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Why You Don’t See the Fruit of Your Team’s Innovation Efforts
Have you been questioning why innovation isn’t occurring in your business?
Have you ever experienced this scenario?
Once or twice a year the whole team is brought together to discuss the strategy of the business and to make exciting plans for the future. They explore opportunities to innovate and brainstorm ideas for delivering better products or services to clients while also working more effectively and having more fun.
The team then walks away with a half-baked action plan, complete with roles and responsibilities, for getting these projects off the ground.
Over the following months, leaders periodically check in with their busy people about the progress of the innovation projects in their charge, but everything is the same old, same old. The team is still excited by the vision they have created together, but those plans are yet to be followed through, as churning out deliverables and meeting deadlines take priority.
Or what about this scenario?
Collaboration and innovation are central elements of the business strategy, and people are rewarded for their efforts for achieving continuous improvement. The office walls are covered with whiteboards and post-it notes capturing the never-ending flow of ideas. Members of the team spend many hours each day in meetings and collaboration sessions, and also often hang out together during their break time.
An ‘open door policy’ is in place, and the office has the feel of a busy cafe, with questions and ideas, constantly flying back and forth.
Those who need to concentrate can put on their headphones, but in general, everyone is expected to be approachable at any time. Countless innovation projects are in motion; however, you rarely see any real breakthroughs.
Or perhaps you’ve been to both places?
You already know that innovation seldom happens without careful planning, diligent follow-through, and carving out time for the various individual and collaborative activities required for creating something new and valuable.
You and your team refresh your business strategy and map out innovation projects at least a couple of times a year, perhaps review priorities and milestones monthly, and discuss immediate tasks and issues weekly, if not daily.
Teamwork in your office is organised around well-defined goals and follows a clear structure. At the same time, your people have plenty of freedom to organise themselves, work in ways that suit them best, and take a creative approach to solving problems. Put simply; you’re committed to becoming a truly agile business. But somehow you still can’t see the results you’re hoping for.
What could be missing?
Powerful teamwork and collaboration have similar qualities to performing a captivating piece of music.
In order for your team to successfully innovate time and time again, they need to work together, a bit like an orchestra:
1. All members should play in sync, creating a symphonic experience.
When it comes to orchestrated work, members should always be on the same page about how to best collaborate and create something valuable together. Business leaders often send mixed messages to their teams, on one hand, encouraging creativity and expansive thinking, and on the other, expecting people to work productively and to avoid risks and mistakes whenever possible.
Half-hearted efforts in a confused environment will never yield amazing results.
Just try to throw a radically new idea into a somewhat rushed conversation revolving around getting things done quickly and efficiently, perhaps during a structured team meeting or conference call. Chances are that your idea will be quickly shut down before receiving the consideration it deserves. Not because your team members are seasoned critical thinkers and safe players, but because in this particular conversation and environment they are attuned to think critically and to play safe.
On the flip side, it can be nearly impossible to concentrate and work productively, say on a difficult email, calculation or report in a noisy, bustling environment geared towards boundless collaboration.
To sum up, your team members can only do their best work if there’s no ambiguity around what’s expected of them, and the environment allows them to get into the right frame of mind for either working by themselves or in groups.
2. Louder, more intense parts should alternate with quieter, softer parts.
The alternating dynamics of quiet, peaceful segments and high-energy, fast-paced segments can make music really powerful, and that’s no different for innovative teamwork. While too much quiet or too much intensity can make people lose perspective or focus, teams can achieve fast progress by skillfully switching between different modes of work.
However, it’s critical that team members know exactly when it’s the right time to tackle tasks by themselves, and when it’s best to approach work collaboratively.
In any business, the majority of tasks can be divided into two categories:
- Clearly defined, routine activities that produce predictable results.
These are straightforward tasks that you can usually complete by going through the motions, such as answering recurring questions, preparing standardised documents, or reviewing and organising data.
You have all the pieces ready to get things done; you know exactly what you’re aiming to achieve and how to get there. Discussing with your team how to do these tasks will probably waste time and deplete your team’s energy and patience. Therefore you’re better off tackling these tasks by yourself.
This type of work can often be systemised. But if the system has some hiccups, or doesn’t deliver the expected results, then you need further help. Which leads us to …
- Unique tasks and challenges, unclear goals and objectives.
You might be looking to create something fundamentally new, like developing custom design or advice for a client with unusual needs and circumstances. You might be facing a challenge there’s little precedent for, and which can’t be processed by your systems. Or perhaps your systems and processes don’t work as well as you were hoping; there are too many mistakes and delays.
You may not be exactly sure what a successful outcome will look like, or have different opinions within your team. You wish you had a crystal ball to see into the future. Perhaps you’re also dealing with conflicting interests or priorities, or trying to work with incomplete or ambiguous information.
Now it’s time to get together to collaborate creatively and to make decisions tapping into your team’s collective intellect. Trying to tackle these kinds of tasks individually will likely slow things down and lead to mistakes or unresolved issues.
3. The performance should have a natural rhythm that resonates with the body and soul.
Beautiful things can flourish from teamwork that moves to a natural rhythm.
As your team solves one problem after another through creative collaboration, many initially challenging tasks will eventually become routine. And as you develop your systems and processes to complete routine tasks more efficiently, you will always find opportunities for improvement, calling for the need to collaborate again.
Your team will need to find its own pace and rhythm. Sporadic collaboration can hinder innovation; this is no news. But too frequent communication, which can be easy to get caught up in, especially with an abundance of online chat platforms at our fingertips, can also have negative consequences.
As shown by research, discussing ideas too often may hold your team back from coming up with extraordinary, game-changing solutions.
You will also need to work out for yourself how frequently you need to get together to review your business strategy, fine-tune your direction, and discuss emerging opportunities as well as day-to-day challenges.
Give your team the time, space, training, and support to seamlessly switch between individual work and group work as needed, and you’ll find that they will work more productively and solve problems faster.
Your business will become more flexible, and at the same time more efficient.
Innovation will become an integral part of your work, as opposed to a set of standalone projects which may or may not get off the ground.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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