Sparking creativity in your team

Coming up with the Creative Day program and how it impacted my management style

When I started my first management role I had read so much about leadership and management that I thought success would be easy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After putting about 10-15 extra hours per week into learning and creating structures for my team, I realized that you cannot build enough things to compensate for a lack of leadership. You can’t force someone to have a strong work ethic. You can’t force someone to match your management and leadership style. You can’t force someone to double-check their work. And you can’t force someone to be more productive.

You have to figure out how to motivate your team and hope they speak up when they are uncomfortable or need a change. Amongst a host of management failures on my end, I did have two bright spots. Creative Days and the 90-day plan (I believe they now use the 90-day plan idea with every single incoming employee).

The Creative Day program came about after I was using a holiday break to read all I could about motivating a team to be productive. I was struggling. Some of my team members took the whole month of December off but acted like they didn’t. Projects were consistently slipping through the cracks and then subsequently turned in late.

It was a catastrophe and I needed to come up with something that would give them more ownership of fixing their own problems and then coming to the rest of the team for feedback (rather than it just coming from me). How was I failing so bad at something I spent so many hours thinking through and analyzing? That’s when I began down the rabbit hole of initiating creativity.

Typically when you think “innovation” you imagine someone inventing a rocket ship or some kind of technology. For me, it’s when someone thinks of a new/novel way of doing something.  It was a Hail Mary, but I believed if I could get some of my team members to approach their work creatively, they would be able to incorporate issues that they weren’t bringing to me.  

In my research, your best ideas come when you are extremely relaxed (see: vacation or shower), you don’t realize it but it can be the most innovative time your mind will have. That’s when it hit me, there has to be a way to get my team out of their heads and getting creative with what they are working on.

I structured our “Creative Days” in a way that made the most sense given their productivity rate. Take one day per month away from the job (we were all remote), and spend at least six hours that day thinking about their position. They also needed to filter their projects through the lens of how they believe they could improve or introduce an idea that would have a huge impact on the business.

The next week, during the team meeting, that team member would take 15-20min to walk through what they came up with. Then we would all chime in on how that idea could be implemented or if it needed to be tabled for later.

Some of the best ideas I ever heard at that organization were during those Creative Day recaps. People who didn’t consider themselves as innovative came up with projects that could change the face of how customers viewed the company...enabling us to go upstream.

If given the time, I’m willing to bet that the “Creative Day” concept would have taken off just like the 90-day plan concept did. It is a structured way of getting people to self-organize and innovative in a way that you just don’t get from day-to-day activities. By giving your team members space to think and create, you give them permission to break the typical boundaries and examine what they would do in a perfect world.

There are no perfect worlds, but you can create an environment that supports their creativity.