How Can I Boost My Team’s Creativity?

Five powerful ways you can foster genuine innovation

Do you wish your team could be more creative?

Well, what kind of question is that?! Of course you do!

Every leader understands how important it is for their teams to generate fresh, effective ideas.

And it’s not just about innovation, either. Creative teams are also happier at work.

According to Gallup, people who say their companies support creativity tend to have higher levels of personal and organization performance. And they’re less likely to say they’re job hunting.

But you can’t just tell your people to “be more creative.”

As a leader, it’s your job to build an environment where creativity can thrive. If you want to learn how, keep reading. I’ve got five ways you can foster genuine innovation – both for you and for your team.

Prioritize inspiration.

Observing patterns and making connections is the very heart of creative work.

To do that, you’ve got to surround yourself with inspiration.

For me, that means reading and learning what other people are doing. What’s working in my industry? What’s working in other industries? How could I apply the same basic idea in my business?

Follow what fascinates you – and encourage your team to do the same – and you will find sources of new ideas everywhere. 

In his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs talked about his surprising source of inspiration.

Back in 1972, he was captivated by the lettering on posters around Reed College, where he had recently dropped out. He decided to audit a calligraphy class where he soaked up the history and artistry of typography.

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life,” Jobs said. It didn’t even count as credit toward a degree. “But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”

Hopefully you won’t have to wait a whole decade to apply your inspiration!

But the big idea is the same: be curious about the world around you. Follow what fascinates you. When you do, you’ll create connections in your business that other people would never make.

Embrace risk

Recently, I had a fantastic conversation with Gayle Troberman, the CMO of iHeartMedia. She is an extraordinary marketer and thinker.

She points out something about creativity that a lot of people miss. We often think creativity is just having that big, original idea. But that’s not the whole picture, according to Gayle.

“Creativity and risk-taking and conviction are so intertwined,” she says.

Do you have the courage to back an idea so it can find the momentum and buy-in it needs to succeed? More importantly, do you allow your team to take those risks too?

The numbers say most leaders don’t. According to that same Gallup survey I mentioned earlier, just 8% of employees “strongly agreed” that they could take risks at work that could lead to important new products, services, or solutions.

We can’t expect our teams to be creative and then not give them space to take risks. 

In Gayle’s words, we’ve got to be okay with “pushing against the norms, breaking rules, doing things that make you uncomfortable.”

That’s tough to do as a leader.

But if you don’t show your team you’re okay with those risks, you’ll never find your organization’s full creative potential.

Suspend judgment

Like so many things in leadership, building a creative team starts with YOUR mindset.

When you lead team creative sessions, you have to suspend judgment.

Hear all the ideas on your team, and resist the urge to judge them early in the process. 

When you jump in and say things like, “Oh, we’ve tried that before,” or “There’s no budget for that,” you’ll squash all the creativity in the room.

Instead, be patient. Let the ideas flow and develop. See which ones create excitement and alignment.

That’s how you create an environment where everyone feels free and safe to offer up ideas.

It takes patience and discipline, but you’ll be surprised by how many good ideas you get – and who brings them to you.

Build a culture of ideas

One of the most creative people I know is Jesse Cole, the owner of the Savannah Bananas baseball team. I’ve interviewed him twice on How Leaders Lead, because he is so full of energy and insight. (You can listen to the most recent episode here and catch his first appearance here.)

The Savannah Bananas are just a small coastal league team – but they sell out every game and have a waitlist in the thousands. And they do it by making baseball fun. We’re talking pitchers on stilts, dancing grandmas, and baseball bats that are literally on fire.

Where do all those wild ideas come from?

They come from the culture Jesse has built. Every Monday, he gets the staff together for their “OTT” Meeting – that’s Over the Top ideas. They throw out the zaniest new ways to grab attention and entertain fans.

With that meeting, Jesse creates the expectation that his team should bring creative energy week in and week out.

And he models it himself. Every day, without fail, he writes down ten ideas in a special notebook.

Creativity isn’t always a lighting strike of inspiration. Create process and discipline to bring ideas to the surface – both for yourself and your team.

Create margin.

The doorway to creativity comes when you carve out time to reflect and meditate.

But that’s easier said than done.

The real-world work of projects and emails always feels more pressing than a blue-sky creative session.

But that unstructured time to ideate is perhaps your most important work as a leader. It’s how you discover new connections. It’s how you lead with vision. And it’s how you develop yourself.

If you lose your creativity and imagination, you also lose your ability to grow beyond your skills.

That goes for your team, too. Set the expectation that team members need to carve out that time for reflection and ideation. And then ensure they have the margin they need to actually take it.

An organization that doesn’t prioritize creativity may skate by for a while. But eventually, their team energy levels sputter out. Big ideas get missed. And they lose their competitive edge in the marketplace.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Your team is looking to you for the space and freedom they need to do creative work.

With intention – and hopefully, with the help of what you’ve learned here – you can create the example, expectation, and environment that generate game-changing ideas.

December 13, 2022