Stimulating Creative Thinking on Teams | Team Building Tips

Tips for Encouraging Creative Thinking on the Team

The Problem:

More and more teams are being asked to do more with less and find creative solutions to problems.  Facilitators and team leaders are often encouraging teams to “think outside the box”, but how do you actually do that?

Consider these suggestions….

  • Consider a change of scenery. It’s amazing how much people open up and see issues differently outside the confines of their normal environment.  One project manager felt that her team “hit a wall” on a difficult issue so she decided to take the small group across the street to continue the conversation outside over banana splits (at an ice cream shop with outdoor seating).  The change of scenery had an amazing impact on the group.  Almost immediately, conflict (which was stifling creative thinking and progress) subsided – after all, who can’t open up over a really gooey banana split!
  • Ask each person to document their ideas silently first before allowing group discussion. Different team members will often approach the issue from a different perspective and provide a wide array of interesting ideas IF given the chance to form their own ideas before being influenced by others.  Once the individual ideas have been documented, use the round-robin technique to elicit one idea from each attendee then discuss them all.
  • Conduct an initial brainstorming session about a completely crazy topic prior to the session on the real topic. In order to get their creative juices flowing, facilitators will often conduct a 10-minute idea generation activity.  Activities might include challenging individuals to list as many uses as they can think of for a lemon or challenging small groups to use a bag of pennies to come up with a team logo that represents the team’s mission.  The point is to get individuals focusing on being creative and not worrying about judgment.
  • Reward crazy ideas. Consider establishing a “prize” for the craziest idea of the day.  After a while, the team will get the message that during the idea generation phase, “crazy” is good!
  • Use the excursion technique where the facilitator shows the team an image (e.g. marching band, pineapple, surfer in the ocean) and asks the group to write down observations then link those to potential ideas related to the problem/issue at hand. This technique almost forces participants to think about completely different ideas.
  • Ask the group to consider how a 5-year-old would likely address the issue. Children bring a completely fresh, unique perspective without the constraints of bias or fear of judgment.  Considering a child’s perspective can often lead to an entirely new line of thinking.
  • Provide a “romper room” to stimulate creative thinking. Ever notice how the best ideas seem to come to you as soon as you step in the shower, take a jog, or otherwise stop focusing on the problem at hand?  Many organizations take advantage of this by providing teams a physical “play space” to afford them the opportunity to step away from the cube and take a mental break.  Developers at one leading technology company would often whisk away to the “romper room” in the building (filled with whiteboard walls, bean bags, Rubik’s cubes, etch a sketches, slinkys, and other nostalgic toys) to hash out creative solutions to their most challenging problems.
  • Strictly enforce a “no judgment” ground rule during idea generation.