How to Challenge your Team to Think Creatively

BY Kathy Crosett
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There’s no better time to challenge your team to think creatively than the start of a new calendar year. You may be facing the challenge of designing a new product or rolling out a new service that increases sales by 20% by year-​end. How are you going to accomplish this? You might want to start by holding the right kind of team meetings. You might also want to clean up your communication skills.

If you want to hone your skills as a creative leader, keep the advice of Dr. Nido R. Qubein in mind. He states, “Creative leaders expect excellence in those around them, and they make those expectations known. They invite people to speak up, and they listen and respond to those who do.” 

Successful Team Meetings

When you call your team together, have a specific agenda or goal in mind. Ideation sessions can quickly go off the rails as people veer onto their favorite topics. Keep the discussion focused by planning in advance. If your new software-​as-​a-​service (SAAS) targets new parents who want to track the development of their newborns, ask your team members to each submit five features the service should have. 

Karin Hurt and David Dye, at Let’s Grow Leaders, remind managers not to do all of the talking. Ask your team members ‘provocative’ questions. For example, you might ask meeting attendees in advance to defend their suggested features by explaining how they envision new parents will use them.

Before your meeting ends, verify that the participants understand what you’ve asked them to do. Have them reiterate what they think they’re supposed to do next and correct any misunderstanding.

Your Communication Style

As Qubein notes, managers need to listen to team members who answer the call for input. However, your call for assistance sometimes gets lost in translation. Don’t fall into the habit of using the cliched phrases maligned by Judith Humphrey in her recent Fast Company article.

For example, leaders often use the ‘we need to manage expectations’ phrase. This phrase echoes throughout cubicles when a business is in trouble. Maybe you’ve used these words when a team member suggests a creative solution that will cost too much.

If you want that team member to stay motivated and engaged, give them an answer with specific information that will lead them to take action. Tell them that since sales are down 30%, you don’t have the cash flow to front the investment in an expensive resource. Ask them to find a solution that will cost no more than what you are willing to spend and give them a specific dollar amount. 

Similarly, don’t ask your people to think 'outside the box.' They aren’t coming to the table with the same understanding of a goal as you are. Take the time to explain the framework. This advance planning and awareness on your part will help team members think creatively.