Recently a client asked me how to spark more innovation on his teams and projects. I understand why businesses so often say that they want to be more innovative – it is a highly prized set of skills and has the ability to elevate an average product to a great one. A lot of folks subscribe to the idea that to be innovative, you have to be born with a certain personality, under a bright star, or be super smart. Though certain personality types have been shown to demonstrate more creativity, I don’t subscribe to the trait or “gifted” theory of innovation.
Everyone can be more innovative if they work in a climate where ideas can flourish, be expressed and listened to, and people aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
The kiss of death for innovation is a climate grounded in control. But a climate without any supportive structure can also be problematic for innovation.
A couple years ago a leader I know well was frustrated that her employees didn’t seem to know how to innovate. I asked her if they didn’t know or they were afraid. She pushed back and told me how she had set up a strong team of smart people and told them they had “free rein” to design the project. She promised that she would not interfere and really wanted them to come up with the best, most innovative ideas and solutions. The team struggled, missed the deadline and asked for help.
In talking with the team members, it became clear that they had not taken the time to set up many team processes or structure. They just started working on the project. Their organization had team resources, but they thought too much corporate oversight would squash their creativity. When I met with them it was clear that they hadn’t established the processes or agreements on team behaviors they all needed to feel safe and like they truly belonged.
What I would say is that all teams need the right structure and clear boundaries from management for them to flourish. The team structure must be self-determined by the team members. They need to take the time to identify the norms and processes that will support everyone feeling safe and supported to bring their best. There are almost always going to be expectations for some sort of outcome from a team. I find teams are comfortable with boundaries from management if they are clearly communicated before the team starts working. If possible, the expectations and boundaries shouldn’t change or be moving targets. That is a set-up and will most likely limit the team’s effectiveness.
You don’t need a magic wand to create more innovation in your company. With the right structure and climate, every organization can be more innovative.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 21 years ago to collaborate with leaders, teams and organizations to create more productive, effective, and human people systems and practices. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.