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Listening

The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.

Speaking

The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.

Creativity

The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Leadership

Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Teamwork

Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 11, individuals will show that they can innovate effectively as part of a group, not just when working alone.  

In earlier steps, the focus was on how to develop ideas individually, using tools like mind mapping, questioning and considering different perspectives. This step builds on this by looking at what changes when other people are involved in the creative process.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What are the advantages of innovating as a group
  • What are the risks of innovating as a group 
  • How to avoid a group reaching consensus too quickly
  • How to broaden a group’s perspective 
  • How to ensure participants feel safe and confident to contribute

Reflection questions

  • What can the advantages be of innovating as a group?
  • What are the risks of innovating as a group?
  • Why is there a risk of a group reaching consensus too soon? How can this be avoided?
  • Why is it essential to take on broad perspectives when innovating? How can a group achieve this?
  • When do people feel safe and confident to contribute to a group?

What you need to know

The advantages of innovating in a group

Creativity is all about the use of imagination and the generation of new ideas. We’ve seen already that ideas can start from many places and then need to be honed and improved by considering lots of perspectives.

Working as part of a group has some significant advantages here:

  • More people trying to generate ideas is likely to lead to a higher number of ideas to start with (see Step 3 and Step 4).
  • This, in turn, leads to more opportunities to combine concepts, which can be an effective way to generate better ideas (see Step 5).
  • Ideas can also be refined more effectively through questioning, because there are individuals actually present who can ask those questions – they do not have to be created by the same person coming up with the idea in the first place (see Step 9).
  • Finally, if the group is diverse to start with, it gives you a headstart on ensuring that your ideas benefit from multiple perspectives (see Step 10).

For all these reasons, working in a group to innovate should have significant advantages over trying to innovate alone.

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The risks of innovating in a group

However, there are often significant risks which are often overlooked to working in a team. Effective group innovation relies on being able to identify and mitigate risks, including:

  • A rush to consensus: This is sometimes referred to as a Groupthink. It is a phenomenon often observed where groups put too much value on reaching an agreement quickly. In this scenario, individuals do not raise concerns, express disagreement, or share alternatives because they feel this would undermine group cohesion. (See Leadership Step 6 for more).
  • Lack of diversity: Where groups lack diversity, they will not benefit from the full range of perspectives of different stakeholders. Instead, they might take false comfort from the idea that because there are several of them in the room, they cannot have missed any views. 
  • Not a safe space: Depending on the group’s norms, it might not feel safe to group members to propose ideas or to question those of others. This might be because there is a power imbalance in the group, or because ultimately decision making power is concentrated in a small sub-group. In this case, the less risky approach for group members is not to suggest ideas that contradict the decision-makers.
  • Risk aversion: A group can sometimes be more risk-averse than an individual if there is a perceived risk that there will be blame for ideas that go wrong. In this case, group members will only make very low-risk suggestions.
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Some useful creative tools for groups

These risks of group work show that for group innovation to achieve its potential, it needs to do several things:

  • It needs to resist reaching a consensus too quickly.
  • It needs to encourage a wide range of perspectives, including beyond the group.
  • It needs to provide a feeling of safety for individuals to contribute ideas.
  • It needs to reduce the feelings of risk.
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Ways to avoid reaching a consensus too quickly

To avoid a premature consensus, you could:

  • Designate one member of the team to challenge emerging consensus actively, and to provide an alternative perspective. In some settings, this is called being the ‘devil’s advocate’ – forcing ideas to be thought through in greater depth. 
  • Another approach is to set a goal for the number of ideas generated by the team (maybe 20 or 50), which will force the group to consider a much broader range of options than they otherwise would. 
  • The group could also commit to taking several options through to a final decision where the merits and drawbacks of each approach will be considered. This gives time for multiple opportunities to be fully explored, rather than rushing too quickly to only pursue one idea. 
  • The group could also be split into smaller sub-groups to champion different ideas, leading to a better final debate about the options.
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Broaden perspectives

To broaden the perspectives, you could: 

  • Widen the membership of the group to include stakeholders who will be affected by the ideas that you are developing. For instance, if you are trying to improve some aspect of community life, you would want to have a diverse range of community members involved. If you are creating a new customer product, it is helpful to include some of those customers in the thinking, as well as suppliers and other partners. In an education setting, some institutions now make an effort to include students in decision-making bodies alongside other leaders. 
  • If it is not possible to have other stakeholders in the room, there might still be a value in allocating different roles to individuals, asking them to approach the problem from that particular mindset – for example, a loyal customer or a concerned parent.
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Creating a feeling of safety and reducing fear of risk

