Many business leaders have trouble resolving the inherent tension between operational structure and employee freedom.
On one hand, they realize that people need room to pursue unconventional ideas, to express themselves, and to make their own decisions. At the same time, standardized procedures, guidelines and processes must exist to provide a framework for the organization. When the natural struggle between these two opposing forces ensues, corporate control often wins and creativity is forced to take a back seat. If you think too much organizational structure may be thwarting the inspiration in your workplace, here’s some information that may help you to re-think your corporate purpose and priorities.
It’s time to recognize that all problem solving is not created equal.
Over the years, we’ve been led to believe that all successful people are highly organized and thrive on predictability. Following a routine does have its advantages. For example, going by rote allows for the focus that’s needed to resolve analytic problems and scrutinize data. That’s critically important in most corporate environments, but so is thinking outside the box. Doing things differently, looking at problems from new perspectives, and devising solutions that go beyond ‘the way it’s always been done’ is how the status quo is overcome and progress is made.
Different types of thinking also require different environments.
Analytic problem solving that requires serious concentration is better performed where there are few distractions. In analyzing a complex data set, for example, it’s better to conduct it in a quiet place like a private office rather than a bustling break room. While structure can help with linear thought processes, reducing distractions can actually be counterproductive when you want to cultivate creativity. Letting in more noise, images and other diversions exposes the brain to different stimuli, which allows for less methodical thinking. It’s akin to opening the door to the imagination. When you diversify workspaces to accommodate various types of thinking, it offers something for everyone and sets your organization up for success.
Take these steps to create a less confining and more inspiring work environment:
- Discourage constant productivity. Really? Although that may seem counterintuitive to the conventional work ethic, the reality is that people only have so much energy and attention to expend in the day. When you want to shift the focus to creativity, temporarily take the pressure off of achieving certain goals or setting benchmarks for success. This downshifts the part of the brain that’s responsible for complex problem solving and reasoning, and increases the activation of the imagination.
- Expand your borders. An organizational structure shouldn’t be set in stone nor should it box people in. It should be an adjustable blueprint that allows people to focus on their strengths and frees them to do what they do best. Provide employees with the opportunity to have some flexibility regarding how, when, and where their work gets done. People want to be involved in designing and managing their work tasks, so give team members choices, allow them to personalize their work, and offer them opportunities to share their ideas.
- Focus on employee comfort. A 2017 study from Cornell University determine that work surroundings can have a major impact on how employees feel about their productivity and ability to be creative. Natural light, good airflow and moderate temperatures were found to produce the most positive work environment. Adding vibrant natural elements such as plants and small trees also stimulated thinking and improved overall cognitive function.
- Encourage unstructured time. Unstructured thinking time is like recess for adults. Taking mental breaks is crucial for creativity and actually improves cognitive performance. When there’s time in the day to let the outside world in, the brain is free to make associations that it can’t reach through analysis. Allow time for workers to take a walk, try a new coffee shop, or have lunch in the park. Get extra points for team building when workers are able to enjoy these unstructured breaks in the day together.
You can find the sweet spot where accelerated productivity meets ingenuity.
Businesses need the creative ideas that spark invention as well as the structure that transforms those creations into marketable products. In isolation, these conflicting forces can destroy a company, but together, they can produce amazing growth.
For over 20 years, The HR Team has been helping companies strike the right structural balance between autonomy and control. Please reach out to our knowledgeable professionals to find out how we can assist your organization, too.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.