How to create a highly innovative team

Would you like to create a highly innovative team where everyone is actively coming up with brilliant ideas that range from valuable improvements to breakthrough ideas? And these ideas are being readily tested and rolled out to generate outstanding results? By Conrad Heraud.

Let me ask you a question. How many in your team actively suggest ideas? I routinely put this question to managers from a range of industries – from banking and pharmaceuticals to chemical corporations. Their typical response is anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent.

This might not seem a problem. But, over time, the lack of creative input from your people, slowly but surely strangles your ability to innovate. The result is reduced revenue, relevance and performance.

The good news is creating a highly innovative team is a lot easier than you might think. It is something every manager should achieve with their team.

So what are the simple yet practical steps which you can take to dial up innovation in your team?

Set the bar high: Pose leading questions like: ‘How can we complete the operation in half the time?’, ‘How can we get rid of this operation altogether?’, ‘How can we come up with a totally new and outstanding service that would surprise and delight our customers?’, ‘How can we dramatically increase the number of customers by a factor of 10?’, ‘How can we become number one in our industry?’

Setting the bar high directs your team to identify the information needed to come up with completely new approaches, rather than simply accepting the way things are currently done.

Provide an opportunity for everyone to share their ideas: Ask each team member to share an idea at your weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meeting. The secret of this approach is not to make any comments when each idea is presented, regardless of how ‘crazy’ an idea might seem. Simply write it down, thank that particular team member for presenting it, then move on to the next person.

The reason is simple. It’s incredibly easy to make knee-jerk reactions to new, unconventional and even ‘crazy’ ideas. First impressions can often be wrong. And any perceived negative comments can be poison when it comes to motivating your team.

And the key with this approach is to continue to provide an opportunity for everyone to share their ideas on a regular basis.

Create an environment where everyone feels safe to share their ideas: Let me ask you a question. When your team suggests new, unconventional and even ‘crazy’ ideas, do you first focus on the benefits or the problems? If you first focus on the problems, there is a good chance you are killing your team’s motivation for suggesting great ideas. Not only this, you will also be rejecting many potentially valuable ideas.

Think back to the times when your ideas were rejected with knee-jerk comments like, “It can’t be done”, “It costs too much”, “It’s never been done before”, “We did it last year but it didn’t work”.

How did it feel? Even though ideas are just ideas, we tend to take rejection personally.

What is the solution? The trick is to always focus on the benefits first, regardless of how impractical or ‘crazy’ the idea might seem. This requires a shift in mindset from “How bad are the problems?” to “How good are the benefits?”

Once you have established the benefits, you can then look at the problems. The key point here is, there is always a way to solve the problems, regardless of how impractical or ‘crazy’ the idea might seem. It is just a matter of finding a way.

Set your default position to ‘yes’: A team member suggests an idea you are pretty sure will fail. Would you still test it? In other words, is your default position for testing new and unconventional ideas set to ‘yes’ or ‘no’? I have found that many managers have their default position set to ‘no’. If they think an idea will fail, they won’t even try it.

The problem with this approach is it can prevent you from testing many potentially valuable ideas. But even more importantly, it can shut down your team’s willingness to suggest new, unconventional and even ‘crazy’ ideas.

After all, why suggest them if you are only prepared to test conservative surefire ideas?

If you set your default position to ‘yes’ it will fire up your team to be more innovative and boost their willingness to suggest great ideas.

Conrad Heraud is on a mission to help create highly innovative teams throughout organisations. His new book The Highly Innovative Team: A Step-By-Step Guide For Managers is available through Amazon.

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