Sparking Creativity in Hybrid Work

When is the last time you had a creative conversation in a meeting? Everyone we talk with says they would love more opportunities to generate ideas, break preconceptions, and stretch the mind to imagine new possibilities. But most leadership teams focus so much on tactical, operational discussions that there is little room for creative, strategic conversation. The hybrid workplace can make creative conversations even more challenging.

Research shows that human beings are most creative when we get time alone and then time with one another. When you’re by yourself, you’re building a pile of kindling in your brain. Then, when you connect with a group, you’re igniting a shower of sparks that might light it up. 

Remote work has made space for more time alone. How do you facilitate group time that maximizes the opportunity for igniting great ideas?

Here are six strategies for making the most of your meetings, especially in a hybrid or virtual situation (Note: #1-3 were featured in Tuesday’s Tremendous Tip):

  1. Activate the right brain. Help participants get past the awkwardness and enter a collaborative, creative thinking space with a simple, playful exercise. One idea is to pair people up and have them take 3 minutes to draw each other. This engages everyone, gets them laughing and talking, and sets the tone for working together in a fun way. Too many virtual meetings “get right down to business” and don’t have the playful chit-chat or engagement to reorient the attendees to the topic. Be intentional about starting with a playful exercise to stimulate creativity.
  1. Break it down. One person asking for ideas from a bunch of people sitting around a big table or zoom screen is not a great way to get good ideas! Break into groups of 2 – 4 so that no one’s voice gets lost. Your team will produce more ideas with greater diversity. You’ll also generate more energy from the group because everyone is involved, active, and participating. Another way to do this asynchronously is to take full advantage of the chat. Post a thought-provoking question and get everyone to respond in chat. We’ve used it for interesting questions and quick polls. For example, ask people to rate an idea on a scale from 1-10 when you are trying to get a pulse on the group’s view.
  1. Look around you. A study that was just released shows that virtual meetings tend to limit creativity. Interestingly, the reason for this is that people spend more time looking at each other on the screen instead of letting their gaze drift around the room. “This visual focus on the screen narrows cognition. In other words, people are more focused when interacting on video, which hurts the broad, expansive idea generation process,” study author Melanie Brucks said. Creativity studies show that people often unconsciously look to their surroundings to help them generate ideas, because objects in the room can prompt new associations. Interacting through a computer screen shifts attention in a way that reduces the generation of these novel ideas. So when collaborating in a hybrid or remote context, find a way to take the focus off the people on screen. Make good use of tools like Mural or choose an audio-only call.

(For readers of Tuesday’s Tremendous Tip, #4-6 below are 3 additional strategies to try)

  1. Move it! Your body does not like sitting for extended periods of time. Stillness hinders creativity. Taking frequent movement breaks to stand up, stretch, walk around, hydrate and get your blood flowing helps your brain stay engaged. Remote workers can use a standing desk and move around their space without disrupting anyone.
  1. Make use of Mind Maps. Mind maps are great for connecting ideas and looking for innovative answers to questions. A mind map helps you chart the recesses of your mind surrounding one central idea. Start by writing down a central topic or word. Then, link related terms or ideas around the central word. This technique offers a very visual way of seeing how these ideas are linked and can be a powerful way to gain clarity. The further you get from the center of the map, the more hidden ideas you can uncover. Use a digital whiteboard or other technology to include remote workers and gather all participant’s ideas in real-time. 
  1. Ask better questions. Provocative questions produce more creative solutions. Pushing your employees to think about bigger issues may produce innovative, breakthrough solutions rather than uninspired, incremental ones. So before you put a lot of effort into brainstorming, try a question-storming session (set a timer and challenge your team to pose as many questions as they can come up with around the issue, without stopping to consider the answer). The best solutions will come from asking the right question! To prevent talking over one another in a hybrid meeting, decide on a system for taking turns or have every participant enter their questions on a shared document.

With a little effort and intention, your hybrid collaboration can be even more effective than in-person meetings. Whether you are a regular TTT reader or happened upon this post, use some of these suggestions to create a space for sparks to fly and ideas to ignite! (And of course, we invite you to subscribe so you don’t miss any more bright ideas!)

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