Think, bright colours, whiteboards scattered through the office, corporate retreats for team-building.  These are just a few of the ways organizations have tried to encourage workplace creativity among employees. But what we’ve found is that without employee engagement, efforts at stimulating innovative thinking often fail.

So what factors go into the kind of engagement that allows creativity to flourish?

Trust risk-taking

There must be a level of trust among employees that risk-taking is encouraged. Workplace creativity comes from a) thinking in different ways; b) sharing those ideas; c) implementing the discoveries. And those discoveries could be something big, they might be new sales techniques, a new type of marketing campaign or indeed new HR policies.

Leadership needs to embrace this, too. Good leadership, whether it’s at a round-table brainstorming session or in day-to-day interaction, communicates that it’s safe to try new things. As Google discovered, trust within teams is one of the most powerful signifiers of success.

Collaborative tools and spaces

Engagement also needs to give employees tools – the tools they want to work with. They’re the same tools that will allow them to collaborate best and collaborate across organizations so ideas don’t languish in silos. We need to provide the technological tools to make the interchange of ideas quick and easy. A combination of virtual and physical meetings are imperative to get the juices flowing depending on the circumstances.

Decision-making authority

Engagement that drives creativity also means empowering workers to make decisions on matters that affect them the most. If employees feel like new ideas will actually be implemented – and implemented by themselves – they are more motivated to contribute. By pushing decision-making down the line, we create a whole organization of leaders invested in improvement.

With the right corporate culture for creative thinking, there are specific exercises you can use. Here are four I’ve seen that work:

1. Unstructured, open learning time

This is a model derived from early childhood development that has made its way into the workplace – witness Google’s 20% policy, where employees can spend 20% of their working hours on side projects. Set aside employee time when any kind of explorative learning is encouraged.

2. Organized play

You don’t need to wait for the annual retreat to set up playtime. Create problem-solving games or scenarios. You could also put forth a real-life situation affecting your work – a difficult client or technology shortfall. Shake up the dynamics with teams comprised of members of different departments – don’t pitch the marketing team against the IT team. You want diverse points of view to encourage lateral thinking and foster office-wide “team-ness.”

3. Job swap

Coordinate a day when employees step into the shoes of a colleague in a different department. Give people an opportunity to see workplace challenges from an unfamiliar point of view. Different places mean different thinking.

4. Dreamtime session

Create teams and ask employees for their “what-ifs.” Another question to ask: “If you could wave a magic wand, what would ____ look like?” Remind them there are no bad ideas, and allow no criticism. It can still be helpful to let people submit written responses. In these instances, anonymity helps introverts get a chance to participate and no one need to fear feeling embarrassed.

Employee engagement fosters creativity and encouraging creativity boosts employee engagement. If you’re wondering why innovation has dried up in your organization, take a look at your engagement situation. And then maybe try one of these ideas.

  • About the Author
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Hi, I’m Scott King. I’m a collaboration expert. I’m an engineer and endurance athlete, and co-founder of ReadyTalk, a Cloud Communications Provider that helps companies have more effective meetings and deliver high impact webinars. I want to learn something from every situation, push myself to personal bests, give back in meaningful ways – and have fun doing it.
I explore ways to enhance how we exchange ideas. To bring design, technology, organizational structure and leadership techniques together to make workplaces more creative and productive.
I’m really excited about the “Future of Work,” specifically: how worklife integration is evolving; how to increase productivity by encouraging people to choose the places and tools that let them work best; and how to improve organizational communications so creativity flourishes, and people feel empowered.