited exploration of connections. 

Instead, using mind mapping allows for a non-linear structure, encouraging the free-flowing exploration of ideas, encouraging team members to build on each other's thoughts and spark new connections. Equally, the visual nature of mind maps helps everyone stay engaged in the brainstorming process.

 Tools for Boosting Creativity:

  • Group creative techniques: Working in teams can lead to a wider range of ideas, but also presents its own challenges. Share resources and strategies with your team to help mitigate these challenges, such as ground rules for effective brainstorming or techniques for managing group dynamics.
  • Wider experiences: Encourage your team to expand their horizons. Organise team outings to new locations, support involvement in activities outside their comfort zones, or recommend educational resources that expose them to new perspectives.
  • Different stimuli: Promote venturing outside the box. Encourage your team to actively seek out diverse stimuli, whether it's visiting a museum, attending a workshop unrelated to their field, or simply trying a new hobby. Stepping outside their comfort zone can lead to unexpected inspiration and new ideas.

3.) Support others to innovate through coaching

As a manager or leader, coaching and guidance is crucial for supporting your team's creative development. It’s no different when thinking about your teams’ creativity skills. Creativity is not a linear process, but good coaching will allow your team to generate ideas and solutions more effectively. Coaching is about asking the right questions and posing barriers which can broaden thinking and spark ideas.

Coaching on a particular project:

Creative coaching may take place on a specific project or task. For you to be an effective coach, it is important to make sure that you and your coachee both have a clear, shared understanding of the project at the outset:

  • Project goal: What are we ultimately trying to achieve?
  • Success criteria: How will we know if we've hit the mark?
  • Timeline: What is the timeframe for this project?
  • Constraints: Are there any limitations or boundaries to consider?
  • Personal success: How will achieving this project's goals feel for the individual?

Coaching to generate ideas:

With a shared understanding, you should ask further questions to help with the development of ideas.

Here are some potential questions to ask:

  • Environment and space: Do you have the optimal environment to generate ideas?
  • Past experiences: Have you encountered similar challenges before? 
  • No limitations: If time wasn't a constraint, how would you approach this challenge? 
  • Unlimited resources: If you had access to any resources, how would you tackle this problem?
  • Challenging constraints: Which constraints pose the biggest hurdle and how can we work around them? 

Coaching to refine ideas:

Equally as your team or team member develops their ideas, coaching an individual to refine and polish their ideas is important in creating appropriate suggestions.

Here are some potential questions to ask:

  • Alignment with brief: Does this idea align with the project's goals and criteria? 
  • Improvement strategies: How can we strengthen and elevate this idea?
  • Testing and measurement: How will we determine the effectiveness of this idea in real-world application? 
  • Missing perspectives: Are there any crucial viewpoints we haven't considered? 
  • Justifying the choice: Why is this the best idea amongst the options explored? 

Coaching to boost creativity:

Beyond specific projects, you can support individuals in fostering their overall creative development. These questions could help individuals to develop their creativity.

  • Sources of inspiration: What in your life has sparked the most creative ideas? 
  • Peak creativity: When do you experience your most creative moments? 
  • Areas of interest: What areas are you eager to learn more about?
  • Past influences: What experiences have been most influential in your creative process? 
  • New experiences: What experiences would you like to pursue? 

Final thoughts

By nurturing a creative environment, sharing tools and resources, offering coaching and embracing the steps to develop creative skills, you can help your team to become more effective problem-solvers and innovators. Remember, fostering creativity is an ongoing process. Celebrate your team's achievements, embrace challenges as opportunities for the personal development of your team.

Learn more about the steps to mastering creativity using The Universal Framework. Check your own creativity skills using Benchmark and build them on Launchpad.