January 8, 2013
5 Ways To Make Your Team More Brilliant

Every leader wants employees with great ideas. But great ideas don’t just appear in a vacuum. They tend to come most readily in environments where people feel intellectually stimulated, where deep thinking is valued and, most importantly, where people are given the time to think.

Here are five ways you can nurture that environment in your company and among the people who report to you.

1. Choose a video of the day. When Sal Khan started posting his videos years ago at, he only covered math topics. But now Khan Academy features everything from physics to economics to art history. Send around a selection of a favorite video each day and bring up what you learned in conversations. Even writing a fact from a video on the white board before a meeting starts will send the message that it’s OK to spend time stretching your brain.

2. Start a book club. You can access classic works of literature in bite-size chunks via DailyLit (which emails a passage every day from books like The Odyssey or Moby Dick). Host once-a-month lunchtime discussions until you make your way through. Or you can buy a more current book for everyone and have the author call in during a lunchtime discussion. You may be surprised how many authors are willing to do this!

3. Schedule in creative team building. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, everyone has a lot of work to do. But the work will still be there if you have an art teacher come in with paints and canvases for a 90-minute workshop. It will still be there if you all go do a session at a local pottery studio or learn how to make fabulous pastries at a commercial kitchen that does classes. When people get away from their inboxes for a while, they get a ton of ideas, and doing team building during the workday scores points from people who feel like they don’t see their families enough anyway.

4. Curate content. This takes some effort, as people get a lot of emails and tend to delete most newsletters they receive. But if your links to articles and reports are relevant and interesting (be sure to put the highlights in the email and interrupt an intriguing sentence with a “…” to get people to click), you can get your team in the habit of reading them. This is especially true if you devote 5 minutes at the start of any staff meetings or calls to discussing them.

5. Take a MOOC together. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) let people around the world hear from top professors and work through assignments, just like you would at that university., for instance, features free courses taught by professors from Princeton, the University of Michigan, Duke University and other places, and covers topics from robotics to world history. MOOCs tend to have a high dropout rate, but if you take a course as a team, you’ll be accountable to each other.

How do you make your team more brilliant?

Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2012) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She writes the 168 Hours blog for CBS MoneyWatch, is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors, and speaks frequently about time management and leadership topics. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Other Articles by Laura Vanderkam:

How To Give Regular Feedback And Still Get Work Done

Why And How Managers Should Help Workers Set Boundaries

Work-Life Balance Is Dead—Why That Might Be A Good Thing

It’s Time To Stop Asking CEOs How They 'Balance'

How To Figure Out Your Optimal Workload

7 Common Mistakes New Managers Make

The Right Way To Use Company Perks

How To Figure Out Your Most Productive Time Of Day

Why You Should Rethink That Morning Meeting

5 Ways To Keep Your Best Employees From Quitting