6 tactics to boost creativity on your IT team

Creativity powers innovation, and innovation wins market share. Consider this expert advice to build a work environment that values creative thinking
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For IT teams, creativity is not just about looking toward the future; it also involves examining the present. Creativity is necessary for productivity.

In IT, there are many Information Technology Infrastructure Library- (ITIL) and Capability Maturity Model (CMM)-based processes that provide a framework for carrying out certain tasks. At times, employees fall back on these processes to boost productivity. But in the end, it’s the creative companies – the ones that are developing leaner, more efficient, and more flexible processes within those frameworks – that come out on top.

Easier said than done, you might counter. What are some of the best ways to boost IT team creativity?

1. Brainstorm

Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones. Listen to your team and let them openly express their thoughts. What comes out of the conversation may vary from illogical and impractical to clever and inspiring, opening the doors to endless possibilities now and in the future.

[ Also read IT leadership: Why adaptability matters. ]

You’re not just asking people to “be creative;” you’re creating and fostering a culture of creativity. To do this, you must encourage creative solutions by asking open-ended questions and rewarding employees for contributing with your attention and appreciation. There are no wrong answers in brainstorming. Being a leader means being supportive of everyone and not showing favorites.

2. Embrace individual expression

Bear in mind that people express their creativity in different ways. Some employees are comfortable sharing ideas in a brainstorming session, while others would rather think about topics individually and send you an email outlining their creative solutions. As a leader, you need to create space for both.

Sometimes, leaders can unintentionally dampen these creative impulses. Negative or direct feedback on an idea or thought is a sure way to dampen creativity from the start. It’s important to be cognizant of their words and actions – remember, employees are taking a risk by sharing even bad ideas with you, and others are watching. How you react will either shut down creativity or keep it going.

3. Turn words into action

Employees will not be inclined to keep sharing ideas if they feel those ideas are going nowhere, so convert their creative suggestions to action.

For example, consider creating a tiger team of employees to help develop ideas by coordinating with other departments and finding ways to implement them across the organization. Seeing their ideas come to life and make a difference in how the company operates will inspire employees to look for new opportunities and creative solutions. We did this with our employee survey initiatives and had excellent results.

Also, be sure to credit the team members who brought those ideas forward. Seeing creative solutions implemented and being credited for them will ignite a spark in your employees to go even further.

4. Create a fun work environment

Creativity thrives best when open communication is combined with fun and whimsy. Creativity and fun go hand-in-hand, fostering a space where you and your team can grow and thrive.

Creativity and fun go hand-in-hand, fostering a space where you and your team can grow and thrive.

A few years ago, Google caught everyone’s attention with its unconventional approach to the workplace, which included breakfast bars, scooters for employees to zoom around the office, workstations ranging from desk setups to lounge chairs, resting areas, and more.

While not every organization can match Google’s resources and capacity, many companies did move toward more casual, individualistic workspaces. Use color, video, food, games, comfort, and style to make the workplace an inviting space where employees want to stick around, engage, and explore new ideas.

5. Embrace diversity

This requires two things: employing different kinds of talent and ignoring the hierarchy. Creativity can come from all corners, and everyone – from interns to senior leaders – should be equally encouraged to share their ideas. It may be a junior team member who offers the best insight into the growing demands of a certain demographic.

In the same vein, it’s important to build a team comprised of members with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and even interests. Focus on hiring people who can bring something new and different to the team rather than repeating existing skillsets and ideas.

6. Start from the top

Creativity lives and dies with culture, and culture starts at the top. When leaders actively encourage open conversations about creativity, employees flourish. Simply put, encourage and reward the behavior you want your employees to exhibit.

The most important part of all these processes is you – the leader. Until you embody your expectations for your employees, none of the rewards of a creative culture will come to fruition.

Companies that don’t embrace creativity will ultimately be outpaced by innovators. By leading with a creative mindset, encouraging free thinking and engagement, building a diverse team, and taking creative ideas beyond the drawing board, you may help elevate your organization to become a leader in its industry.

[ Learn how CIOs are speeding toward goals while preventing employee burnout in this report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation. ]

CIO Barry Shurkey
As the CIO for NTT DATA Services since 2017, Barry is responsible for the digital transformation and optimizing the IT roadmap to support NTT DATA and its clients. Previously, he was a senior vice president overseeing the company’s IT agreements during the acquisition of Dell Services.