If innovation is important to the growth of your company, nothing will help you more than creating a company culture that is deliberately fluid and creative.
No matter the size of your company, its industry or your budget, certain environmental and behavioral changes are almost guaranteed to improve your team’s creative output, attract the right talent and ultimately move your company beyond what you can even imagine today.
Here are 10 ingredients to change your company culture that I’ve learned from working with creative businesses:
1. Build an inspired workspace.
It all starts with the workspace. Remember the cubicle farms that emerged in the 1990s? Hopefully not. There is a reason these are quickly becoming obsolete. In today’s design-centric, user-focused world, companies have to move quickly and innovate constantly and that certainly won’t happen from behind a taupe cubicle wall and dull office light.
Large open spaces, cozy living room setups, big windows, inviting kitchens and convenient facilities like showers and bicycle parking are what’s in. But even if you aren’t building an office from scratch, adding a lot of whiteboards and markers as well as providing your team with beautiful computers and other technology products will help give space to the outpouring of their creative juices.
2. Grant flexible work hours.
While stable work hours make for organizational order, the creative muse cannot be simply willed into being exactly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People have different rhythms that make them more or less productive during certain hours.
For some people, the best ideas come in the middle of the night or during a long lunch when the mind is relaxed. In the technology world, for example, it’s commonplace for developers to be more productive during the quieter “after-hours." Thus they might choose to sleep in later and work well into the wee hours of the night.
If you want to encourage productivity and inspiration, allow flexible work hours for members of your team. Flexibility also attracts a creative talent pool of people (including parents) with a variety of interests and commitments in life.
3. Grant unlimited vacation days.
One of the surest ways to get inspired is to take a break from work. Inspiration is more likely to come when people are freed from the daily routine of familiar surroundings and motivated by new stimuli. Think about how many times you’ve had a brilliant idea during a flight or on a train ride.
There’s incredible value in simply taking a day or two off to rest at home, walk aimlessly through a new neighborhood in your city or take the kids on a day trip.
Offering your team unlimited vacation days -- and taking them yourself -- encourages not just staycations or a lazy beach break but also more experiential travel to faraway places that can open up a person to new ways of thinking.
4. Build a diverse team.
Many creative business owners often complain that they have trouble finding good staff people. Perhaps what they’re trying to find is a replica of themselves. They wrongly assume that having a professional twin would double their business overnight.
But unless you’re trying to re-create a Ford factory model, more carbon copies aren’t the key to creating an innovative company. Instead, build a diverse team whose strength lies in its members' range of work experience, education and cultural backgrounds that play off of one another.
5. Put the team first.
To have a truly creative company culture, your staff has to be your biggest priority. While you may think that your customers should always come first, take a cue from powerful CEOs like Virgin Group's Richard Branson and Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, who have proved that putting the team first makes customers and even shareholders happy.
6. Reward risk-taking.
Now that you’ve created time and space for creativity, further encourage it by rewarding risk-taking. Think of the companies that inspire you: How many of them achieved success by following tradition and sticking to the rules?
Building your own company was a huge risk. So why not surround yourself with people who can take risks to help further your vision? Companies like Google, that famously mandated that its employees dedicate a percentage of their work hours to developing their own side projects, are dedicated to encouraging risk-taking behavior within a controlled environment. Truly disruptive ideas don't arise out of stability
7. Encourage disagreement.
Nothing fights complacency better than disagreement. You don’t have to wage an internal office war or create psychological discord. No, disagreement between professionals is the foundation of debate and debate is exactly what you need to make sure your company is constantly putting its best foot forward.
8. Try group problem solving.
At a small company, people often have to help one another to complete big projects. Someone from the design team might find himself or herself working with someone from tech support.
Creating a situation where people with entirely different skill sets and perspectives must work together can stimulate the best type of creativity and bring unexpected breakthroughs in thinking.
9. Be direct.
Discourage the need for diplomacy. Let people voice what they feel. Encourage your team members to talk openly rather than worrying about being "nice" or whether they hurt the feelings of others. Create a culture where employees ask hard questions of one another without being defensive. This ensures that people don’t fall into complacency and are constantly thinking and talking about only the most relevant issues and asking the smartest questions.
10. Grant autonomy and inspire responsibility.
At a small company with a big vision, even the most junior employees bear a lot of responsibility. Hold people accountable to big expectations plus give them the autonomy to make their own decisions (with minimal guidance). This creates an atmosphere of resourcefulness and scrappiness that strongly supports creativity.
Bonus point: Remember the fun factor.
Perhaps you remember attending dreaded corporate holiday parties and unbearably long weekly meetings? There's a reason why you work at a small business instead of a giant corporation. Besides the alluring benefits of flexibility, it’s simply much more fun. Yet small-business owners often tend to replicate the corporate work environment they’re familiar with in order to encourage productivity and a sense of job security in team members.
Forget all the rules. Host fun happy hours, give thoughtful gifts and experiences and pull office pranks. A playful work environment creates a level of trust where creativity flows more freely. Plus, a fun job gives your employees immense bragging rights. And lo and behold, you may attract more great talent to join your team.