The pursuit of creativity has become one of the most universal, yet confounding, challenges for organizations. The trait exists, at some level, within every member of a team, but the tricks to freeing it can be elusive.
The key to unlocking it is trust.
We are more likely to float new ideas when we know our bosses might actually do something with them. We are more likely to contribute to brainstorming sessions when we feel free to make mistakes. We are better problem-solvers when we collaborate, rather than compete, with our coworkers.
Here are five ways to foster trust, and in turn creativity, within your organization.
Establish a safe environment.
Creativity flows from a happy workplace. A positive mood affords greater flexibility in thinking and a widened perspective. We become more willing to explore alternatives. Allow time for the testing of ideas, to see what works and what can be improved. Employees should feel not only free but encouraged to offer risky ideas. There are no wrong answers. It’s all part of the innovative process. And flexible work schedules and breaks can do wonders for freeing the mind. A rested employee is a creative employee.
To encourage employees to think more creatively, offer an incentive program for new ideas. The program can take any form, but it should be structured and transparent. Maybe set a goal for every employee to submit one idea a week, or offer bounties for every successfully implemented suggestion. The rewards can be tangible, such as gift cards, or they can be symbolic, such as awards for the most creative employee of the month.
Just as importantly, the ideas have to be considered seriously. Employees won’t devote much effort if they sense their comments will disappear into the ether. Employees can offer suggestions, but management must do its part to listen and act upon the ideas when appropriate.
Give them a reason to care.
Employees need to feel invested in a company to truly give of their creative energies. Encouraging investment begins with transparency, keeping the team apprised of changes and the ultimate goals. Invite frank comments in staff-wide meetings. If employees are involved early in new initiatives, they have more incentive to see them through. Enthusiasm is contagious. And stress accountability, not just to management, but to each other. Team-building retreats can build trust and a deeper connection to the company.
We are more likely to think creatively when we feel trusted by our superiors. So try to resist micro-management and, whenever possible, give team members a sense of autonomy. It’s all about process. Setting goals for employees is fine – and encouraged – but allowing them to find their own way to the goal is empowering. “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do,” Steve Jobs famously said. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” If the end goal is a better mousetrap, allow employees to figure out for themselves how to build it.
Aim for collaboration over competition. Incentives are great, but winners shouldn’t come at the expense of others on the team. Rivalries can squelch innovation, encouraging employees to keep their ideas to themselves for fear of losing credit. Beyond the individual rewards, offer prizes for team creativity or the best examples of cooperation, which can be a challenge in its own right. Cohesion builds trust, the ultimate driver of creativity.