In today’s article, “How to inspire your staff without burning them out,” published by Fast Company, Meghan Anzelc, PhD. was quoted on one of her experiences providing her team opportunities for creativity and innovation while still delivering business value.

Provide Clear Objectives and Flexible Methods

“One experience in fostering creativity stands out to me. I was leading a team working on a high-priority AI project for a key business unit that involved many other teams in the organization. My team needed to finish their months of work on time so that the next team could start the next phase of the project, and there was a lot of iteration and research involved in building the AI model.

“To foster creativity, I set only two rules for the project. First, they had to meet the final deadline. Second, they needed to follow the gold standard for measuring how well their AI model worked. With everything else, the team could do things how they wanted and try out as many creative approaches as they wanted.

“This approach ended up being extremely effective. The team appreciated the broad flexibility in how they did their work and as we progressed through the project, I continued to reiterate the two—and only two—rules of the project. My clarity and steadfastness gave them the confidence they could take risks and there would be no “gotcha” at the end. Giving the team significant autonomy empowered them to take more ownership of their work than before. Many of them decided to spend their time, sometimes working additional hours, exploring ideas and new approaches in AI and testing if they could apply them to their part of the project.

“Not only did the team come up with some very creative solutions as they built their AI model, but the approach ended up being effective for managing leadership’s expectations as well, giving me a creative way to manage up on future projects. Being a high-priority project for the department, the C-suite leader of our division regularly asked me about the project status in the hallways, understandably wanting to know if we were on track and often hoping we’d be early in our delivery. Given my promises to the team, I applied the same unwavering approach with the executive, answering each time that the project would be delivered on the date required.

“When pressed to deliver early, I held firm and repeated the project would be delivered on the date required. We had this conversation so often it became an inside joke, with the executive finding creative ways to ask the question differently to see if I’d give a different answer. When my team delivered on time, meeting the deadline, it engendered confidence in me on the part of the executive. Shortly after, I was promoted and given more challenging projects to tackle and deliver.”

Dr. Anzelc’s contribution, along with the full article, can be found here.