Be inclusive and empathetic in your approach
The suggestions in this post are all about trying new things, experimenting, and thinking creatively. For some people, mixing up their environment and routine can create a hotbed for new perspectives and good ideas. For others, however, new routines and activities can lead to stress and ultimately reduce creativity — some people simply work better in more predictable environments.
You can (and should!) still mix things up, but it’s best to give everyone a heads up before trying something new. When you set expectations and give your team time to prepare for workshops and other deviations from the norm, you’re giving them the opportunity to show up as their best selves.
After you try something new, get your team’s feedback on it and adjust accordingly. To gather honest feedback about bigger initiatives, like workshops, you can use our Rose, Thorn, Bud template at the end of the session.
Most importantly, focus on creating psychological safety. Psychological safety describes a team culture built upon mutual respect in which people are comfortable speaking their minds, taking risks, and trying new things without fear of repercussions. Psychological safety is built over time, so try incorporating new ideas gradually and see what works best for your team.
Liven up your meetings
Start your meetings with an icebreaker activity to get everyone engaged right off the bat. By allowing people to reset, relate to one another, and connect on more informal terms, icebreakers can help create psychological safety and boost creativity.
Use icebreakers when you need to:
- Encourage participation in hybrid meetings
- Build connection among your team
- Make meetings more engaging
- Replace pre-meeting small talk with something more fun and inclusive
20 icebreakers for virtual meetings
Research has shown that music can have a positive impact on creativity and cognition. In particular, a 2017 study demonstrated that “happy music” boosted divergent thinking — which they define as “producing multiple answers from available information by making unexpected combinations, recognizing links among remote associates, or transforming information into unexpected forms.”
Use music when you need to:
- Set a mood for your meeting
- Transition between speakers or activities in a meeting
- Energize people during a long workshop
- Fill silence during solo work on a video call
Curated playlists for meetings and workshops
Energizers are a type of icebreaker that helps reload energy on your team. They often involve body movements and shouting, encouraging us to express our silly side and take ourselves less seriously. Physical activity has been shown to boost creative thinking, and a 2012 experiment essentially found (and I'm paraphrasing here) that wiggling around helps people generate more original ideas. No kidding.
Use energizers when you need to:
- Encourage people to embrace their goofy side
- Reenergize your team during a long workshop
- Combat Monday morning sluggishness or the afternoon slump
Envision and align on the future of the product
A storyboard is a visual device used to demonstrate a narrative or illustrate a concept by showing panels of your story in a linear order. Because storyboards are built using images, they can help teams communicate ideas more clearly and evocatively than words alone. Storyboards don’t have to be masterful pieces of artwork; even the most basic drawings can help you envision the possibilities of new experiences and get aligned on the right path forward.
Use storyboarding when you need to:
- Walk through different approaches to a challenge
- Visualize the user experience
- Explore different possible product flows
- Get aligned on your product vision
- Create customer journey maps that tell a story
This exercise from LUMA encourages your team to look at common things in uncommon ways by asking the question “What would ____ do?” This is a great way to break from conventional thinking and jump-start your team’s creativity.
Use this exercise when you need to:
- Explore new perspectives
- Generate novel ideas
- Come up with new approaches to solving a problem
Cover story mock-up
A cover story mock-up is a mock news article describing the successful future of your product or a new idea. This framework is a great way to promote a shared vision, gain support from decision-makers, and inspire your team.
Try this activity when you need to:
- Envision what success might look like
- Think big without self-imposed limitations
- Get aligned on a product vision
- Get your team inspired about the future of the product
A mind map is a brainstorming tool designed to help you visually track, organize, and structure your thoughts and ideas. Mind maps are diagrams with ideas branching from one central concept or idea, and are designed to organize information and synthesize ideas.
Use mind mapping when you need to:
- Brainstorm with a group
- Identify product requirements
- Understand your users
- Visualize connections between different concepts
- Think about a problem from multiple angles
Conduct user research
Buy a feature
This game is designed to help elicit the truth about what people value, not just what they say they value. It’s a method for prioritization provides people with a limited amount of currency that they can use to “purchase” what they prioritize the most. The resulting decisions are valuable in assessing what features or concepts should be present in the final design.
Use this activity when you need to:
- Conduct user research
- Understand what your users value the most (and why)
- Prioritize potential product features
Intuit’s Design for Delight Method
The Design for Delight Method is a set of principles that Intuit uses to innovate and solve their customers’ challenges. It’s rooted in design thinking and provides a customer-centered approach to problem solving.
Use this method when you need to:
- Conduct user research
- Explore a variety of possible solutions to a problem
- Rapidly test solutions with your customers
Understand and solve problems
Lightning Decision Jam
“The problem with anything that requires creative and critical thinking,” writes Jonathan Courtney, the creator of AJ&Smart’s Lightning Decision Jam, “is that it’s easy to get lost, lose focus, and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions.” This leads to frustrated team members, busted budgets, missed deadlines, and lackluster releases — “all because the team is so fatigued from working on endless, unprioritized problems.”
That’s where the LDJ comes in. It’s designed to replace all open, unstructured discussion with clear process.
Try this activity when you need to:
- Solve a complex problem quickly
- Streamline the decision-making process
Lightning Decision Jam template
Decode disengagement and boost performance
When team engagement and performance are suffering, there are four factors to consider:
- People: Build connection and trust across teams
- Purpose: Galvanize employees to realize a shared product vision
- Process: Keep everyone aligned around day-to-day processes and the big picture
- Play: Encourage imagination, creativity, and innovation
Download The 4 Ps of Highly Effective Product, Design, and Engineering Teams to access strategies and templates for decrypting common misunderstandings, miscommunications, and challenges across these four categories.
About the author
About the authors