With the economic downturn in full force, you are probably spending a great deal of time thinking about how to cut cost, reprioritize revenue generating features, or delivering more in 2009 with less resources. You might think now is not the time to care about “creativity” and “energy” but we think this it is even more important. Having a team that is fully engaged with all of their creative forces focused on your business is crucial to achieve any of those other objectives. The way to achieve this is by creating an environment where people know where they stand in terms of performance, get to own deliverables, can openly question decisions or standards, and show each other respect.
A couple ideas that we have either read about or seen in practice in organizations are team or individual training events, four day work weeks, allocated time to work on personal interests, self selection of features/stories, and mentoring. Training can take the shape of many different forms including formal classes at universities, external workshops (WARNING: self-promotional plug….such as our Technology Workshop), or internal classes taught to each other by members of the team. Everyone knows different things, sharing this knowledge is good for both the team as well as the presenter, giving her practice explaining technical items verbally and ensuring she knows the subject completely.
Mentoring is another low cost method of helping foster a more open and creative environment. Pairing junior and senior engineers together provides both parties the opportunity to practice different skills. Additionally, it helps facilitate what are likely two different groups to begin a dialog. Mentoring can be extended in many different forms. Ask the CEO to take a different engineer as a mentee each quarter, meeting with them for lunch or breakfast every second or third week for the quarter. This is a great way to remind the top executive to appreciate the engineers and gets engineers exposure to the business challenges that the CEO faces daily, a real win-win proposition.
Some of the more radical approaches for developing a creative environment are already well documented by some very popular companies including Google and 37Signals. If you haven’t read the 37Signals book, we recommend this as a great source of ideas for fostering a creative and unique environment for your team.