I spend a fair amount of time talking to clients about creativity at work. It’s easy to help them understand that creativity is the engine that drives innovation, because those ideas are what’s required to get to those transformational business results. But creativity is also good old-fashioned problem solving, that fresh thinking that helps leaders get to better solutions for everyday business challenges.
In our new remote world of work, it’s worth taking a look at how to create a culture that values better ideas, along with a plan to make that happen. David Burkus, in his timely “Leading From Anywhere: The Essential Guide To Managing Remote Teams,” proposes a three-phase approach that beats the tired approach typically called a brainstorm.
The ineffective brainstorm looks something like this: you plop people in a room or video call, without much prep, and ask them to generate ideas. Few good ideas result from this truncated approach because idea generation is part of the process, but not the process. Burkus’s slant is more holistic, suggesting a series of three meetings to address a problem.
One: Problem Meeting
First, meet to hone in on the problem. Burkus recommends techniques that include the Five Whys, originated by Toyota to improve production, or a fishbone diagram. Or take MIT researcher Hal Gregerson’s approach of question-storming and identify the questions that need to be answered to solve the problem or problems.
Two: Idea Meeting
With a frame-up of the problem, your team is ready to generate ideas. Assemble a team of people who can help look at the problem from different angles and serve up multiple solutions. This may include people from your call center who are on the front line of hearing from your customers. Frame the problem and ask for ideas. Participants can offer opposing points of view, but decisions will be made at the next meeting.
Three: Decision Meeting
Next schedule a decision meeting, and be sure to have decision makers in the room. Again, review the problem, then review the solutions created during the idea meeting. Depending on the number of possible solutions, the team can conduct a quick vote to identify which can be eliminated right away. Then discuss each solution in turn, looking at strengths and weaknesses, and also what would be needed to implement each. In evaluating ideas, you may need an additional decision meeting if your team needs more information about how challenging idea might be to execute.
For each of these meetings, be mindful about how you facilitate. Frequently it’s beneficial to have an outside facilitator, either a consultant or someone outside the core team who is less invested in the outcome. Ask remote participants to avoid multitasking, and even structure smaller groups that will require maximum participation. Also build in time for solo idea generation, which might be shared on a team whiteboard or in the chat, to give even the most introverted members of the team an opportunity for valuable input.
By implementing a three-part structure of fully understanding the problem, generating possible solutions and evaluating how those solutions will solve the problem, you’ll be taking a more holistic approach to addressing the big challenges of your business. This approach can help your team create better solutions and reduce risk.