Innovation is a critical factor in improving the competitiveness of a business. What does it take to drive innovation in a team? It's all about building a culture of flexibility and that accepts the associated risks. Innovation also thrive in favorable environments where employees are motivated for their hardwork.
Here's what entrepreneurs and business owners had to say about how they drive innovation in their teams.
#1- Thinking of more ideas more frequently
Whether you think the idea is good or not, the key is to go for quantity first. We practice and learnt this concept from the book Originals by Adam Grant. In his book, Grant explained how it is often easier to generate original and creative ideas by thinking of more ideas more frequently. This has actually worked very well for our team as we always find ourselves with a lot of good ideas to work with, which is why we continue to implement this method.
Thanks to Shawn Lim, M&P International Freights!
#2-Balance between freedom and control
The single most important thing to fuel innovation in a team is getting the balance between freedom and control right. To innovate, people need time and space for creativity and for trying new things. However, without a highly disciplined approach to testing and implementing ideas, it’s highly likely that none of them will lead to anything. So, in practice, start by asking your staff to come up with ideas on how you could do things smarter, then start building a disciplined, yet innovative, culture around making those ideas happen.
Thanks to Jesse Nieminen, Viima!
#3- Map current collaboration pattern then strategies
Innovation is about combining information in a unique way. I use social (organizational) network analysis to analyze the collaboration patterns in teams. Clients who want to increase the efficiency of their team need to develop different collaboration pattern than those who seek to fuel innovation. Innovation requires diversity. We map the current collaboration pattern and then devise strategies to shake it up. Think about forcing people to interact with those who they don't know well through (virtual) coffee breaks or lunches, or change task assignments. Helpful is also to go beyond the team and investigate ‘external connections', those to members in other teams. Peripheral team members, those who have a less central position in the team, are great for bringing in new perspectives and information.
Thanks to Katerina Bohle Carbonell, NetNigma!
#4- Kaizen (continuous improvement) approach
I am a big fan of the Kaizen (continuous improvement) approach to innovation when involving the team. Trying to get team members with less experience to get involved in innovation can be daunting to them as they feel the pressure of coming up with big ideas. However looking for tiny 1% improvements on a day to day basis is easy for everyone at all levels of responsibility and experience. A simple question like What could be changed to make this task better/faster/easier? added to the end of a job checklist can cause a flow of innovative ideas on a daily basis.
Thanks to Andy Middler, middlers.co.uk!
#5- Taking away money
Now and then, I take away budget and make them figure it out. It causes them to think like an owner. A lot of employees think money grows on trees. I took away our expensive and hard to use project management system that caused bureaucracy everywhere and told them to figure it out for zero dollars. They found a free basic system that ended up being far more user-friendly and doesn't let you become bureaucratic. I limited marketing's Conversion Rate Optimization money and it caused them to think long and hard about what we really needed. They found a company to do a far better job for far less money. Taking away money takes away the easy button and forces innovation, which usually results in a better product.
Thanks to Dave Munson, Saddleback Leather!
#6- Continuous education
Encourage continuous education, and not just with a subsidy for hours spent outside of work. If you come across an insightful, industry-relevant article, share it with your team. If your see your team members studying mid-shift, praise them and encourage them to share what they've learned at the next team meeting. By fostering a spirit of personal and professional development, you'll elevate the team's craft and their morale. While this might not lead to any particular result you can say is directly tied to your work, this is how my team has remained both lean and effective as the greater company around us scales and serves an ever larger number of customers.
Thanks to Yaniv Masjedi, Nextiva!
#6- Exposure to outside concepts
Innovations, which I define as the introduction of a product or service to the market that obsoletes another, are a result of both art and science. The art portion is the creativity of the individuals. The best have the ability to think divergently. Divergent thinking is fueled by improving neuroplasticity. This is easily accomplished by ensuring team members are regularly exposed to outside concepts, other industries or new knowledge. Please remember that some people are much better than others. You may have only one and you should rely on that person to generate the ideas. With science, its not just technology, but the process of innovation as well.. Many companies overlook the process. They simply want to get smart people in a room and “brainstorm.“ I have found it far more effective to present the issue that’s trying to be solved, the constraints around it and then wait for people to think of ideas on their own. You can then huddle the team back together, including only the most creative, and have them turn one crazy idea into a workable idea.
Thanks to Adam Ward, Simpler Consulting!
#7- Focus and framework
Provide a structured framework for your team to be creative within. Innovation with no guidance turns into distraction and wasted energy. Help the team focus on the one key metric you are trying to influence, create a framework by which the team focuses their creativity on influencing that metric, establish a timeline and a clear metrics-based method by which to track success of those efforts, and then ensure there is follow up on how these ideas and changes accomplish the goal of positively affecting the one key metric. Without a focus, framework for experimentation or innovation, and process by which to track results in a defined timeline innovation is try hard because you will lack the ability to clearly determine success and replicate the process.
Thanks to Rory Crawford, Bevspot!
