5 Free Tools For Inspiring Creative Thinking Across Your Organization

Building employee engagement and team spirit through collaboration

Collaboration-Inspiring Creative Thinking

It’s easy to get bogged down in silos at work, with each employee isolated, working on their specific deliverables. This can leave your employees feeling disengaged and disconnected from your company’s mission, and their unique part in activating it. One effective way for reigniting your employees’ passion around the corporate mission, while getting them reacquainted with their colleagues, is to host some form of structured creative thinking activity.

While this sort of team collaboration often takes place during corporate or departmental offsites, they can also be easily worked into your regular team meeting agendas, depending upon the method you use. We’ve rounded up five effective creative thinking exercises, and rated them according to amount of time needed and ability to be effectively conducted with a virtual team, to help you see which approach is best for you. These five free tools should kickstart your organization’s collaboration, whether you’re looking fo focus on improving a product, or creating a structure for fostering innovation.

Collaboration Tool #1: Big Ideas Group Brainstorm

What it is: A group brainstorming activity, kicked off by asking those assembled to throw out their top ideas for things they’d like to see your organization do, regardless of how difficult or implausible. Empower participants to share their crazy, big ideas– the bigger the better. After each person has shared one or two big ideas, ask the group to start iterating on each other’s ideas. Once the group has come to a conclusion with generating their ideas, have the facilitator group them into related topics or themes. Finally, give each participant the ability to vote for the top 3 ideas they’d like to see pursued. This can be done by giving participants sticky notes or dots to put next to their favorite idea. After you’ve identified the top 5 ideas the group is most interested in pursuing, allow participants to raise their hand to work on their favorite idea, and assign them to report back to the group in 1 month on progress.

Who it’s best for: Small to medium sized groups that have a good history of collaborating well together.

Time Needed: Ask the attendees to start thinking about their ideas a week in advance of the meeting, and plan 1-2 hours for the group activity, depending upon group size.

Is virtual collaboration an option? This is best for an in-person group. But, if you have a strong facilitator with experience in including external participants, and have ability to use video to allow virtual and in-person team members to work together, or an all-virtual team, this activity could be done virtually.


Collaboration Tool #2: SCAMPER

What it is: SCAMPER is a mnemonic framework for walking your group through a series of creative thinking questions, and works especially well if your meeting objective is to improve upon an existing product or service. The mnemonic stands for:

  • Substitute: What materials, resources or processes could you substitute?

  • Combine: Are there any other products or resources that you could combine to improve this?

  • Adapt: How could this core product/service be used for another purpose?

  • Modify: Is there anything you could add or enhance to improve this product/service?

  • Put to another use: How could this product/service be put to use by a different target audience?

  • Eliminate: Is there anything you could do to streamline this product/service without reducing its utility?

  • Reverse: What if your product or service had the reverse objective or purpose, or a reversed process?

For a comprehensive list of questions you can ask to get the conversation going around these 6 areas, check out this SCAMPER overview from Mind Tools.

Who it’s best for: A small group looking to improve upon an existing product or service.

Time Needed: 1-2 hours to work through each product or service you are looking to improve.

Is virtual collaboration an option? This tactic works well for in-person or virtual meetings, and can even be used, in sequence, for an asynchronous, completely online collaboration, through a shared note or ongoing open-ended group chat.


Collaboration Tool #3: SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analaysis

What it is: This popular strategic planning tool is frequently used to generate new product and service ideas, in support of a specific business objective, by evaluating internal and external threats and opportunities. It does this by grouping key pieces of information into two main categories:

  1. internal factors – the strengths and weaknesses internal to the organization

  2. external factors – the opportunities and threats presented by the environment external to the organization

Start the conversation by having your facilitator draw a SWOT grid on a whiteboard or flipchart:




















Walk the group through brainstorming 7-8 items per quadrant, then ask them to vote on the top 2 most important areas to dive into further in each quadrant. For those items, do individual brainstorms on how they could be addressed.

Who it’s best for: A small to medium sized group with a shared objective they’re trying to address.

Time Needed: 2 hours.

Is virtual collaboration an option? Yes. To maximize the time spent on this as a virtual team, ask participants to submit a couple of bullets for each quadrant in advance to a facilitator who consolidates them in advance, using the partially completed quadrant as the starting point for the virtual group conversation.

Collaboration Tool #4: Brain Writing

What it is: This tool is an effective way to quickly capture and elaborate upon ideas in groups of any size. Give each participant 3 sheets of paper, and present them with an objective or a problem statement that you’d like the group to focus on for the session. Next, ask them to write down 1 idea per page that addresses this issue or objective. Encourage participants to keep this initial idea broad and without too many details (giving them 2 minutes to generate the ideas is one way to encourage brevity). Next, have them pass their sheets of paper to someone next to them, such as the person on their left. Give them 4 minutes to add their ideas to the ones they were just handed. Repeat the pass of papers up to 4 more times, and ask participants to consider consolidating ideas in addition to adding their own. At the end of the session, collect all papers, and have the facilitator create a master list and share it with the group for further discussion and feedback, possibly in a follow-up session.

Who it’s best for: This can work with groups of any size, as long as they have shared ability to impact your problem statement or objective.

Time Needed: 30 minutes. Can be as short as 15 minutes if you do fewer paper passes.

Is virtual collaboration an option? Yes. Works well in-person or virtually. For an example of a form that would work well virtually, see Smashing magazine’s Brain Writing overview.

Collaboration Tool #5 :Centralized Idea Board

What it is: No, I’m not suggesting you bring back the anonymous suggestion boxes that used to sit forlornly in your workplace lunchroom. Instead, use your online collaboration platform to create a centralized idea board that all employees are allowed to contribute to. In many organizations, this type of idea repository is frequently used to share customer and employee generated product or service enhancements, but it can be broadened to encompass all facets of organizational life. For instance, you could create a sub-section for employees to share their ideas for improving workflows, or sharing tools that can help increase productivity and efficiencies.

Who it’s best for: This collaboration approach works best in organizations that are built on transparency and accountability, and are committed to creating a collaborative culture, where employees would see contributing an idea that gets acted upon as a benefit in itself. Would not work well in an organization that doesn’t have a good track record on being open to new ideas, or ideas that challenge the status quo.

Time Needed: 5 minutes per idea, and facilitator time on an ongoing basis to ensure ideas are connected with people who could consider and implement them.

Is virtual collaboration an option? This idea is completely virtual. All employees can participate equally, regardless of time zone or physical location.


Even More Ideas to Get the Collaboration Conversations Flowing

Want even more ideas for inspiring creative thinking in your organization? Check out this creative thinking techniques bucket list. Are you already a Redbooth user? Create an “Idea Board” project in your organization today and open it up to your entire company, and start the conversation off with a few strategic thinking questions that align with your corporate goals. Before you know it, you’ll see your employees coming together regularly to share their great ideas with each other.