Creating Innovative Teams
By Chris Grivas, co-author, “THE INNOVATIVE TEAM: Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results”
Pop Quiz: Who invented the iPhone™? The microwave oven? The Space Shuttle? The reason you don’t know the answer is because these innovations were powered by a team, not just one person. In today’s marketplace, all companies are looking for that innovative edge – ways to capitalize on the creative power of their experts to put a breakthrough into the marketplace. You could rely on more innovative marketing strategies, or you could actually create something profound. Ready to change the world by keeping your teams truly innovative? Here are a few tips my clients have found really helpful getting them started.
There are three factors that directly affect the ability to innovate within any team:
- The leadership
- The makeup of the team itself, and
- The task at hand.
Success of any team starts with leadership. In fact, research into creativity has found that the 67% of an organizational climate for creativity of any given organization is directly attributable to the leader. So what can you do as a leader to ensure you are maximizing the creative thinking of your team? Here are 3 things:
People are more likely to bring you their innovative ideas when they are received well. While no idea may be perfect, challenge yourself to find what is good about their ideas. Respond to a novel approach positively first, “Here’s what I like about that…” Then phrase your concerns as questions, “How might we get that idea accepted by the engineering team?” “How might we get that idea done as inexpensively as possible?” This will send your comrade off with a starting point to focus their creative thinking and will more likely produce a well-thought out innovative outcome.
Encourage risk and don’t worry about failure
More ideas fail than are successful; it’s a law of nature. Accept that and don’t fight it. Just as Edison tried 1000 filaments before inventing the light bulb, your people need to have time to fail; don’t let them give up. If the idea has some merit, help them explore it. Budget time to work through problems and give them plenty of credit for trying. Again, the power of a good question is key here. “So that didn’t work. What other ways can you approach the problem?” “What assumptions do you think led to this not working?” One of the best things a leader can do to encourage innovation is help her team explore the challenge at hand.
Let your people own the work
Remember your role as a leader is primarily to be clear about the vision and then remove obstacles in your team’s way. Make sure they have the resources to do the work and don’t do their work for them. Treat them as the experts they are.
The Makeup of the Team
First, assemble the right team. The criteria I recommend is to ask yourself:
- Do they have the motivation, skills and abilities to get the job done?
- Are all key constituents represented?
- Are they clear about task and what is expected of them?
Clearly, the 3rd question is a “to-do” for you as a leader. Without this, your team will struggle and likely fail, so it’s worth making a note of it up front. The first two questions are more about how you form the team. They are both for political and practical. Motivation, skills and abilities are more important than personality. You need to have the knowledge and experience necessary to get the work done. Clearly, having the key players on the team ensures more buy-in at implementation, but more important for innovative results, it brings diversity of thought to the table. Diversity of perspectives is a key toward effective innovation.
Next, devote some time to helping the team understand each other and the process the team will take. Spending time at the onset talking about who they are, the challenge at hand, and process the team will use to accomplish their task saves a ton of time down the road. If the team is clear on the direction they are heading and how they are expected to work together, they will be more likely to stay on track, remain engaged, and get targeted results.
The Task at Hand
Wouldn’t it be great if
- …people had a way to electronically connect to all parts of their lives anywhere they were?
- …people could heat up their food really fast in a small space?
- …people could go into space and return in the same vehicle over and over again?
Those are the questions that sparked the development of the iPhone™, microwave, and space shuttle. The greatest innovations start with a dream. If you want true innovation, be clear about your dream. The result is what you are going for, not the idea itself. Ideas will come, once the desired outcome is clear. Dreams should be inspiring, exciting, and grand. Try generating a bunch of dreams beginning with “Wouldn’t it be great if…” and see what emerges. We can do anything where there is passion, expertise, and commitment. So give yourself permission to dream big.
At this point, you might be thinking. “Well, dreaming big is all well and good, but I need innovative results for this small project I’m working on. I don’t need a big dream, I need a solution to this problem.” Fair enough. Ask yourself, “What would be the result of solving this problem?” That is your starting point. Even seemingly small problems can be expressed in terms of results that are inspiring. It’s the same approach, just scaled down slightly. Keep in mind you don’t have to change the world every day to be successful; often changing just a small segment can be extremely powerful. By using these techniques routinely, you are building a culture of innovation – you might say an innovation machine – with each question.
Published: September 9, 2012 By: