How to keep your team creative

As a writer and editor, I count myself among the creative types. But being creative requires a certain mindset, and the busier I get, the harder it is to find creative energy. Because I also lead a team of writers and content creators, it’s doubly difficult — and doubly important — that I find ways to carve out time for creativity.

So for me, comedian John Cleese’s theory about creativity is particularly compelling. He says we need to create a tortoise shell for our creative mind — a protective time and space that allows our subconscious to take over. Neuroscience affirms his theory: our best ideas come when the mind is safe to roam free.

So how do you create conditions that are conducive to creativity in the workplace — which, at least in my experience, doesn’t usually look like this creative oasis?

Set aside time to let minds roam. Creativity thrives in the subconscious, but it requires conscious effort. Schedule 15 or 30 minutes a week for your team to do a quick creative writing exercise (writing haikus and twitter bios are among my favorites), or send a Friday afternoon brainteaser to the team. Such exercises recharge your team’s creativity and remind everyone that setting aside time to think outside the box is important.

Build your team for collaboration. Being creative involves some risk taking. You need to feel safe putting a crazy idea out there. That’s a lot easier when you know and trust the people around you. So create ways for your team to get to know each other as people; schedule a volunteer day at a local charity or take an afternoon bowling excursion. The more comfortable they are with each other, the easier it will be for them to share ideas and to support each other in executing on those ideas.

Speaking of ideas, encourage them all — good, bad, weird or ugly. Because creativity is an iterative process, brainstorming is one activity where more actually is more. So encourage free-form thinking and welcome wild ideas in your collaborative processes. Push your team to disagree with you, to challenge assumptions and to find different ways of doing things. Don’t criticize bizarre ideas; build from them. And make sure everyone on your team does the same.

You might not be able to build a zen garden in the parking lot or a calming waterfall in your lobby, but you can build a creative culture within your team. It just takes a little time and space, a little planning and a lot of open mindedness.