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3 Steps to Nurture an Innovative Team

August 21, 2018
3 Steps to Nurture an Innovative Team

Do you have an innovative team?

Unfortunately, for many leaders, their initial answer may be “no.” For some reason, they aren’t getting the levels of innovation they want from their teams.

It can be hard to figure out why this is happening. Surely you can’t have hired all the wrong people, right?

Here are three things to evaluate when you are looking to nurture an innovative team.

1. Embrace diversity within your team.

To build an innovative team, diversity is a key component. Teams made up of people from the same background will generally share the same perspective, resulting in the same ideas.

If your team is made up of all or mostly men, for example, they will likely find it difficult to consider the needs and perspectives of women. If they are primarily white and middle-class, they will likely find it difficult to understand what economically and racially diverse people may need.

In a similar vein, teams with similar backgrounds and personalities may end up experiencing a level of groupthink, falling into a rut. Consider using assessments like DISC to evaluate the diversity of your team’s communication and behavior styles.

As you grow, make sure to hire a diverse team. Then within your diverse team, make sure you are intentionally fostering chemistry. People often tend to spend time with people similar to themselves, which can mute the impact of diversity.

Plan team-building events that provide opportunities for people to work with colleagues they might not interact with every day. And consider intentionally teaming people who might be less likely to understand each other’s perspectives. Innovation often comes from expanding people’s experiences.

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2. Leverage cross-functional working groups.

Within your team, it can be tempting to form working groups with matching skill sets. If you are working on improving your sales process, for example, it may seem logical to form a team of salespeople and sales managers.

Just like teams lacking demographical diversity, project teams formed with a single department will have a narrower perspective.

Instead, consider which areas of the organization the project you are planning might affect. For work on a sales process, you will likely want to include representatives from marketing, customer service, IT, and delivery/operations.

When we work with our clients to build Sales PlayBooks, the most important element for success is the project team. We work with clients to identify a cross-functional working group which typically includes executive leadership, marketing, finance, HR, customer service, IT and operations in addition to sales. Everyone in the team provides a different and valuable perspective.

One best practice is to identify key subject matter experts in each department of your business. You will then find it easier to form cross-functional teams for projects as they arise. These groups can stay together for long-term projects or just form as short-term working groups for brainstorming sessions.

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3. Avoid hierarchies and bottlenecks.

Within your organization, hierarchies can inhibit an innovative team. People may be afraid to share their ideas if they feel like their boss will shut them down, or if leadership doesn’t seem interested in their ideas.

Strong hierarchies can also result in poor choices, when the manager’s ideas or the innovations planned by the manager’s favorite team members get a higher priority. Employees may be afraid to challenge their manager’s ideas even when they see clear areas for improvement.

Consider the fable of the emperor with no clothes. When people are afraid to speak up, you can end up in an embarrassing situation!

In a similar way, when people function as bottlenecks, they can reduce the speed and level of innovation. If one person, or a small team of people, has to approve all ideas, they may be unable to handle a high level of innovation.

To support an innovative team, develop varying levels of approval processes that are based on the level of risk associated with ideas. Small innovations might be approved by someone’s direct manager, while only major innovations need to involve executives.

When innovations are approved and executed within a small team, ensure that you are leveraging those best practices across your organization. It’s amazing how many great ideas are siloed rather than shared with other teams and departments.

Do you have ideas to nurture an innovative team?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

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