Team innovation is the secret sauce to a business’s success. It creates a strong competitive advantage and helps you go further, faster than the competition. But, removing the barriers and getting a team to innovate beyond a creative off-site meeting once a quarter can feel challenging. In LaunchStreet’s work with clients, we’ve found 7 ways to encourage innovation that have big pay off. That encouragement becomes the invisible cultural glue that creates real empowerment and motivation to act within your team. And while they aren’t as costly or time-intensive as you’d think, they do have a massive pay-off.
- Give Risk A Name: Risk shuts down a lot of innovation efforts. The fear of failure takes over and innovation is shut down. Part of the reason for this is we avoid talking about risk. We let risk become the invisible boogeyman, scaring off innovation efforts. I find that if you want to encourage innovation, you need to talk about risk openly and honestly. Talk about the worst case scenario, put it all out on the table. What I find happens is that talking about risk actually minimizes the fear factor. In discussing, people also find that the perceived risk isn’t nearly as bad as their imagination makes it out to be. Talk about it, say it out loud, give it a name.
- Reward Behavior: If you want your team to be innovative, reward the behaviors that get you there. All too often we wait until the outcomes to reward our teams. But, if you look at leading companies, you’ll find that they reward the behaviors that get them to innovation. Ray Dalio used to hire people because they would debate with him. To him, debate led to the success of Blackwater. He’s not wrong. Other clients of LaunchStreet reward giving feedback. Not if they took action on it, but when they initially gave the feedback. If you want to encourage innovation, reward behaviors.
- Test to Discover: Nothing satisfies the creative spirit like bringing your ideas to life. All too often innovation gets shut down by the all-or-none mentality. The decision to move forward is seen as either a “go to launch” massive investment or something to shelve. The impact of this approach shuts down innovation in two ways. First, it keeps people from bringing ideas to the table because they know it’s an all-or-none decision. That feels overwhelming. Second, making a full decision about an idea before testing it means giving the green light on a less than optimized idea. Both aren’t great for innovation. To encourage innovation with your team, give them the room to test out their ideas in small ways. Build a prototype, test with one client, talk to one customer. Testing fosters optimized ideas and more investment in innovation overall.
- Make Space, Not Meetings: It can be hard to innovate when you walk through the office doors and hit the ground running with meetings until you leave. Many of my colleagues are double or even triple booked all day long. If you want to build a culture of innovation, shorten or stop the meetings. Give your people the breathing room to innovate. I purposefully don’t take meetings in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. People need space to innovate.
- Empower Them: Part of the reason your team doesn’t innovate is that they simply don’t know how. Perhaps they’ve been told they aren’t innovative or they’ve shoved their innovative side in a drawer for so long they forgot how to use it. If you want to encourage innovation with your teams, help them understand how they innovate. In doing so you’ll empower them to tap into their natural talents and strengths. It’s been my experience that people that know how they innovate do more of it. If you want to discover how your team innovates, check out the Innovation Quotient Edge assessment. It will help your team discover their unique Innovator Archetypes and how to leverage that for success.
- Challenge Everyone, Not Titles: It’s very easy to think that certain people are the innovative ones. Whether that’s because of their titles, location on the org chart, or their wild purple hair. You look to those people to innovate. In the meantime, the rest of us are just passed up. The mistake in this is that you avoid, or eliminate, most of the people you work within the innovation process. You actually disempower most of your team. If you want to truly encourage innovation, challenge everyone to innovate regardless of title. You’d be amazed where a good idea can come from. And usually, it’s not where you think.
- Be Consistent: Your team has heard it before. To them, your mandate to innovate is just a flavor of the month. They know it will either fizzle or fail. If you want to create a culture of innovation that is sustainable, be consistent. Don’t just talk about innovation at team meetings. Talk about it daily by asking them what new and interesting things they are working on. Show them you are investing in them and in innovation by giving them access to tools like Innovation OnDemand so that they can have the innovation tools they need at their fingertips. Make innovation part of their job responsibilities and daily tasks, not something you do at a 3pm brainstorm with scented markers or when they have “extra” time. Who has extra time these days?
Encouraging innovation with your teams doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be a daily priority. If you do any or all of the above, innovation will flow.
Image credit: liquidchurch.com
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Tamara Kleinberg of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.