The creativity at work paradox: sit in a stuffy, fluorescent-lit room listening to other people talk for 8-9 hours, all whilst having world-beating ideas to help move your company forward. Yeah, sure.
Despite working longer, UK professionals already lag behind their German neighbours in the productivity stakes. And, one of the worst culprits when it comes to getting the least from employees’ creativity can be the humble brainstorming meeting – so here we investigate some practical workarounds for this most maligned of corporate conventions.
If you read our recent article on creativity in the workplace, you’ll know that creative people have an almost universal tendency to daydream – which is certainly no bad thing. Far from being ‘lazy’ or a waste of time, daydreaming actually represents someone doing their job and doing it well – but how can this energy be harnessed?
How can we take a working culture that could almost be designed to dehumanise people and stifle creativity and turn it on its head to do the opposite? Most importantly, how can we do it for free?
Well first, let’s look at a few basic tips that you can apply to almost any meeting. After that, we’ll look at some meeting templates designed to promote creative thinking in the workplace.
Planning a Successful Creative Meeting for Your Team
- Rule number one is to lead by example or not at all. If you can’t be bothered, then how can you expect anyone else to be? Turn up on time and ready to go – rather than ten minutes late and yawning because you’ve been ‘busy’. So has everyone else. Even better, ensure that the meeting is really necessary in the first place.
- Always give meetings an end time as well as a start time, and again, stick to it. This helps to ensure that people don’t waffle on unnecessarily (every office has at least one) and that you know what you have to work with. Before the end of the meeting, ensure that everyone goes away understanding a stated goal and the exact nature of any deliverables they need to produce.
- Take breaks. Every 30-45 minutes. This is not optional. How is needing the toilet/a cigarette/some fresh air supposed to inspire more creative ideas?
- Mix things up. If you’ve settled into a routine of sitting in the same seats at every meeting, then have a change-around. Take away the table, meet standing up, make everyone wear pirate hats and false beards … the list of things you can do to keep people on their toes is endless!
- Prompt quieter members of staff to have their say – don’t let the loudest voices dominate. Introverts are greatly undervalued in many workplaces. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean that someone doesn’t have any good ideas; often they’re just shy and wary of being shouted down.
- Remember to have FUN! Seriously, if staff can’t have a laugh with you then you’re doing it wrong. In the right quantities, humour helps to breed creativity like nothing else.
1. Do things upside-down, think outside of the box!
Not literally – you’d pass out – but one fun way to help people think ‘outside the box’ (ouch) is to see who can come up with the craziest solution to the problem you’re trying to solve. Sit round and hammer them out – secret bases inside hollowed out mountains, armies of trained lizards, jetpacks … you get the gist.
Although it’s (extremely) unlikely that any of the ideas produced during this session will ever see the harsh light of reality, what the exercise will do is allow you to think about the problem more laterally – all whilst having a bit of fun. You’ll be surprised how much easier it can be to see a workable solution to a problem after you’ve examined it in this way.
Another way to play this meeting is to turn it on its head and invert the problem. Instead of trying to increase sales, why not consider how you could decrease them? Instead of finding more experts in an area, why not think about how you could drive them all away? This should have much the same effect – because it forces you to think about facets of a problem that you may not have considered otherwise.
2. Getting creative meeting inspiration is a walk in the park!
So, spring is in full bloom, the sun is shining outside for the first time in about three months, and there’s a lovely cool breeze in the air. You, however, are sat at a table in a grey conference room, feeling miserable because you’d rather be outside. Pro-tip: that’s not called being lazy, it’s called being human.
In that case, why not take the meeting outside you might ask? A group of people walking through the park and having a natural conversation sounds a lot like a recipe for creativity doesn’t it? So why not give it a go? You could even turn it into a mini-barbeque!
3. Creative Meetings for Introverts
There’s almost certainly at least one introvert in your office. You may not have noticed them (probably because they’re so quiet), but if someone has a hard time coming out of their shell, how can you help them to put their thoughts forward? After all, they’re likely to see life in a different way; meaning that their ideas could potentially hold a lot of value.
Well, one way to help is to try holding a meeting in a virtual environment. We’re not talking about donning full VR headsets and partying like it’s 1985 (although that could be fun), but using software like Google Hangouts or Teamviewer to have a meeting can make a refreshing change from the norm – and you might be surprised at the difference in group dynamics that it engenders.
4. The writing’s on the wall
This idea is another one that’s great for helping out introverts, whilst at the same time giving people plenty of time to think and collaborate. What you do is to set up some kind of bulletin board where everyone will see it, and use it to leave messages to each other. It could be a white board, pin board, Trello board (we love Trello), a can of spray paint and a brick wall – the medium doesn’t matter. What does matter is that people write messages on it for a set period of time, brainstorming a solution to a problem. A week works quite well.
When the time runs out, it’s time to meet to discuss what’s on the board. You could mix this with many of the other ideas in this list if you really want to supercharge the creative process (and maybe get a bit of a tan in the process).
5. Give Something Back: Take the meeting outside the office!
Ok, so this one isn’t free, and you may not be able to implement it unless you’re a senior manager with budgetary responsibilities, but it’s a good idea nonetheless. Basically the plan is to turn a meeting into a company day out – to a nice conferencing suite, scenic location, or anywhere else of your choosing.
Whoa, where are you going? Yes; we know it’s not particularly cheap – and the logistics could be difficult – but think of what you could get from it. If you choose the right location, it’s likely that people are going to be thankful for you taking them there – which will make them happier. Happier = more productive = more profitable and more good ideas. And, you know … it’s nice to be happy.
Besides which, the change of scenery will benefit everyone’s jaded minds, and they might come up with some good ideas during your corporate brainstorm. If nothing else, it’ll show that you thought of them and that you value their opinion.
Feeling creative yet?
We hope so! Go forth and create. Armed with these techniques, you and your team should produce ideas like never before. Maybe you’ll even come up with ideas for new types of meeting – let us know if you do!