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How to Encourage Innovative Thinking at Work: Tips for Team Leaders

Updated on January 10, 2017
SMD2012 profile image

Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

What kind of team leader do you want to be? Someone who encourages creativity and innovation? Or do you want to be just another run-of-the-mill manager who uses intimidation to keep staff in line?

Top-notch managers inspire staff to generate creative ideas.

Retreats, brainstorming sessions and strategic planning meetings are some of the most common tools that managers use to generate new ideas and move their organizations forward. But is there such as thing as too much of a good thing? Is the expectation that staff continuously come up with creative ideas in tightly controlled planning sessions realistic?

Here are some tips for managers who want to help their staff generate creative ideas and help their organizations stay strong and competitive in the marketplace.

Putting too much pressure on you staff can stifle creativity.
Putting too much pressure on you staff can stifle creativity.

Managers must keep employees happy and energized so that they can continue to come up with creative solutions to daily challenges. Learn how to bring out the very best in your employees.

1. Don’t micromanage your staff. Micromanaging your staff kills creativity and discourages them from taking smart risks. If someone has been tasked with finding a solution to a problem, give that staff member the space and time to fully flesh out an idea. For example, if someone is working on a 10-step process to improve customer satisfaction, let them work through those ten steps independently until they’ve developed a plan.

If workers feel that they need to check in with their manager every step of the way, they may worry that their idea will get shot down before they’ve had a chance to finish it. They may end up presenting ideas they feel are more likely to be accepted (a recipe for the status quo) rather than ideas that are new and surprising (maybe even a little oddball at first glance).

Instead of peering over their shoulders while they work, let staff know that they are free to seek out your advice and input when needed,. Assure them that you have faith they will come up with a great solution to the problem.

Which of these leaders of the past would you chose as your mentor?

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2. Don’t rely on the experts to have all the answers. The problem with thinking that the experts are the only ones who can solve a problem is that it dismisses the insight that on-the-ground workers have into how their job is actually preformed. The Kaizen method of continuous quality improvement values the knowledge of all staff members, from people on the factory floor to mid-level managers and CEOs.

3. Stop asking for new ideas and start asking the right questions. Instead of demanding new ideas and “fresh thinking," define challenges more clearly. Ask sharper questions and your staff will find sharper solutions.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

— Steve Jobs

4. Provide meaningful prompts and questions. Instead of handing your employees a vague goal or ambiguous challenge, provide them with a well-defined goal. Phrase these questions and directions using concrete action words rather than passive, abstract language.

For example, telling staff to “Come up with ideas on how to save the company money” is not as effective as challenging staff to create a plan that reduces office expenses by 10% so that everyone can get a bigger bonus at the end of the year.

5. Don’t accuse your staff of holding back. Suggesting that your staff are holding back or not giving you their best thinking is not a useful motivational tool. Unless you can read their minds (you can’t), you have no way of knowing what your staff are really thinking. Telling them that you don’t believe they're giving you their all will only put them on the defensive. And when people are put on the defensive, their mental energy is wasted on defending their reputation. Their mental energy should be focused on the problem at hand.

Good leaders make people feel like they are walking alongside you, not behind you or in front of you.
Good leaders make people feel like they are walking alongside you, not behind you or in front of you.

6. Let people work on their own, too. Don’t assume that the best ideas can only be teased out of your staff during a group brainstorming session. People have different personalities and communications styles. Shy folks might be out-talked by A-type personalities and never get a chance to share their ideas. Other people come up with their best ideas during quiet reflection at the end of the day. When introverts have a chance to work on their own, they're free to focus on their creative ideas rather than struggling to be heard in a fervent team meeting.

© 2012 Sally Hayes

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  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

    Lots of great ideas. I think micromanagement is one of the biggest mistakes and dampers to creativity.

    Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • Perry the Cat profile image

    Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

    excellent hub! Creativity is an innate component of the human psyche. If given an atmosphere where creativity is allowed and encouraged, the workplace can be enriching and enriched. I have worked in a place where supervisors nano-micro manage and religiously do what has always been done. They are not even using twentieth century technology effectively. I have learned that my creative solutions are unwelcome, so I give them to other employees to suggest. They are nearly always adopted when presented by someone else.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    I think it is a great hub. I went to a company "pep rally" and it was so poor and so 1970s and so much of a meeting about the people putting on the meeting ---- that I just went home and put on some bee gees and a CD of that big head Robins and passed out in bliss because clearly I have not missed a thing in 30 years. People think that the American business slump is all about numbers and policy -- nope, it stems from management that has not grown in 15 years due first to ease and growth and then for fear of losing a job.