Leadership Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? is written by Jeff Diana, chief people officer at Atlassian.
I originally went to school to be a university professor. I was driven by the idea of helping others stretch their thinking; what could be more fulfilling than mentoring a group of people ready to take on the world and make it a better place? When my first paper was co-published with my professor, he called me into his office to share the good news, and then I watched him put the academic journal on his shelf with hundreds of others. It was in that moment that I realized the best way for me to have a real impact was to get my hands dirty and improve organizations from the inside out – hence my shift into the field of HR. I’ve now spent more than 15 years developing the people inside organizations and have seen firsthand that the greatest innovations come from teams of people, not the lone genius. It’s teams that move mountains. And that is how you encourage creativity — by making it easy for groups of people to come together to dream, create and collaborate.
Remove the friction. Remove the silos. And build a culture of openness where everyone feels empowered, engaged and inspired. Sure, there will still be a “hierarchy” of roles and responsibilities (whether through an organizational chart or the natural human tendency to create formation among groups of people). My focus is to deemphasize this as much as possible to create a culture that maximizes the many over the few. In my role as chief people officer, I don’t view myself as a “manager” or an “executive,” I see myself as a peer who has an opportunity to enable those around me to do the greatest work of their lives. How do I do that?
Share information unfiltered
In many organizations, information is kept private and hoarded, and then shared. (Maybe.) The best approach is usually the opposite. By giving everyone access to as much information as possible, regardless of your job title or role, employees can self-service questions, make more informed decisions and be inspired by new information. Rather than defaulting to keeping everything private, default to keeping it open. Then “cherry pick” what needs to be kept confidential. Companies that make the mistake of limiting information negatively impact employee performance and hinder creativity.
Invite outliers to the conversation
I learned this from watching the great Jack Welch at GE. He often put together the most eclectic groups of people from different departments and levels in the company. If the concept, idea or decision at the end of the discussion was the same as it was from the start, the meeting was a waste of time that failed to take advantage of a broad collective genius. Sounds pretty similar to a university classroom discussion, doesn’t it?
Do what you say
Say it clearly and then deliver. This is the foundation of trust. Trust is critical to unleashing creativity.
You can never do too much of this. Highlight failures, high-five the effort and keep digging for more. Often our greatest successes follow our biggest failures. Take time to recognize wins and the effort of your teammates’ – we often move on to the next deliverable too quickly. Recognition has the best ROI of all compensation and benefits programs — period.
Give employees freedom and flexibility to experiment
If everyone is worried that one false word or mistake might get them fired, how can they be creative? Creativity is about taking risks. If it’s not supported, it’ll never happen. Some of the best ideas come from random side projects or one-off conversations. Don’t stifle these opportunities — they may lead to your next big idea! Encourage everyone to take action with programs like regular hackathon events that address your entire organization, not just your products.
At the end of the day, our job as leaders is not to mandate ideas from the top down, but to unleash the potential in every person. Give people the freedom and support they need to innovate — with a little guidance — and then get out of their way. Focus on building a great team and the creativity will follow.
Read all answers to the Fortune Insider question: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
How to reward good (and bad) ideas at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
4 ways to stop worrying and embrace creative risks by Laura Pincus Hartman, professor of business ethics at Boston University.
Why you absolutely need creative employees by Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.