Who would have guessed it: that inside most IT experts beats the hearts of sensitive, creative souls?
IT professionals are artists by nature, states Shailesh Kumar, senior vice president of engineering at workplace productivity platform developer ClickUp. “They need autonomy and opportunity to do their best work.”
Creativity flows from engineering teams when they’re given a problem to solve, the tools needed to solve challenges and the space to do things the way they feel is right, Kumar says. “When engineers are granted room to come up with solutions themselves, they’re able to use creativity to come up with some of the most incredible solutions imaginable,” he adds. On the other hand, when creativity is stifled, the end product usually suffers.
Nurturing Creativity Through Ownership
The moment you give IT teams ownership of a solution, you put them in the driver seat, says Sai Nagboth, managing director of technology at product studio Altir. “All employees love ownership and a sense of accomplishment,” he notes. “Creativity brings excitement, new energy, on a regular basis by keeping the teams more active and satisfied.”
The best way to boost an IT team’s creativity is to give its members the freedom to independently solve problems and implement solutions, Nagboth advises. He suggests encouragement, guidance, and establishing high-level guardrails, such as following best practices. “This allows teams to experience new challenges, operate quickly on their toes, and come up with creative solutions,” he explains.
Another approach, Nagboth says, is regularly giving teams fresh problems to solve — not binding them to a single focus area for an extended period. “This allows them to experience new challenges, operate quickly on their toes, and come up with creative solutions.”
Promote experimentation, urges Dan Kirsch, managing director at Techstrong Research. Many IT teams are focused on creating best practices, he notes. Yet, in many cases, such practices are based on nothing more than gut feelings that simply happened to work. “Instead, challenge teams to find better, smarter, faster, and cheaper ways to get IT projects done,” Kirsch recommends.
By promoting experimentation, IT leaders give both individuals and teams autonomy. “This in turn gives them buy-in on their job,” Kirsch says. “If IT team members feel that they’re devoting their own knowhow into a project, they are far more invested than team members who just follow a script.”
Dampening of Creativity
Excessive governance and red tape stifles creativity. “People don’t want to be restricted by rules and processes — they want the room to explore and the freedom to test new ideas,” says Santhosh Keshavan, CIO of financial services firm Voya Financial. Creativity cannot thrive in an overly regulated environment. “Creativity requires IT leaders to consistently recognize and publicly applaud employees who bring new ideas forward,” he notes. “Strong leader advocacy will encourage more creativity.”
Maintaining “psychological safety” is necessary for organizations that wish to foster workplace collaboration and innovation. “This is especially important in hybrid work environments, but many teams miss the boat on psychological safety,” observes Aref Matin, CTO at publishing, education, and research firm Wiley. “Colleagues at all levels shouldn’t be afraid to share ideas, experiment, and fail before the best and brightest solutions arrive,” he says. Matin believes that IT leaders must promote and practice psychological safety to enable their teams to embrace a collaboration and innovation mindset. “It’s an absolutely critical component to innovation,” he states.
Collaboration is the cornerstone of an agile mindset, Matin says. A team with members who are comfortable with each other, free to bounce ideas off colleagues, and amenable to constructive feedback, is also likely to be efficient and productive. “A strong agile mindset within your organization can further enhance creativity and collaboration,” he explains.
Poor hiring practices can lead to dull, unimaginative teams. Although job postings often stress a need for creativity, hiring managers frequently discriminate against imaginative candidates by selecting individuals with similar backgrounds, experience, certification, and education. In other words, the pocket-protector crowd. “Building hybrid and diverse teams is how you foster creativity,” Kirsch says. “You aren’t going to build a creative team by hiring the same people, even though you claim to look for creativity.”
Creativity helps teams remain active, satisfied, and productive by bringing excitement and new energy to highly demanding occupations. “With constant innovation happening around us, making IT teams feel that they also have an opportunity to innovate is very motivational,” Nagboth says.
Kumar says he encourages creativity within his team every day. “Anyone can follow instructions, but I’ve seen firsthand how creativity can open the doors for innovative ways to solve problems,” he states. “Creative thinking unlocks new perspectives and enables us to find solutions that previously didn’t exist.”