Is your organization good at spotting and nurturing innovation from the bottom up? Does your team realize that innovation is just not about products and technology? Do your leaders understand innovation needs in a broad context and are they capable of leading teams that can select and execute the right ideas?
The most successful managers know how to enable the innovation process from different parts of the organization, encouraging ideas through networking and collaboration. The sooner teams realize the following four enablers of innovation, the sooner they will be on the road to breakthrough thinking.
- Diffuse uncertainty and center the team around the call to action. Demonstrate that, as the team leader, you really understand the priorities of the business. This will help you persuade your team members to control their time, focus on the highest priorities, and not work on any idea that has outlived its potential. To deter digressions and scope creep, go over your business strategy and work plan frequently. Verify the assumptions and the underlying data to see if anything has changed. If the facts underpinning your business strategy and work plan have changed, change your plans as well.
- Encourage fun and cohesion in the team. Great team leaders and project managers can help improve job satisfaction and team cohesion by leading their teams with a strong vision, candid communications, open environment that promotes flow of information, tactical execution, and considerations to opportunities for career growth. If the team is endeavoring towards a shared vision, and the work is challenging and interesting, the team members are likely to have fun and innovation will flow. Shared vision and directed goals are the glue that holds a team together and makes them feel part of a shared mission that is something bigger their individual pursuits.
- Challenge the creative thought process. Peter Drucker, the legendary management guru, always encouraged leaders to ask pointed questions in an effort to prompt team members to challenge their assumptions, reframe problems, and consider different angles of a problem or situation. A team leader’s job is not to impose a line of thought or directly supervise the innovation process, but to call to mind counterpoints, delineate opportunities and risks, and focus on supporting the execution of an idea. Challenging the thought process is an effective way to manage teams because it draws out more responsibility and effort from the entire team.
- Applaud mistakes and encourage failure. One of the challenges with innovation and creativity drives is that participants in such programs tend to be hesitant to participate whole-heartedly because previous attempts might have failed at the beginning, before re-grouping and discovering success. Failure can actually be a huge engine of innovation for an individual or an organization. Failure is definitely an acceptable outcome of the creative process. Do not receive news of mistakes critically or try to place blame; these can stifle innovation. Shift away from a culture of blame and into a more appreciative way of working in teams.
Recommended Reading: ‘The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations’ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner emphasizes the importance of leaders who question differently, challenging a team’s thought process, enabling others to think “out of the box,” expand the creative process, and hence encourage innovation. Kouzes and Posner underscore a key attitude that leadership is all about relationships. With many anecdotes, the book defines a framework around which you managers and leaders can make the jump from the theoretical to the practical aspects of team management.