Keeping teams thinking creatively is no easy task. To keep employees from getting stuck in a rut, these businesses took out-of-the-box approaches to challenge staff to think in new ways. Learn their strategies -- and soak in their lessons learned.

Mix it up.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Gimlet Media makes popular podcasts such as Startup and Reply All -- but early this year, all work froze for a week. Its 45 employees were scrambled into groups and given two days to dream up a new show and produce its first episode. “It was an unreasonably difficult exercise,” says cofounder and president Matt Lieber, but the real goal was to shift comfort zones and encourage risk taking. If the exercise spawns new shows, that’s a bonus.

Make it up.

Louis Addeo is CEO of the SoCal gift shop San Diego Trading Co. He wanted his 65 employees to become engaged at work. So he hired the comedy troupe Finest City Improv, which led the team through some unconventional communication exercises. Improv’s first rule: Say yes to every new scenario, and run with it. Since the class, he’s seen employees think more about the company -- not just their department. “Every day now,” he says, “I hear people say, ‘Yes, and…’ rather than ‘but’ or ‘if.’”

Play with it.

Morphonix should be a creative space: The San Rafael, Calif.–based company makes educational video games for children. But staffers are “young guys sitting at a computer, wearing headphones. They hardly ever get up,” says founder Karen Littman. So Littman dumped a big pile of Legos on the floor -- and the coders couldn’t resist. “The Legos help jump-start a different, more creative part of the brain,” she says, and remind her staff of how kids process information.