Nurture a Culture and Team for Innovation

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by Holly Green

A common myth in the business world says that innovation can only be accomplished by a few naturally talented individuals. Not so!Nurture a Culture and Team for Innovation

In most organizations, innovation is a team effort. The trick is teaching people how to think differently and then creating a culture that encourages and supports out-of-the-box thinking.

To teach your people to think differently: 

Challenge your assumptions

Start by challenging what you think you know to be absolutely true about your customers, your markets and your industry as a whole. Then ask, “Are these “truths” still valid? How do we know?”

Ask “what if?” questions

Pause for a moment and ask, “What if…?” For example, what if my assumptions are wrong? What else is possible? What if there is a different way? What if we could solve the one problem in our industry that nobody else is solving? 

Practice “brain geometry”

Learn to come at problems from different angles by training your brain to look at the same data in different ways. Ask questions like, “What would our competitors invest in if they were us? What one thing do our customers really want us to change? What do our employees think would provide the most fuel for our success?”

Learn to see patterns and make connections

Look for products, services and/or companies that are currently very successful and see what you can adopt from them. Innovative ideas often come from recognizing new connections between familiar things and transforming them into something new. 

 Stop being right

The human brain tends to seek out ideas and information that validates what we already believe. To counter this natural human tendency, purposefully seek out data that contradicts what you know to be true.

To support people thinking differently, provide plenty of learning sessions, tools, and techniques. To nourish and support a culture of innovation:

Set the stage

Paint a picture of what successful innovation looks like for your organization. Keep in mind that innovation is more than just coming up with creative ideas. True innovation results in something that brings new value to at least one of your stakeholders.

 Connect the dots

Tell employees how and where they fit in. Ask for their ideas on how to improve products, processes and workflow, and let them know they will have some degree of autonomy in how they perform their jobs. Keep the lines of communication open up and down the organization.

Encourage diversity

Develop teams with diverse skills and analytical styles.  Deliberately seek out new sources of information, especially those that challenge the prevailing point of view in the organization. Make it safe for everyone to express their point of view.

Eliminate the innovation killers

Well-intentioned and seemingly harmless phrases like “Don’t bother, we’ve already tried that,” or “Great idea but the customer will never buy it” can stop good ideas dead in their tracks. Eliminate language that discourages employees from contributing their opinions, and clamp down on gossiping, politicking or ridiculing of new ideas.

Most of all, make innovation a long-term process rather than a short-term goal.  Reward team members for coming up with new ideas. Provide ongoing feedback on the results of their efforts.  Publicly acknowledge the efforts of individuals and teams. Constantly communicate your commitment to innovation, and demonstrate that commitment by your actions as well as your words.

Innovation doesn’t happen by itself. Teach your team to think differently and support their innovation efforts and you’ll be amazed at what people come up with!

Holly is CEO of The Human Factor, Inc., and helps business leaders and their companies achieve higher levels of performance and profitability by getting clear on what winning looks like and then aligning the resources and energy of the organization to get there. 

An experienced business leader and behavioral scientist, Holly has a rare combination of extensive academic training and in-the-trenches experience working in and leading organizations. She was previously President of The Ken Blanchard Company and LumMed, Inc.  Holly’s clients include AT&T, Microsoft, Expedia, Nokia, and Google as well as numerous small and midsized businesses. 

Holly’s top selling book, More Than a Minute: How to be an Effective Leader & Manager in Today’s Changing World (available in 9 languages globally) goes beyond the theory of leading and managing by providing practical, action-oriented information.

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