What's Killing Your Team's Creativity?

December 5, 2017

Consistent innovation is the bread and butter of a business. Especially those businesses that exist to push society forward, to lead evolution and to invent tomorrow.

Team brainstorming and being creative with post-its

Consistent innovation is the bread and butter of a business. Especially those businesses that exist to push society forward, to lead evolution and to invent tomorrow.

While innovation plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of a company, it requires time, which in most businesses is a scarce resource. Productivity matters and it’s common for teams to be so busy producing, they can’t spare time to invent new ideas. Managers need to make sure a team’s focus on productivity doesn’t kill their drive to innovate.

To avoid this trap, which signs should companies be looking for? What can managers do to create space for creativity? In this blog post, we discuss some things that kill creativity and share ideas on how to prevent them from affecting your team.

1. Are you giving your team enough autonomy?

Giving your team freedom to explore options and the autonomy to make decisions doesn’t necessitate chaos. This not only frees up a manager’s time, it limits the damage that micro-managing can have on people and projects: distrust is a huge drain on both productivity and creativity.

By defining clear goals and then letting your team get on with things, you can empower people to use their expertise, to explore ideas and concepts their own way and to use their creativity to achieve agreed results.

2. Can everyone see the big picture?

In his book ‘Un-kill Creativity: How Corporate America Can Out-Innovate Startups’, Yorom Solomon, a recognised author on creativity and company culture, suggests that when employees move from startups to big corporates they experience a dampening of their ability to create. Solomon speculates that one of the reasons for this is that employees stop seeing the big picture. In bigger companies and projects, everything is broken into silos and as a consequence, most employees don’t understand how their work fits into the wider vista.

Sharing the bigger picture – the ultimate goal or mission – with employees can give a positive boost to creativity. It teaches people that they are part of what makes a dream a reality and that the effort they contribute is valuable. This inspires creativity, setting the scene for innovation with individuals bringing new ideas to the table. Working together, they share expertise that was previously inaccessible and locked away in separate silos.

3. How do you treat new ideas?

Internal barriers to new ideas are often the reason behind creative blocks. If every time an employee tries to present an idea, they end up on the uncomfortable end of a strict, judgmental process, they’ll feel discouraged. Meeting ‘new’ thinking with skepticism, silence or false praise will alienate employees and increase feelings of resentment. If someone’s energy is spent fighting bureaucracy or they feel ignored, they will likely just stop sharing.

Managers can make it clear that innovation matters by helping employees to feel free to take risks creatively. Creating a safe space – the drawing board exists for a reason! – and setting up processes that capture ideas constructively means people will be happier sharing. Providing regular, constructive feedback is vital too. Encouraging creativity within a team (even if an idea is not realistic at the present time) sets up an environment that fosters future innovation.

4. Do you ensure the right resources are to hand?

The availability of resources can have a significant impact on innovation. When people don’t have the right resources to do their job well, most of their energy is spent finding work-arounds while important work falls by the wayside. If the resources are there, but aren’t accessible, the same thing happens. Managers who put in place the right tools – and ensure they are easily accessible – lay solid foundations for their team to work from; not only does everyone have the right equipment for the job, which negates the frustration of work-arounds, they also feel supported which encourages their best performance.

A key resource that’s important to make available, perhaps the most important of all, is time. When managers establish deadlines that are too tight, creativity is set aside to make room for productivity; there’s little to no time left for exploring different concepts and ideas because faster results are what’s wanted. Giving your team time to think means you’ve created positive conditions for creativity to flow and you are most likely to get the best results.

5. Are you matching the right person to the right task?

This can be tricky, but it’s crucial in increasing motivation. Available employees are regularly matched with the most urgent position, project or task and the most competent people tend to be overworked. This often causes them to feel unsatisfied and dispassionate about what they are doing. Although this method sometimes gets results that appear satisfactory, it doesn’t work in the long term, especially if the employee feels overwhelmed by an additional workload or by dealing with something outside of their usual area of expertise. Equally, if they find a task boring and unrewarding, they’ll lose interest and withdraw their energy.

Take time to get to know your team – their goals, strengths and weaknesses – and make the best match. You can do this by organising team-building days, making use of the many different techniques out there that help build bonds in a work environment. Training people and increasing their skill sets will also help a team feel stronger and more capable of handling different tasks.

6. Are you creating teams that are simply productive or truly innovative?

The way teams are built can have a great and not-so-great impact on creativity. When a group of same-minded people are in a team, they may make fast decisions (thanks to a group consensus being so easy to attain) but that their solutions can lack creativity.

Teams with diverse backgrounds, expertise and thinking styles bring innovation to the table naturally since they often have to think outside the box to reach consensus. People work differently around different people. Putting a team together that works well is great but crafting a superstar line-up that boosts each individual’s creativity achieves amazing results!

Again, this requires getting to know who is in your team and watching the way they work together. Giving people specific tasks or projects and splitting the team into groups to work can help identify where the potential for an inspirational relationship exists.

Practices that undermine creativity at work are common and although they are mostly unintentional, they cause problems that are damaging if left unsolved. At the end of the day, boosting the motivation of employees to innovate (the people who are relied upon to deliver the ultimate results) should be part of a business’ strategy.

Creativity isn’t just a nice-to-have: to build a business that grows from success to success, leaders need to respect innovation and help it thrive.

To learn more about how we inspire our teams, check out what it's like to work at CRITICAL Software by visiting the careers section of our website.