Tasked with building a truly innovative team most professionals will measure their success in terms of creative output. Try thinking of the job as one of making innovation the new routine.
Process not Product
I’ve been working in the field of innovation for many years, and over that time I’ve gone through a profound change in the way that I approach the development of new business ideas. I now see that the best way for me to work is to put the whole of my creative focus on the way that the team around me works, rather than working with a singleminded focus on what we’re producing. It’s an approach that is very much ‘how’ rather than ‘what’, the emphasis is on celebrating ‘process’ rather than ‘product’.
Now I have to declare that this isn’t something that can just be switched on, it’s not an overnight change that asks people to change the way they view their role in the team. People need to explore their own feelings and contribution towards a new model of working: one that has moved from ‘the creative ideas of a few being realised by the many’ to become ‘we share creative ownership of both process and product’. This needs time (though it’s quicker than you might imagine) and structured rehearsal-space. With a bit of thought and, Yes, creativity, the transition might just be one of the most productive and fulfilling things that your team ever does.
So what’s your pathway towards this new way of working?
The first requirement is that you, as team leader, need to brush up on your facilitation skills - you need to be able to work both subtly and overtly to bring even the most reluctant team member to accept a full part in this more equitable way of working. Being too directive will kill the new innovations stone dead. If that’s ‘just not you’ then bite the bullet and make it part of your skill-set, worst case is that you work with another team member to share the load.
Explain to the team what you’re trying to achieve, and why it will be great. You need to do this with conviction, simplicity and positivity so that everybody can see what’s in it for them. I believe that people gravitate to teams that have creative potential because they themselves carry this trait - you have to recognise that what you’re doing is opening the door for all team members to realise this potential. (A ‘heads-up’ message about Step 5 might help here).
Do creative stuff together. This might be joint visits to stimulating places followed by discussions about what learning is available from the experience. Or it might be structured activities that allow everybody an equal opportunity for exercising creativity and innovation. RSVP Design’s Webmaster and Sequencer exercises were purposely designed to offer this learning space to teams, and we’ve provided all the notes you need to facilitate the learning effectively. However you choose to do it, this step is about giving everybody a voice in team innovation.
Choose a project that will offer a safe opportunity to introduce this new way of working. This might be a commission from a friendly client, or potentially it could be a whole-organisation event, hosted by your team, that introduces this new way of working to the world. We’ve supported a number of client organisations with this type of event and I always warn them about the impact - ‘once you allow an organisation’s creative cat out of the bag it will never easily be put back in there’. But the organisations that decide that it’s right for them to make innovation a trademark way of working are some of the most vibrant, exciting and successful we’ve ever worked with.
Recognition, measurement and reward. Make everybody responsible for both their own innovation, and the innovative practices of the team. Once people realise that every team meeting, appraisal conversation and project review is going to examine personal and collective practice in relation to innovation then they will soon get the message that this stuff is important, and it’s here to stay. Initially people might need some pointers about how they are to exercise their creativity, but if this is to be truly a team initiative then there should be no shortage of people ready to offer ideas.
Inevitably this has got to come round to the celebration that you use to mark your success in achieving spectacular (or even modest) successes as a team that epitomises both innovation and creativity. So do it! But do it in a way that reinforces the message to individuals, the team and the wider world - “we’ve unlocked our innovation and it’s working for us!”