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Lead a creativity workshop: a step-by-step guide to standing out

“Let’s be more creative!” We’ve all heard it, some of us dread it, and most of us wonder what that even means or how it specifically applies to our job. Creativity is essentially the ability to go beyond traditional ideas, rules, or patterns to create new methods, original ideas, and imaginative interpretations. When we lose sight of creativity in our work we can slip into auto-pilot, doing the same key projects over and over again or recreating what we see our competitors doing.

Hosting a creativity workshop can help your team accomplish two things. First, you’ll find new ways to reach your customers and stand out from your competitors. And second, you will establish a team-wide habit of creativity.

This is why we, as a marketing team at Envoy, decided to host a creativity workshop. Essentially, we created an exercise using our core values, asked participants to come with one of their planned projects in mind, and facilitated a group exploration to spark originality in our work. Though we are a group of marketers, this workshop will work for pretty much any team with a quarterly plan of projects and the desire to stand out. 

In this post, we will walk you through how we facilitated the workshop, from the prep work to the follow-up survey, so you can help your team be more creative. 

Tie workshop goals back to your company culture

Any time you create an exercise or host a workshop to introduce a new way of thinking it’s imperative to connect the purpose of the session to your company’s culture and mission. We infused our values into the workshop exercise because our behaviors and decisions are guided by our company values.

For example, one of our brand values is ‘Stand Out.’ We generated some related questions to help folks look at their project using a very specific lens—how will this initiative be different than our competitors? 

Try: Create an exercise that uses your company values or mission statement. This structures the discussions and avoids any confusion about why the team needs to be creative. We generated 3-5 questions per value (x 5).

Assign super light homework and ask for a small commitment

Pre-work is a great way to set the stage and save on time but tread lightly here. We’d recommend no more than 5-8 mins of homework. By keeping the assignment light and making it clear what we were asking of people, we were able to get 100% buy-in from the team. 

Speaking of commitment, give participants enough notice to make time in their workload and be fully present by helping them understand exactly how they’ll spend their time in the workshop. Send out communications a week ahead that include the agenda, 3 goals for the session, and a clear ask that each participant commits to the assigned pre-work.

Try: Pre-work can be as simple as watching a customer story video or reading a relevant article or passage from a book. We asked our team to take 5 minutes to review the goals for the session, reread our company values and behaviors, and choose one project from their quarterly plans to experiment with during the workshop.

Apply imaginative thinking to real-life work 

Being creative is not a waste of time, especially when you can be intentional in your focus. We asked the team to come to the session with a specific project in mind that they wanted to explore through a new lens. This included a variety of projects like email nurture campaigns, social media posts, blog strategy, lead capture, and product messaging.

Tip: Ask participants to choose the project they are most interested in experimenting with. By encouraging them to “choose their own adventure,” you set the stage for deeper and more engaged exploration in the workshop.

Go over the rules of engagement for the workshop 

You’ve done all the prep work, gathered commitment from your team, and now it’s workshop day. Start by laying the foundation for a positive, inclusive workplace experience with some rules of the road. Agreeing, as a group, on which behaviors are encouraged will help things go smoothly, whether you’re a newly formed and fast-growing team or an established group with some history. 

Try: Use the community agreements below as a starting point in the room. Ask the group if they can commit to these expectations and ask if there are others they would like to add. We’ve got more tips on conference room etiquette that can improve the overall creative experience for your team.   

SUGGESTED RULES OF ENGAGEMENT 

📵No devices: this one is self-explanatory.

💭All ideas are welcome: there are no bad ideas or interpretations in the creative process. They are all worthy of consideration at this stage in the process.

👂Make space for others: if you’re a talker (like me) make space for other voices to share and if you’re not a talker take that space—your team needs to hear from you.

🐘Share the unshared: something not being said? Call it out! 

🛶Kayak moment: you can say this phrase if you’ve drifted from the current thread of conversation. It happens! We’ll refresh your memory without judgment. 

Make space for different learning styles

Creativity can be explored in a number of ways. Some of us can think on the fly, some like to buddy up and combine brain powers, while others need time alone with their thoughts before they share. To build an inclusive culture of creativity on your team, you can organize the workshop to include multiple ways to play. 

We started with a group discussion around what creativity means to each of us. Then we used the values worksheet to work silently on our own. Next, we partnered up to share our worksheet responses with a buddy to ask them for help. And finally, we came back together as a group to share what we learned from the workshop.  

Try: For the remote folks dialing into the workshop

Though there were no remote participants this time, here are a few recommendations to create a great conference room experience regardless of where you’re sitting. 

  1. Book a conference room that has a screen, video conferencing, and audio equipment
  2. Include remote folks in group discussions by assigning an in-room advocate to gather their ideas and share them with the group on sticky notes or relaying to a note taker
  3. Pre-arrange a buddy system so that when it’s time to partner up no time is lost deciding who will work together and how they should meet
  4. On that note, you may want to book a few extra breakout rooms so partners have a space to meet without the background noise of in-room conversations
  5. Send out the worksheet or packet to remote employees ahead of time and ask that they print it out before the session. This will seem like a massive ask, but the rewards of committing a new skill to memory are multiplied with the use of handwriting.

Worth repeating: no devices, no excuses

If all of the attendees will participate in-person we suggest not allowing any devices in the room. Panic may ensue but when people come into a meeting room and see a slide deck on the monitor their body language is instantly cued to just sit back and listen for a while, with their phone on the table stealing glances at their smartwatch. Banning devices in an active session will allow for the exploration of ideas, not screens. 

Don’t fall into the trap of conference room layouts. Consider how you might rearrange the furniture to allow for a different workplace experience by breaking out of the conventional office environment.  

This is a little harder with a dispersed team but it’s not called a status quo workshop. So get creative in how you can demonstrate to your team that this is something you are committed to. Even you, the facilitator, can go the extra mile to not rely on devices. Getting back to the basics of handwriting might be the best way to do that. 

Try: Grab a large sticky pad and prepare what you want to present with a nice, new sharpie. Print out worksheets ahead of time to give people something they can refer back to long after the workshop is over. We even went as far as using a stopwatch to time our exercises (remember, no phones)! 

Reflect on your workshop with a follow-up survey 

Believe it or not, this session was only an hour long. Admittedly, we compromised from the two hours we originally planned for and as a result, many teammates voiced their wishes for more time during the partner-up section of the workshop. Having this data reflected in a Google Form makes it that much easier to request a longer session from your manager and your fellow teammates. 

Try: Keep the survey light (3 questions) and send it out soon after the session (a week at the latest). We asked people if they felt the pre-work prepared them, why they found the workshop useful or not, and what other forms a creativity exercise could take in a future iteration (see: cross-functional). 

In our post-survey feedback, someone shared that they initially thought this session was going to be an open brainstorm of big, new ideas for made-up projects—also known as more work. They were relieved to learn our exploration was focused on real projects already in their plans with concrete business goals. 

Getting creative in a fast-paced workplace

For teams that are constantly moving, it’s helpful to build consistency and efficient processes. But, balancing these processes with creativity has real benefits to your company’s bottom line. Tying your efforts back to your company’s mission, values, and culture is a great way to make thinking differently a team-wide habit. 

With the latest innovations in technology and the emergence of new working styles, the future of work will evolve to allow for more creative, high-value work—the things people do best. Get our report on the future of workplaces and learn how to put your best workplace forward with people-focused technology.