Are Your Teams Generating Amazing Ideas Together?

The ability to be creative, in my opinion, is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as human beings.  As rewarding as it is to be creative all by ourselves, being creative in groups can be even more productive and yield solutions that are beyond what we can do on our own. As a design consultant, I have managed creative’s my entire career. A team working together with proper training and preparation can outperform any one person in terms of generating new and unique solutions to problems.  I have seen great ideas evolve out of group participation or group sharing that really leave me feeling that something amazing just happened!

I have participated in creative sessions with high level individuals, multiple day long sessions run by some of the world’s top innovation companies, and small groups of just a handful of individuals. At Driven Innovation, we regularly run creative sessions to solve our client’s problems.   We experiment with different formats to find and produce the best ideas.  

There is a catch, though. Working in groups with the goal of being creative problem solvers can be a total waste of time.  Over my career, I have witnessed some abysmal brainstorming sessions.  I have seen a complete lack of enthusiasm, poor ideas, and lack of focus. I have seen this behavior from, both inexperienced and highly experienced individuals. What happens to make a creative mix of individuals so poor at generating ideas as a group?

·         Lack of focus

·         Not being prepared

·         No rules for interaction

·         Lack of leadership

·         The wrong mix of individuals

·         Lack of energy

·         Too much time allotted to a session

·         Too much pressure to succeed

·         Outcome expectations

It is true that having a successful group creative session is a lot of work and the result can be hit or miss. If you can dial in the process, the benefits of team collaboration for creative idea generation are definitely worth the effort required. There will be a need to nurture the proper company culture and establish healthy team attitudes.  There will also be a dollar cost associated with putting a group of people together in a room for a period of time with no set expectations of the outcome.

These days the competition for great new ideas is more important than ever. If you are not being highly creative, you will lose ground and ultimately be replaced by those who are. If you would like to rise above all the noise of our current market economy, it truly requires every competitive advantage possible. Being creative as an individual is absolutely essential, and adding group creative sessions to the mix is a great way to up your game.

There is a lot written about innovation and design creativity in groups, but having the stamina to go through the process of training and nurturing the proper process and outcome requires work. Innovation can be a long, boring and ultimately failed endeavor if your team is not up for the challenge. I have personally witnessed teams that give up because they let the challenges overwhelm them and that leads to paralysis. Here are some tips to getting the most out of a team creative session.

Prepare beforehand

Successful group ideation requires up front work to be really productive. It is not enough that the group members know about the topic and the specific problem to be solved. In order to get past the superficial ideas and get to the really good stuff, having each member of the group spend time beforehand thinking up ideas on their own is very important. This is a great way for the group to have starter ideas to discuss when they are in the group session. The quality of ideas is then higher right out of the gate. The team can build on each other’s ideas and this can also spark new ideas in completely different directions. I have seen some truly great ideas generated this way. Ideas that I realized later would never have materialized otherwise.

Someone needs to be the leader and facilitate the session

There needs to be a structure to the creative session.  So, there needs to be a leader. That leader should be really good at keeping the ideation session on track. If this individual is not present in the group, the session will most likely languish and die. With a group dynamic, multiple individuals all need to be in peak creative mode at the same time. Realistically, this might be tough to accomplish all the time.  I believe the individual that is in charge of the session should be the one to help the group members achieve this creative state and sustain it as long as possible. The facilitator needs to keep the energy of the group up and to artfully transition from one idea to the next. Excitement and enthusiasm are great ways to keep the collective creative energy high. It is so easy for a lull in the group to kill the forward momentum and have every one staring at their phones wondering when it will be over. The leader of the group should also know when to call the session quits before it turns into a counterproductive struggle.

Creative groups are made not born

Creativity is available to all of us. Creativity is a state of mind and with training you can get to that state at any moment. (See my other articles about being more creative as an individual).  How to Be in Peak Creative Shape Many people who don’t consider themselves creative could be sitting on the next great idea. Without the opportunity and the training to access those creative ideas, they may never get the chance. Coach and train your team on how to get in the creative flow and then how to work with others in order to elevate those ideas to a whole new level. Group idea sessions, when not invested in properly, can be a total waste of time. Training and cultivating a company culture that encourages creativity requires effort from the leaders of the organization.

Everyone must participate; having individuals that sit there without contributing is an energy suck that will depress or kill the creative idea generation. This really is the case with any team meeting.  In regards to group idea generation, it is even more important. All the members of the team need to be trained to feel empowered to contribute and they must provide ideas. A high level of excitement and enthusiasm is so important to the group creative energy.  Training ahead of time is required so individuals know how to access those states under the pressure of a group creative session.

Choose the group participants wisely

Just throwing a group of people together and expecting great ideas from them most likely will not work. The whole goal of this article is to provide ideas on how to consistently generate unique and innovative ideas as a group. This means that the individuals in the group need to know how to work together and must have complementary skills. They must also have the proper temperament and personalities to work together.  Before you choose whom to put together for your next group brainstorm session, spend some time assessing the individual's strengths and weaknesses to choose appropriately. If you do not have a large pool of individuals to choose from, take the information you compile and start to work with those individuals beforehand.   They can focus in the areas that need improvement. I promise that if you take the time to do this with your team, not only will your group idea sessions get better, but the working relationships between you and the members of your team will also improve. That is what I call a win-win!

Encourage your team to consistently improve their knowledge base

Great innovation cannot happen consistently in an ongoing way if your team is not constantly increasing their knowledge base. Group innovation also cannot thrive if the individuals are not proficient at taking that new knowledge and learning how to apply it to new areas. It is easy to get complacent in regard to constant improvement. So many different factors can contribute to this. For this article I will say, that if your goal is to have a highly creative team that can generate amazing ideas together, you have to have this as part of your team’s culture.  Encourage your team members to want to seek out knowledge. Make finding new ways to apply that knowledge more fun. I personally believe that being creative will be ever more important in regard to any company’s future. Those that are not consistently creative as groups will continue to lose out to those who are. If that is not enough of a reason to pursue elevating your team’s creativity, then I don’t know what is.

If you want to learn more about group creativity, or how we can help you develop your next creative idea, contact us at  I hope the points in this article help your team become even more of a creative powerhouse!