  • The leader of a group has a vital role in making the group feel like a safe space where individuals can contribute ideas without fear. This might include making clear that they welcome a full range of ideas, or that they don’t want to reach the final answer too quickly.
  • Other tools, like generating ideas anonymously before sharing any of them could help here, so individuals feel that they will not be judged for what they come up with.
  • At other times, it might be helpful for individuals to have space without a leader or with a neutral external facilitator so they can share their ideas without worrying as much about perceptions of themselves.
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can start by asking learners to reflect on the opportunities of working in groups to innovate, and some of the risks.
  • This conversation can be expanded to think about how some of those risks can be mitigated against thinking about three broad areas: Avoiding reaching consensus too quickly; broadening perspectives; creating a safe, low-risk environment. 
  • Learners can contribute strategies and tools that can be used in each of these areas. This is a good place for consolidating learning across Creativity so far. 
  • It would then be good to give learners a practical exercise to apply these ideas by asking them to work as a group to come up with an innovation that would improve their experience of some aspect of school or college life – like the canteen, or changes to the library. 
  • Depending on the experience of learners, the teacher can structure this activity by asking them to reflect at different points on putting into practice some of the tools already shared. In a subsequent lesson, learners could repeat the exercise without the same teacher support to consolidate their understanding of the step. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be effectively reinforced whenever there is a chance for group innovation or idea generation. Learners should be reminded of some of the key tools before starting the exercise. At the end, they can then reflect as to whether they managed to use those strategies in practice. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed in combination:

  • Firstly, an assessment of whether learners can suggest tools that could be used to support group innovation, perhaps using the broad categories above as a structure.
  • Secondly, to see whether learners can practically apply those ideas to innovating effectively as a group. A reflection afterwards can help to identify whether learners were aware of the tools they were using.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work:

This step is relevant to everyone who is involved in generating high quality ideas.

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Reflect with the individual on the opportunities they have to innovate at work. 
  • Explain some of the risk to innovating in a group. A manager could support this explanation with any direct experience if they have. For example, a manager might describe a time when they have experienced ‘groupthink’ and describe its effect.
  • Model some of the strategies to manage these risks to show an individual how they can innovate effectively when working in a group. Using the examples in the above section as a guide, a manager might demonstrate how to avoid reaching consensus too quickly, broaden perspectives, and create a safe environment. 
  • Task an individual to shadow a group during an ideas generation session to identify how the risks of group innovation are managed. Here the individual might note what the group did to avoid falling into the traps or whether the group was affected by groupthink.

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: Whenever there is an opportunity to take part in a group innovation or idea generation.
  • Working with customers or clients: When it would be beneficial to work in a group to develop a new customer benefit, with a focus on avoiding the traps of group innovation.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation and questioning. For instance:

  • They can observe an individual during a team innovation session to see if they can apply the useful creative tools listed above to a group innovation exercise. A reflection afterwards can help to identify whether an individual was aware of the tools they were using.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:

  • Observing an individual during an assessed exercise. Part of this exercise could challenge the individual to create a plan for a team meeting where they and five others are tasked to innovate to solve a problem. This could require the individual to design exercises and a process which supports group innovation. 
  • Evidence of this skill step could be found in the individual including the useful creative tools as have been described in the section above.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

If working in a small group or taking part in a class or seminar, innovating with others can help us generate more ideas, combine multiple perspectives and refine our work through questioning. These factors can help us develop more diverse and original ideas and learn more effectively than innovating alone. However, we have to be careful make sure our ideas are challenged so that we can develop and avoid groupthink. We should feel confident sharing our ideas in a safe space for learning even if working with others who we are less familiar with.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Innovating in a group plays a key role in a range of job roles. Working creatively with others can help broaden perspectives so that we can identify with other stakeholders like clients, customers or colleagues. When generating new ideas, a diverse group of opinions can stimulate more original thinking. When making decisions in meetings, it’s important to challenge the consensus, consider a range of factors and not rush to a conclusion. Employers and employees work together to promote a culture in the workplace where individuals feel safe and confident contributing their ideas.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In our everyday lives we make be part of several different groups such as our family, friends, community and hobbies. We can use creativity to innovate in these groups and make plans together. Surrounding ourselves with others who hold different opinions and ideas helps us to broaden our own outlook, teaching us about others and ourselves. 

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Creativity, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!

  • Before working with others, consider how you can all best avoid some of the risks of innovating as group: Avoiding reaching consensus too quickly; broadening perspectives; creating a safe, low-risk environment. 
  • In a group, decide on something which you would like to improve. Work together to generate ideas and challenge each other to develop those thoughts before reaching an agreement.
  • If you are working to create something new for others, try to invite someone to represent that group and participate in the innovation plans.

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step