#8- Gamification system
To encourage new ideas, we have come up with our own gamification system. We call it “Innovative Birds”. Every Monday morning starts with a short meeting where each member of the team shares at least one idea. The employee whose idea gets eventually approved by CEO earns one bonus point (a.k.a. nest). All the gained points are calculated at the end of each quarter and can be redeemed for different rewards, such as extra days off or money bonuses. To support idea generation, every employee is given access to online learning platforms, such as Lynda and Coursera, and can attend company-paid conferences. The name of the program has derived from “early birds”, as we truly believe that early Monday mornings — when everyone’s feeling refreshed after the weekend — are the best time to discuss innovations.
Thanks to John Breese, Happysleepyhead.com!
At RightMesh, we are working with cutting edge technologies like mobile mesh networking, blockchain, and cryptocurrency to create a communications platform to connect the next billion users and lift 100 million people out of poverty. The very essence of our business is innovation as what we are creating has never been done before. We fuel that innovation by hiring passionate people who want to change the world, and we nurture that innovation by creating a culture that encourages failure. As Albert Einstein once said, failure is success in progress, and we believe this so strongly that it is one our company's core values. With failure as an option, our team is willing to take risks that they wouldn't otherwise consider. Failure propels innovation by teaching us things we didn't know, encouraging us to think differently, and stimulating creativity.
Thanks to John Lytotier, RightMesh!
#10- Trust your employees and give them more autonomy
We give a lot of autonomy to our employees and encourage them to throw in their ideas and make their own decisions from time to time. When a not-so-good decision is made, we face the consequences together and learn together as a team. The last thing I want for my team is to fumble with decision-making skills because of the fear of failure. Because we embrace mistakes, our team is not afraid to make bold decisions and ideas that sometimes hit the jackpot.
Thanks to Charlotte Ang, Rentalorry!
#11- A simple two-step approach
I believe that the most powerful skill that can be developed in any employee is their inherent ability to innovate. The ability to be able to see opportunity where others see barriers is an incredible life skill to develop in any employee and once which unlocks massive value for companies. At Parkpnp, we take a simple two-step approach to empowering staff to innovate. i) Open Source Ideation: Every month, we poll staff as to the most troublesome area of the business, we then host collective sessions to brainstorm ideas to help solve the problems. ii) Own It: A key to understanding the innovation process is taking ownership of full cycle implementation. We empower staff at all levels to take their ideas and work collaboratively across our business to bring them to fruition. If necessary we're even prepared to reallocate resources and supports to ensure that staff aren't being distracted by their traditional duties.
Thanks to Garret Flower, Parkpnp!
#12- Empower them
The best way to innovate your team is to empower them to think as if they own their department and/or their role. By doing so, you enable them to think more critically about their role within the organization. Once employees have a factual grasp on their role they're able to better understand the organization at-large. In addition to understanding their role, employees should have an understanding of the organization's financial health. As finances are intrinsically important to CEOs and leaders, by comprehending the financial aspect of the business, employees are able to build upon a realistic foundation. They are able to understand the realities of the business. This is where true and beneficial innovation can come from.
Thanks to John Bernatovicz, Willory!
#13- Foster group process
I try to get them out of Manhattan, which is oddly quite provincial. I try to get them to read more widely than they otherwise would. I try hard to get them to NOTICE everything going on around them, by setting a good example myself, and I point out to them things I’ve noticed. And I push them to accept that several heads are better than just one, so they must tolerate the group process, and focus at meetings, instead of being distracted by their cell phones.
Thanks to Dan Biederman, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corporation!
#14-Creating a safe space for innovation
Good innovation, like leadership, is rooted in deep empathy and emotional safety. If you want to fuel an innovation-minded-team, you have to make it safe for them to explore, speak their ideas and make mistakes. It's critical to cultivate a sincere curiosity and desire to understand the needs of the people you're trying to serve, without judgement. You can't mandate empathy and emotional safety, you must model it.
Thanks to Kimberly Davis, OnStage Leadership!
#15-Switch it up!
Research shows that exercise and fresh air are key to fueling creativity. So if you are used to indoor team meetings in a boardroom for example, then consider taking the meeting outside. Go for a brisk walk around the block, plan a fun orienteering exercise and have a meeting there and then. Do it while you are relaxed, laughing and are most likely to have your thinking caps on.
Thanks to Rita Kakati Shah, Uma!
#16- Hiring the right fit
When hiring a new team member, it’s important that the person be flexible and good at taking constrictive criticism. Innovative people tend to have a strong ability to be malleable, flexible and are able to change their approaches based on what is working and what is not without losing their vision of the bigger picture. It's important to hire team members who possess this ability. Someone who isn’t married to their ideas and can collaborate with others to bring forth a hybrid outcome resulting in the best efforts of the team. It's also important to allow your team to take risks and try new approaches. But, innovation comes down to one simple core skill: Communication Skills. Without this essential skill, none of the preceding skills can be harnessed to their full potential.
Thanks to Tony Ellison, Shoplet.com!