I have written previously about the importance of different creative techniques to help with creative problem solving. One of the barriers to introducing these into the workplace may be the confidence of the leader in facilitating them. Here I want to simplify the process and offer some guidelines for facilitating creative techniques in the workplace.
The first point to make is that for many people at the moment, being at work no longer means being present in the workplace, so many of the techniques may need to be adapted for remote working.
To keep this relatively simple, I have divided the topic up into the main issues to consider, and will address each one in turn.
If people are going to buy into a creative workshop, in whatever form, they need to believe that it has a useful purpose. So, clarify the purpose and consider justifying why this requires a creative workshop? For example, the need to resolve a wicked problem, or a space to create new ideas for the future generation of products.
The ideal space to hold creativity workshops, would be a flexible space, off-site with outdoor space available. Off site is always best as it signals a different way of working. It is hard to change to a creative mode when working in the same environment as your everyday work. If off-site is not an option try and find a space where a conducive atmosphere can be created – for example where there are no tables, nor computers, and plenty of wall space to exhibit outputs as you go along.
If working remotely, for example using Zoom, then ask that participants come with space around them to work, and with the possibility to move around a little. Ask them to have resources at hand, such as coloured pencils and paper.
Timing and structure
I have linked these two together because one will determine the other.
If timing is a constraint, that is you only have a couple of hours, then it is impossible to structure that time for a complete problem-solving process. It would be more realistic to introduce a couple of creative techniques such as brainstorming and a playful variation on it, like reversals.
If, on the other hand it is more important to address a serious wicked problem or plan for a future product, then structure the process and carve out the time required.
The level of experience in use of creative techniques will also influence the time required. The more experienced you and/or the team are, the less time you will need to get into the creative mode.
Choice of technique
- If you are new to this, stay with a technique and structure you feel comfortable with. A facilitator needs to be able to guide participants and then let them free to work on the technique. If you are nervous about trying a new technique you may be tempted to intervene.
- Choose according to the purpose of each session.
- The individual differences of participants may be a factor here. Introverts may take longer to think through their inputs. Build in techniques which they will feel more comfortable with, otherwise the extroverts will dominate.
- In choosing the techniques and planning the sessions, reflect upon whether each technique will work best done individually, in pairs or as a whole group.
- Working alone will work well if it’s an early input around perceptions of a problem.
- Working in pairs for some of the exercises can offer a level of support and comfort.
- Working as a whole group can produce more ideas, as with brainstorming, however there may be issues around everyone being involved. It will depend upon the group. My advice would be anything beyond six needs to be broken down into smaller groups.
Setting ground rules for the creativity session
This is crucial and you will need to think this through in advance and present them for agreement at the beginning. Here are the rules I like to establish:
- Brainstorming rules: defer judgement, go for quantity, the wilder the better, build upon others ideas.
- Be constructive – no negativity
- Be flexible and open to other ideas
- Encourage active listening
You might want to add rules about keeping to time, confidentiality, mobiles off etc.
What resources will you want, or can have?
For example, I usually have lots of coloured pens, post-its and paper for writing and drawing as well as flip chart boards or walls to put paper on.
In general, for successful facilitation
- Have a structure and be flexible enough to change it if necessary. Not all techniques work with everyone. Sometimes you need to try something different to achieve the objective of the session.
- When facilitating a group, start with some warm up exercise, and also have a couple of short energisers to use when energy is starting to flag.
- Set out the instructions for the exercise and then stand back and let the participants work with the technique. It is important not to step in unless it is needed to clarify something. Do not try to influence what is happening.
For more ideas around techniques and how to use them, check out the book I co-wrote with Tracy Stanley.
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.