Updated: Aug 23
At two years old, my daughter spilled some finger paint on her drawing and said, “Uh oh.” I responded, “I see a Kandinsky, Basquiat or Miró.” Later that day, I bought a children’s book entitled Beautiful Oops! about turning any random smudge into a masterpiece. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as we are all in the midst of an uncertain climate, this lesson serves as a reminder to me that companies and organizations can formulate learnings from previous errors and build upon them. Today, my daughter’s sketch pad is her preferred mechanism for expressive outlet. It is equally important that we all recognize that people have different ways to convey their thoughts.
A Creative Conversation Defined.
The workplace as we know it is different and it is important that we are all able to adapt to change. Right now, many companies are trying to generate ideas to resolve both their cash flow issues and determine how they will evolve.
The shape and format of conversations enables companies to focus what matters now – resolving their problems by employing new tactics with new approaches. Companies can solve their problems, in a significant way, by utilizing creative processes to build on each other’s ideas.
Consecutive “Zoomathons” throughout the day may work for some, but in order to enable people and teams to think critically and creatively, it is important to provide the platform – in different formats to all audiences. With so many teams operating remotely, COVID-19 has revealed a multitude of opportunities for companies to try different methods and ways to have creative conversations. To make changes that the previous workday with its competing daily assignments never allowed.
A Creative Conversation In Action.
Take a lesson from software development. The business plans a solution for a problem. The product team, business development group, and, sales and marketing team all provide a set of requirements to the software development team. Each team has its own creative and conversational process for interacting with the software development team And, the software team has its own creative process of working within its group. Many software development teams work in a Kanban board, a popular style adopted from an agile methodology. The software team develops its own flow and holds what is known as daily “stand ups,” to help resolve and identify roadblocks and review progress.
These daily “creative conversations” help a team to boost creativity, resolve issues more effectively and create more transparency within the group and the entire organization in a format that works well for their group. It creates an equitable playing field for each team member without a hierarchy. Other groups such as product development, marketing, sales and other stakeholders are then exposed to the various activities and interdependencies of what the team is doing. Additionally, the team can regularly modify its processes to become more efficient.
So How Can Your Company Kickstart This New Approach?
By employing these 10 best practices for having creative conversations in today’s environment.
Consider any or all of these best practices to enable your organization or team to collaborate.
1. Make the company’s vision, values and strategy clear and meaningful to everyone. This might mean holding town halls, one-to-one phone calls, a memo, a presentation or a combination of all. It might need to be personalized by department. For example, if the CEO of a company holds a town hall meeting, you may still need to have a department head have a one-to-one with an individual in the department and/or a team meeting about the strategy as it pertains to the department.
2. Enable the formation of high functioning teams working in the formats and mechanisms in which they are accustomed. For example, if you have your software development team on eight hours of zoom calls without a graphic recordings tool that they are used to utilizing, make sure to provide them with one. Additionally, for people used to talking all day on consecutive calls, try visual thinking – a virtual “office” to see and collaborate in a different way. There are a variety of tools to use.
3. Make sure all employees have time for silence and reflection. For some employees, this might mean a dedicated time period blocked out with a physical notepad or whiteboard. We all have more than 70,000 thoughts a day. Being able to focus in a manner that works for each employee helps boost individual creativity and fosters engaged employees. For department managers and senior leaders, don’t judge everyone by monitoring their Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and hourly keystrokes.
4. We may not be walking down the hall to a different department within our organization but we can encourage members to cross-pollinate ideas and insights across groups. Form cross – functional teams. This spurs creative conversations.
5. Errors are windows to discovery. – Encourage employees to speak up. Give everyone an opportunity to speak by not being dismissive of ideas.
6. Host an active listening workshop for all employees. This will create a spark for all to help listen for connections between groups, ideas, etc. Too often, individuals are waiting for a turn to talk. This leads to a disconnect in understanding the message of the communicator and to a gap in being able to make connections within an organization. Active listening helps foster better relationships and leads to higher productivity.
7. Rotate the culture and experiment. Sometimes (and not always), teams can get bogged down in a groupthink mentality whereby things are just status quo. The pandemic is the perfect time to experiment by allowing different groups to collaborate and share learnings.
8. Allow other conversations to happen outside of a self-imposed hierarchy by leadership. – I’ll never forget that I was chastised by a senior executive for having a conversation with ‘others’ before talking to him when in fact I wanted to present him with diversity of ideas.
9. Craft effective engagement among key internal and external stakeholders. Responding to and interacting with your clients, internal teams, etc. is pivotal to the success or failure of what you are trying to accomplish.
10. Find the right toolkit to enable your creative conversations. There are a myriad to choose from.
All of these best practices are built on creating dedicated space for listening, dialogue and action to foster collaboration and have impact in the workplace and community. Creative conversations help improve employees' access to opportunities in the workplace and to better serve their local communities.
This article is a part of Freeman Means Business "Thought Leadership from the Pros" series I.