16 Smart Ways Tech Leaders Can Build Creativity In Their Team Members

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Creativity is a trait every tech pro can benefit from and that most of them bring when they’re fresh to the workplace. However, it can dull with time and a constant focus on repetitive tasks such as handling bugs or coding to spec. Smart tech leaders find ways to encourage their team members to keep their “creative muscles” strong—it not only leads to better products and solutions, but also to happier employees and a stronger, more supportive culture.

Whether through special events, learning, gamification or other strategies, helping your tech team members engage in creative thinking and work pays significant long-term dividends. Below, 16 members of Forbes Technology Council share practical, effective ways tech leaders can support and build creativity in their team members.

1. Train Them In Design Thinking And Product Design

For us, it is quite simple: We have mandatory training in design thinking and product design for all our people. I believe both are quite effective in terms of “developing” that creative muscle. Besides, current and future challenges for humanity will certainly require every drop of creativity that we can bring to the table to successfully develop useful solutions. – Martin Bouza,arionkoder

2. Observe Customers At Work

Spending time with customers and observing the ways they work and solve problems—in their environment—has always been how we energize creativity and new thinking. Tech people can apply a different lens to processes, problems and outcomes than those who have lived the alternative for a long period of time. Bringing those two spheres together is the quickest way to create new things. – Tim Boyle, Whip Around

3. Encourage Ventures Outside Their Field Of Expertise

Listening to podcasts on topics that are not in your field is great, as is going on “creative days”—this essentially consists of walking around, touring shops and watching things to spark the imagination and get inspired. Networking with people outside your field is also very important to broaden the mind. – Marieke Flament, NEAR Foundation

4. Engage In Role Play

In terms of company-facing creativity, have your tech team members imagine what they would do in certain scenarios if they were part of a different team. For example, ask an engineer how they would deal with an operations issue (and vice versa). In terms of product-building creativity, have your team members use competitors’ products and list what they like about them and what they’d change. Then, discuss why they think the competitor built their product that way. – Tom Lee, LOVO

5. Place Tech Team Members On Interdisciplinary Teams

Include tech pros as upfront contributors on interdisciplinary teams, including those focused on product artifact creation, business flow, requirements and market findings. This encourages intellectual freedom. Additionally, encourage your tech pros to provide ideas and enhancements back up the line to business analysts and product managers, and allow them to influence designs when they have great ideas. – Shawna Koch Mishael, SenecaGlobal

6. Embrace Mobility

Embracing mobility is critical. The ability to maneuver team members into different areas and roles to ensure they don’t become bored in their positions ensures that they not only learn new skills but also stay interested and motivated. Integrating tech members within the larger team organization gives them the opportunity to understand the bigger picture and why they are in their specific roles. – Velia Carboni, VF Corporation

7. Allow Time For Side Projects

Give time each quarter for side projects. These projects don’t have to be directly related to the company; for example, maybe the tech the company works with is Java, but somebody wants to study Rust. Creating a project in Rust would be fine. Exposure to other ideas and programming paradigms is always useful. Encourage participation, and lead by example by participating yourself! – Michael Nyman, iGrafx

8. Request Multiple Solutions For Problems

I would advise my team to approach every problem with many different solutions, as well as to assess the possible risks in each solution. They have to have their own questions, and they have to come up with possible answers. That way, they become more and more creative, because they are focusing on every missing piece. – Swathi Nelabhatla, SheJobs

9. Ask Questions To Solicit New Ideas

One effective way tech leaders can help their teams keep their “creative muscles” strong is by asking them questions that allow them to rethink their ideas, instead of jumping into solution mode. You want them to feel challenged and to take ownership of their work. – Elaine Montilla, Pearson

10. Connect Each Team Member’s ‘Why’ To The Big Picture

One effective way to counter “creative fatigue” is by establishing a deeper connection between each team member’s personal “why” and the bigger corporate “why” and reinforcing those connections regularly through repetition and recognition. Regularly reinforcing the connection between why we do things and how we leverage creativity to get them done enables creativity to withstand the wear and tear of repetition. – Ohad Arazi, Clarius Mobile Health

11. Hold Brainstorming Sessions And Play Energizing Games

Creativity thrives through fast, fierce and competitive engagement! Have brainstorming meetings on a topic for 15 minutes—everyone puts ideas on Post-it Notes as fast as they come and puts them on a whiteboard for later discussion. Ever played the game Happy Salmon with a small team? It’s fast and furious and a ton of fun, and it gets the juices flowing! Anything that brings physical energy to the table is electrifying! – Saryu NayyarGurucul

12. Approach Customer Challenges From The Outside In

Encourage teams to reimagine the very notion of being creative to meet consumer expectations. Build new core creative muscle and think differently about solving customer challenges from the outside in, not the other way around. The way to breakthrough thinking is building a team with diverse backgrounds and diversity of thought. Only then is true innovation and growth possible. – Rory Read, Vonage

13. Set Aside Time For Innovation And Experimentation

Setting aside 10% to 15% of your team’s time to focus on innovation and experimentation—beyond the immediate project work at hand—goes a long way toward reducing monotony and enabling the team to explore new and interesting areas. Doing so fosters creativity and a “think outside the box” mindset. Such exploration can be enabled through newsletters, pop quizzes and learning community forums with clear calls to action to delve deeper. – Ruble Joseph, eClerx

14. Rotate Team Members Into Unfamiliar Domains

I’ve found that one of the best things to keep your curiosity and creativity flowing is to actively rotate to another problem domain or area that you are unfamiliar with. It suddenly moves you from a position of “know-it-all” to “know-very-little” and causes you to ask many more questions, rather than providing all the answers. This dramatically changes your learning curve and associated engagement. – Praerit Garg, Smartsheet

15. Establish Aspirational OKRs

Two things help me keep my teams at their creative best. The first is setting up aspirational objectives and key results. A fairly aspirational objective won’t be achieved by just increasing your efforts; you have to think—and think hard—to get outside of the box. Second, humans are creative in their default behaviors. As a leader, your job is to create a culture where experimentation and failure are rewarded. – Muhammad Umar, CodeNinja

16. Invest Time And Money In Their Growth

As a tech leader, investing in an employee retains an employee. Cultivating creativity can be accomplished through competitive game nights, team challenges or even retreats. Giving tech leaders and team members the reassurance that they are worth the investment of time and money in their growth inspires them and makes them better at their jobs. – Matthew Polega, Mark43

Build Creativity In Their Team Members

Build Creativity In Their Team Members
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