Changing the Norm to Spark Creativity

While browsing through LinkedIn, I came across a thread that posed the question, “What would happen if you gave employees a handful of crayons and paper before a meeting?”

Recently, my colleague and I were called to deliver some appreciative leadership workshops with a group of supervisors, staff and partners from an accounting firm. Normally their meetings and trainings are conducted by senior management; however, a new managing partner was appointed to the division and he wanted to change the division’s culture. He wanted his employees and staff to be engaged at work and sought to increase everyone’s leadership capacity regardless of their position within the company.

Traditionally, their training room is set up like a classroom with everyone facing the front. The seats located at the back of the room were prime real estate – for those that sat in the back (often reserved for executive level management) would pull out their laptops and work on other things. Stepping into the training room, my colleague and I observed the room’s layout and rushed to change it. We pushed all the tables to the wall and formed the chairs into one large circle. The managing partner came to check on us prior to the start of the training and saw the new layout of the room. He told us not to be surprised if we were met with silence or resistance or both.

Next we laid out various pictures that we had printed or cut out of magazines and laid them on one of the tables. These pictures would serve as part of our icebreaker. As employees began to file in, the look on their faces was priceless. We asked them to browse through the pictures and find a picture that represents them at their best – be it at work or at home. Once they found a picture, we asked them to sit until everyone was ready. After everyone was seated, we each took turns sharing how the picture we chose represented us at our best. What began as an awkward, perhaps uncomfortable, icebreaker for these accountants quickly transformed into a warm, inviting environment.

As the icebreaker concluded, we again moved the tables – not so that it was classroom style – but pods (6 employees to a table). At the center of each table were fun items (stickers, pipe cleaners, small toys, sheriff badges, post its, etc.). The accountants laughed as they browsed through the items, occasionally picking up a toy or two. Individuals who work in the financial or accounting industry are often branded as introverts, number crunchers, left-brained, etc. As such, their trainings are designed to be very linear. By disrupting the way their trainings are normally conducted, and giving employees the permission to play, we hoped to invite them to tap into their creative side.

It wasn’t long before the accountants were wearing the badges, creating amazing objects out of the pipe cleaners, engaging in meaningful conversations, placing stickers on the name badges of individuals whose contribution or participation was valuable, insightful, or contributed to their learning. Amazing ideas and initiatives emerged as a result of this training which they continue to live out as part of their destiny.

What do you do to engage others during your meetings or trainings? How do you encourage play and invite curiosity where you live or work?

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