Creativity is about culture and people, so it’s hard to kill it quickly.

However, there are some tropes of restrictive workplaces.

An innovative business need not rid itself of all the things on this list, but it’s useful to step back once in a while to allow an alternative approach.

Notably, I’m looking at some smaller aspects of office life here – I’ll leave the bigger stuff to Harvard Business Review (e.g. matching people with the right jobs, providing the right resources, getting the right team mix).

1. Meetings

Meetings are boring. I don’t write this to be deliberately facetious, they just are, and it’s a problem of format.

A white, air-conditioned room with office furniture and a TV on the wall can have a certain affect on staff. They begin to sit back in their chairs and look at their phones.

Stand-up meetings and getting out of the office space have become accepted ways to focus people in meetings, but there’s a more interesting area – play. 

There’s a website dedicated to the idea of using LEGO to teach Scrum product development (through the build of a LEGO city).

Just reading the facilitation guide – including detail of how city project owners aren’t available during sprints, but then pop up to state their love of building symmetry, solid colours (but different for each structure) or aligned windows – one gets a sense not only of how perversely fun the activity is, but how much each participant will learn about the team’s good and bad habits when working under time pressure.

It’s not just Scrum methodology, in fact, there’s an official LEGO product called Serious Play, designed to help facilitate problem solving and ideation.

Why not invest some time in enlivening one meeting a week with a left-of-field intro. It doesn’t have to take long and can focus on the task at hand.

lego serious play

2. Detachment

This could be a controversial one, but it’s certainly topical.

Mindfulness is a big deal in Silicon Valley and beyond, notably with Google’s painfully-titled ‘Search Inside Yourself’ programme.

Providing space and time for employees is important to bring balance to the workplace, rather than having staff that need to wind-down at the end of the day.

I’m not entirely sure I can define what mindfulness is (I’m not a sceptic, merely untutored), but here’s a quote from Karen May, VP of people development at Google (taken from a Fast Company article).

We find that people often take interest in our mindfulness programs because they not only want to be able to develop the skills to focus and pay attention to the task at hand, but they also want to learn how to clear their minds so they can be more innovative and creative thinkers. 

What could clear your mind better than bad stock photography?


3. Deadlines

Here’s a cheesy video with plenty of banjo and woodwind, showing how time constraints impact on work.

Work has to be done though, doesn’t it? Deadlines can be useful for increasing creativity, but if they’re ridiculously tight, the work will suffer.

4. Cubicles

This is a topic we’ve touched on before on the Econsultancy blog, looking at how surroundings can impact on culture and digital transformation.

It’s another controversial one – it takes more than a beanbag to change culture (what is culture?).

Though I think it might be hard to prove that a lovely office can kickstart a digital transformation, I believe one could attempt to disprove that cubicles are the way to go.

One only has to look at years of popular culture to see what kind of workplace the cubicle is associated with.

Office Space

office space

5. Hierarchies

I don’t want to sound like I read the Morning Star but there’s food for thought here. Here’s a quote from Airbnb’s Mike Curtis (here’s the post):

Another one of our beliefs is that engineers can progress just as far as individual contributors as they can as managers. There are two tracks by which engineers can progress in their careers: management and individual contribution.

The pay scales are parallel, so there’s no compensation advantage for getting into engineering management at Airbnb. 

Did it make you jealous? Granted it’s an approach that’s probably more practical in engineering than marketing, but there’s no doubt it’s interesting.

Startups attract motivated, talented individuals partly because of their flat management structure (it’s easy to be flat when you’re small, I suppose).

As teams change, people join and leave, are promoted etc. the fine balance of a team can be disrupted. Mergers, cost cutting or new funding can change the company structure.

What’s important is that the org structure is clear and consistent, without roles and reporting changing too often or suffering from ambiguity.

See the Econsultancy hub for more on digital transformation.