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Facilitating Creativity in the Workplace

International Facilitation Week (17th – 23rd October 2016) is hosted by the International Association of Facilitators to promote and engage facilitators all over the world about the power of facilitation.
I have noted over the years that in many of the organisations I encounter, the prevalent approach to encouraging, supporting, and facilitating creativity in the workplace is best summed up as;

“give the creatives space and licence to do their thing then stand back and let them get on with it”.

When I question the efficacy of this approach it seems that, in organisations that closely associate future performance with the quality of their innovation stream, there is a fear amongst leaders that their intervention may inadvertently have a negative effect on the processes of innovation. In most cases this is a fallacy, but, as with any leadership intervention, the quality and timing of the intervention is what will determine the impact that results.

So how should leaders consider structuring their interventions when seeking to increase the innovation stream? Having been at both ends of these interventions I’d suggest that there are three key areas that they need to target, and the leader should always be clear which of these outcomes their intended intervention is designed to achieve.

1) Aligning the innovative process with strategy? 

2) Developing greater consistency in the innovation processes being used? 

3) Promoting the exchange of ideas within the innovation community?

Once you, as a leader, understand what you’re trying to achieve you need to be very clear about the nature of the intervention - this needs to be definitively an exercise in facilitation. Any attempt at a more directive, managerial intervention risks a dismissive or defensive reaction as it may well be interpreted as interference. Introducing experiential learning activities into this intervention allows this facilitation to feel less artificially engineered so that a more in-depth discussion is generated. The choice of this activity is important as the leader needs to feel comfortable with its introduction, and be confident that it will be efficient in surfacing the conversations that are needed.

Here are some suggestions about tools that will address the three key target questions mentioned above.

Aligning the innovative process with strategy

This is a conversation that allows the individual or team that are responsible for innovation to explore the wider organisational context of their work. This means bringing them into contact with people who have an understanding of this context - is that you as the leader? If not, then consider bringing the innovators together with representatives of other functions. If you do have this context then decide whether this is best achieved on a one-to-one basis, or as a team. In either case the use of an image pack such as expresspack will allow an easy exchange of perspectives. Use a focus question such as:

“Select 2 or 3 of these cards that, for you, best reflect the importance of innovation in this organisation”

As a leader this will allow you to choose cards that represent the strategic importance of innovation - which may be significantly different to the more operational importance suggested by the cards the innovator has chosen. The subsequent discussion offers an easy opportunity to promote the potential for aligning these two perspectives.

Developing greater consistency in the innovation processes being used

This intervention needs to be about exploring the current innovative practices being used in the organisation, moving towards an acceptance of the value in adopting more consistent processes, and agreeing what these practices might be. As such, it’s probably the most complex of the three key interventions, most likely needs a longer time allowance to achieve, and is almost inevitably a team-based intervention.

All of this agenda will be addressed if the leader and the team work through the exercises contained in the Breakthrough Thinking Workshop. This can be a whole day exploration, or broken down into a series of team meeting exercises. Either way it will allow every part of the innovation process, from idea generation to idea pitching, to be considered and discussed in the light of organisational needs. It’s a worthwhile investment of time, not least because of the shared enjoyment and value that participants tend to take from the workshop.

Promoting the exchange of ideas within the innovation community

One of the most frequent comments I hear from leaders of creative groups in organisations is the seeming reluctance of members to share their ideas and approaches. This is quite often misrepresented as protectiveness, but is often simply a lack of appreciation of the mutual value that accrues from this sharing. When people are put in a situation of being able to appreciate and measure this value then they will very often see that small shifts in their patterns of behaviour can have significant positive effects. This illustration can be made in a simple and engaging way through an exercise such as Counter Intelligence or Workstations.

In both of these exercises the sharing of both task and process information across a group allows them to be successful in achieving the desired outcome - no sharing, no success! The facilitation of a subsequent discussion to consider the parallels in the organisation allows the discussion that asks ‘what is being shared?’ and ‘what could be shared?’.

View our facilitation resources and activities. 

As always, we are happy to provide advice about your learning & development needs. Feel free to get in touch today about how we can help make your learning more effective and engaging!

Dr. Geoff Cox

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