The question that has lingered in the back of my mind the last few weeks is: what can management do to foster a creative environment for team building? I’ve read through the piles of articles about dramatic office makeovers that include a moderate to widely liberal open spaces encouraging (the often dreaded) free flowing traffic. There are other posts that recommend having a slide between floors or even (on a more minimal personal note) encouraging personal flair. Yet, the question stands because (first) most companies don’t have the luxury of developing elaborate office concepts and (two) most of these reviewed suggestions promote personal identity rather than kindling creativity within the individual or the team.

Here’s what you can actually do today without involving a demolition team to re-do your office or requiring your staff to look like flair-pinning over-exuberant waiters.

Growing Pains

An Inc. Magazine article by Samuel Bacharach entitled “How to Retain Your Intrapreneurs” discussed the set backs faced by organizations that succeed. As they succeed and grow larger, “a bureaucratic rigor mortis sets in,” that generally brings with it “too many procedures, too many routines, too many constraints,” resulting in obstructed innovation.

The creatively regressive decline during simultaneous growth tends to drive away the star employees that helped you achieved entrepreneurial success. Bacharach writes that to prevent losing key team members, companies should: (1) allow innovators to remain innovators by allowing people to pursue their passions; (2) avoid bureaucratic creep that prevents agility and fixates on routine, (3) encourage spontaneity; and (4) create internal networks that allow for a free and spirited exchange of ideas.

The Difference Between Pre and Post Digital Companies

Paul Boag has a fantastic article called “The Secret to a Happy, Productive, and Creative Digital Team,” in which he describes to scenarios. The first is the pre-digital company: “Walk into most pre-digital companies and you will find cubicle hell. As you walk down the aisles, heads pop over the barriers glancing around like frightened meerkats afraid of a predator. There is little noise apart from the tapping of fingers on keyboards and the occasional person on the phone.”

The latter is the post-digital company: “Walk through a post-digital company such as Google, Valve or Twitter, and the atmosphere is totally different. They are almost always open plan with half finished work and wireframes covering the walls. Huddles of people sit together talking and sketching out ideas. There is a buzz in the air and a bustle of activity.”

Though we’re all clearly in a post-digital age, most companies still reflect a pre-digital culture that’s the corporate equivalent to a space-time vacuum. You know it exists but there’s absolutely nothing going on in there. Your aim in building a creative space should be to align your understanding of ‘work’ to reflect a more modern context. Work can happen in a lively environment just as much as a hum-drum one. In fact, most of your employees will thrive in organic environment where they’re free to be themselves rather than conform to the cubicle rules: please look straight ahead and keep your hands and feet inside at all times.