Nurturing Team Creativity. A Virtual not Distant Bitesize.

Before I start my musings on nurturing team creativity, I’d like to define what I mean by creativity. I’m not referring to “artistry” – or the creative industries. I’m referring to the ability to come up with new solutions to problems, to change the way in which we do things, to improve our processes… I’m talking about using our imagination to see things that are not already there.

Creativity is essential to be able to adapt to change – as our context or our environment changes, we need to reinvent how we work, we can’t always continue operating in ways that worked a month ago, or even decades ago.

There is plenty of advice there about nurturing individual creativity: take breaks; carry a note-taking device or book so that you can capture your ideas; move away from the problem and then come back to it; take a different point of view etc etc

But what can we do to nurture team creativity?

More specifically, what can we do to nurture team creativity when we rarely share the same physical space?

Here are some thoughts – and as always, they will be more thoughts and questions rather than tips and tricks.

Virtual Foolery

How comfortable are people making fools out of themselves in front of others?

Team creativity involves sharing of thoughts and opinions – but if we’re scared of voicing something for fear of looking like a virtual clown, how are we even going to know if our idea is worth considering? And it’s important to be able to voice our opinion – not just because others can build on it, question it, etc but also, because in voicing something, we start to work through it ourselves.

This fear of looking ridiculous can actually be amplified in virtual teams. (And this is just a theory from my end, I have no research to back it up, maybe you do?)

Consider that most of the times our thoughts get shared in writing and are captured on a platform or an email. Some of our meetings are recorded for those who can’t make it to watch. If I’m worried that my “dumb thoughts” are going to be there for posterity, I’ll keep them to myself.

There is no simple answer for this – we just need to be aware of the kind of climate we’re creating. What do we do when we think someone’s idea is completely out of line? How will this affect future behaviour?

How many one-one conversations can we have so that those who are not comfortable with sharing their process with the whole group, still have someone to bounce ideas off?

Building on Others' Ideas

How do we build on people’s ideas? Have we got a set way for doing this?

Once more, is our asynchronous communication set up in a way that we can easily do this? And if we do, what’s our team rhythm? Is it a “Yes and…” kind of mindset, or are we always knocking ideas on the head before we explore them?

How do we capture ideas?

How do we capture thoughts that might be ahead of their time because they’re so creative? Someone might come up with a development that we can’t implement yet, because we’re not ready as a team, because our work is not there yet – how are we storing this to be revisited later?

And do we have a process to revisit new proposals, new ideas, thoughts we had months ago?

Why We Need to Get It Wrong

And finally, but probably the most important of the three, a reminder that creativity involves getting things wrong. In implementing new ideas, procedures, even new projects and products, we will get things wrong.

What happens when we make mistakes? How does the team react?

And as we can’t work in isolation, how are mistakes and failures as part of innovation, seen in the organisation?

And most important of all, how do we react when we make mistakes ourselves?

You can listen to the audio version of this Bitesize in this episode of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, around 04.50 mins.