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7 ways to unleash your team's creative side

Expecting your team to be creative ‘on demand’ is a big ask and one that often inspires dread among associates invited to ‘brainstorm’.

This negativity is in part brought about by our own limiting beliefs in our creative abilities; the notion of creativity tends to inspire visions of painters, artists, musicians - producers of a traditional art forms. So where does this leave those of us in industries not typically renowned for their creative output – banking, transport, manufacturing, energy, retail, technology – when we’re asked to don our creative hats for problem solving?

This was the question posed in our webinar ‘How To Generate Ideas For Brainstorms’. everywoman’s associate trainer Sara Parsons was on hand to shed some light.

First up, it’s important to dispel the myth that creativity has to involve oil paints or musical instruments. Get your team thinking about creativity in a broader, everyday sense. Working out puzzles, throwing together a meal from a seemingly empty fridge, or finding a way to work when your usual form of transport lets you down are all situations that require us to ‘think outside the box’, so we must all have it within ourselves to generate creative solutions. Try thinking of examples where your team have demonstrated these kinds of behaviours.

When polled, only 3% of webinar delegates said their preference was to brainstorm alone, while 18% prefer group work. The vast majority – 59% - feel most at ease with a hybrid situation. If your team struggles with creative sessions, giving them time to think in advance of the session can help ensure the follow-up group work is a success.

Starbursting is a popular method for brainstorming and works particularly well for practical-thinkers who tend to prefer more structured brainstorms to a free-flow of ideas. Each point of the star relates to a question: how, why, who, what, where, when? Begin by posing your problem (for example, ‘We need to increase sales by 20% next year’) and take each point in turn, really examining all of the ‘how’ questions before moving on to the ‘why’. For example: ‘How have we done this year?’; ‘How can we ensure management buy into our strategy?’; ‘How do customers perceive us at the moment?’ Giving your team the problem and the starburst model beforehand is an option. If you’ve a large group, giving smaller groups one question each to focus on can help keep the session organised.

This is one of Sara’s favourite methods of brainstorming. The facilitator can either prepare in advance five completely random words (Sara’s examples were: table, pencil, banana, slide, flower) or the group can come up with these together at the start of the session. Next, the problem the brainstorm is aiming to solve is posed (for example, ‘How do we encourage young graduates into our business?). Then each random word is put forward in turn as a trigger point for ideas. ‘Table’ might inspire an idea around ‘desks’ (‘What marketing techniques can be employed to get directly to students in their daily environment?); ‘pencil’ might pose the question of where students look for jobs they’ll write applications for. Sara maintains that any random word will always work for generating some sort of idea, the best often emerging from the most arbitrary connection.

Another fun brainstorm technique involves creating a wall space with each letter of the alphabet displayed. Starting with ‘A’, your brainstormers shout out any words that spring to mind when you pose the problem you’re trying to solve. As the facilitator, don’t move on to the next letter until the current letter has been exhausted – often the wackier words that come at the end can be the best trigger points for ideas. Dividing your team into groups for sets of letters or even adding a target number of words against a time limit can add a competitive element to create a good energy.

Adding an element of role-play into your discussions can throw up ideas that wouldn’t necessarily come from delegates thinking purely from their own perspectives. Be clear about the subject of your brainstorm and then ask your team to look at the problem from the point of view of another. So, there have been a surge in employees requesting flexi-time, but senior management maintain that only regular office hours will work for production reasons: What would Beyoncé do? What would President Obama do? What would a doctor or scientist do? What would Santa or Superman do? What would your most loyal customer do? What about a customer you’ve recently lost? 

Reverse brainstorming can be an effective technique for clearing a path to a solution to a complicated problem. If your problem is that your kitchen’s takeaway service is getting poor feedback from customers, instead of asking ‘How can we ensure our pizzas stay hot all the way to the customer?’, ask ‘How will we keep our pizzas cold?’. If you have an employee retention issue, rather than ask ‘How can we keep staff longer?’ wonder, ‘What will guarantee we lose more of our talent?’ Looking at how the worst can happen can deepen your team’s understanding of the problem and shine a light on an obvious solution.

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Workbook: Running Brainstorms (log-in required) complete online I download PDF

This popular addition to the everywomanNetwork will give you more practical tools for ensuring your idea-sessions go off with a bang.