In today’s innovation-driven economy, creativity is critical for any business that wants to stay afloat and differentiate itself from the pack. But the pressures of day-to-day office life too easily eclipse employees’ ability to find the time, space, or energy to think in innovative ways. How to work around this impasse? Prioritize your team’s creativity by making the following adjustments to the workspace and team culture.
1. Design the Workspace to Promote Creativity
The cubicle drones so perfectly captured in Dilbert demonstrate the real-world manner in which stale and spiritless work environments suck any sense of creativity out of the office and its inhabitants. In contrast, an engaging and well-designed workspace can help foster creative thinking.
Specifically, a well-lit, well ventilated, comfortable, and visually appealing work environment can do wonders for a team’s creative output, while open floor plans and “open door” policies can promote collaborative thinking. Even something as simple as providing employees with journals is an easy brain hack that allows people to record concepts as they come to them so that ideas don’t get lost to busy schedules. Companies like Google, Facebook, and LEGO take things a step further by providing their employees with room to play—think writeable walls, pool tables, indoor gardens, and Google’s legendary firefighter’s pole. Follow their lead to design a workplace atmosphere that gives employees the space to flex their brains (and, by extension, their creativity).
2. Solicit Diverse Opinions
Too often, creativity gets hampered by the entrepreneurial version of celebrity worship, in which the person who started the company is seen as the sole purveyor of new ideas. In reality, every single member of a team, from the administrative assistant to the CFO, should be seen as a source for new ideas and innovative solutions to problems. When soliciting feedback on projects, be sure to include anyone who might have a perspective on the issue.
In the same vein, it’s important to hire for diversity in all of its aspects—race, gender, areas of expertise, and so on. This will help ensure that the team isn’t engaging in parochial thinking resulting from too many people of the same persuasion sitting at the brainstorming table.
3. Cut Down on Red Tape
This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever held a job: Bureaucracy is one of the biggest obstacles to creativity around. Take the time to evaluate the company’s systems and procedures, and eliminate any processes that aren’t absolutely necessary. By removing barriers to having new ideas be seen and heard, you’ll empower employees to speak up.
Of course, this also requires that the leaders within a company make themselves accessible to all levels of employees and work to convey to employees that their ideas are perceived as valuable. The less a company hinders the sharing of ideas, the more likely it is for ideas to be shared.
4. Promote Professional Development
It’s a lot harder to think in innovative ways if you never learn anything new. Counteract this problem by ensuring that employees have ample access to professional development opportunities (think classes, conferences, and so on) as well as room for advancement within the company. Challenging employees to continually pursue their interests, gain new knowledge, and expose themselves to different perspectives will help keep everyone’s mind sharp.
5. Encourage Self-Care
The entrepreneurial world often encourages an unhealthy relationship to work—as in, people are expected to work nonstop. But constantly living on the edge of burn out is hardly a recipe for innovative thinking. Ask employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, allow for flexible scheduling, make sure that everyone is actually taking a lunch break, and encourage employees to use vacation days. In particular, be sure to emphasize the importance of sleep—studies consistently find that sleep deprivation causes creativity to go down the tubes. Press employees to get serious about sleep by investing in quality mattresses, practicing good sleep habits, and learning how to cope with insomnia.
Finally, remember to practice what you preach—self-care is just as important for the team’s leader as it is for everyone else, and you’ll do your employees a favor by validating healthy habits.
What all of this boils down to is that too much rigidity or structure can ultimately be bad for business. While it might be uncomfortable at first to tell employees to go play ping pong instead of poring over code, you’re likely to find that by encouraging team members to do less, they’ll ultimately accomplish more in the form of new and innovative ideas.