10 Ways to Spark Innovation on Your Team

December 5, 2019

The strength of bringing people together to innovate as a team is that each person brings their own experiences. They make different observations based on how they see the world and what they notice. As a leader, you may want more creativity, but your ideas will only stretch as far as your team’s experience.

Team cohesion is important for successful innovation. Cohesion is how strongly people feel about being a part of a team and want to stick together.  Researchers see cohesion as creating a psychologically safe environment that enables people to challenge each other and the status quo. Cohesion supports innovation because people focus on the work rather than ladder climbing, gaining political clout or proving they’re the smartest person in the room. When teams align in this way, people think about advancing the team, not themselves, and accomplishing the objectives of what the team needs to do. The trust that comes with cohesion helps iterate or evolve good ideas into great ideas.

Getting teams to feel cohesive and work together is the backbone of innovation in every successful company. But getting that to happen isn’t easy. In a Robert Half survey, 35% of CFOs said the biggest hurdle to big-idea breakthrough is a last of innovative ideas. Some of the things that these execs pointed out were excessive bureaucracy (24%) and putting out fires and day-to-day demands being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires (20%).

To deal with this, the Robert Half team suggested 10 ways that you can spark innovation on your team.

1. Give employees a reason to care

If people don’t feel a connection to what you do, it’s hard for them to care. Make sure you’ve clearly defined your purpose and then communicate it regularly. Let them know your business objectives and strategies to make it happen. Then, ask them for input. When employees are a part of the process in the early days, they’ll be motivated to see things through to the end. Hearing things second-hand in hallways conversations makes them feel disconnected and disengaged.

2. Empower your employees to make decisions and take action

When people know you trust them, they do better. Focus on the outcome and let them take care of the path in how they get there. Something didn’t go as you expected? That happens…don’t jump all over them when things go wrong. Instead, use it as an opportunity to talk things through and so they understand how to take a broader vision. When you do this, people will become more willing to take risks because they aren’t worried about potential consequences.

3. Don’t make staff jump through hoops

You may think that it’s easy for employees to offer their ideas, but do they? If you’re always in meetings, working from home or behind closed doors, its tough for people to approach you with ideas or feedback. The physical sign of having your office door open sends a message. Ask employees what they think and make sure that casual conversations are a two-way street.

4. Do what you can to remove the red tape

Let’s face it, organizations are rife with bureaucracy. Think about what rules and processes that you have that hurt innovation. For example, when somebody comes to you with an idea they want to try, does it take six months and three layers of management to give it a try? Think and look for simple – ways to simplify the process so people can see their ideas in action quickly.

5. Rethink competition

COmpetitions work for people who are competitive. But not all great idea people are. If you set up a system that’s too competitive in finding the best idea, it can hurt innovation. When people are on the hunt for a reward, there’s a fear that somebody else will steal their idea and get all the credit. So they keep mum. Encourage open communication and success as a team.

6. Calm the naysayers

Let’s face, we all have at least a little fear of rejection. One of the big reasons people to propose new ideas is that they’re worried about what others will say – of being judged. Make sure you do all you can to create an emotionally safe environment. Sure, you’ll hear your share of ridiculous ideas, but be thankful for them. In order to get better ideas, you have to start with more ideas. Appreciate the process.

7. Ease up

If you’re team’s already heads down on a big project, the last thing they want to hear is, “be more innovative!” No one – or team – can accomplish everything. If now’s the time and you really want innovation, then ease up on the 60-hour work weeks. Look at what’s a real priority and what can wait until later.

8. Make preventing burnout a high priority

Burned out, stressed out and overworked teams will never do their best. Look at how you can help people better balance their lives and respect boundaries between work and personal lives. Sometimes working from home or having a paid day off to volunteer can work wonders. Look at workloads and think about how you can better balance them between your team members so they stay fresh and focused.

9. Set the example

Do you expect people to do as you say, rather than what you do? If you want more creativity from your team, then start with yourself. If you don’t make the effort, there’s no reason you can expect them to.

10. Minimize your own stress so you can be better

Having a stressed boss breathing down your next does nothing for your innovation brilliance. The best ideas come when there’s time and space for your brain to connect dots. Make sure you’re not always skipping lunch to eat at your desk, working too many hours or taking on too much.

Sparking innovation through teams can do wonders for your company, especially when success spreads from one group to the next. Keep in mind that you also need to take a serious look at the skill sets of people. How do they, as individuals, all fit together? When was the last time you make time and gave them support, training or other kids of education to help them become better innovators? Innovators need on-going training and practice to be good at what they do, just like any other skill you expect people to be good at. With the right mindset and environment, you can help your team be better contributors to innovation while also creating an environment that makes them excited to show up every day.

Photo credit: Pexels on Pixabay

About Carla Johnson

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Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.

In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds -  Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. 

Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.