13 Ways To Keep Innovation Alive Within Your Team

In today’s work environment, you need more from an employee than just strong technical skills.

Sure, software engineers need to be familiar with the appropriate programming languages and development tools. However, these things alone won’t make them more innovative.

They need to be encouraged to think creatively and not be afraid to propose new ideas or approaches.

Businesses that welcome ideas from all employees have better growth prospects.

The Great Place To Work institute surveyed 500,000 employees in 800 companies. It asked employees on how frequently management allows their involvement in strategic decisions. Does management show interest in their ideas? Are they invited to try new approaches to their work?

The survey findings concluded that where people’s ideas were valued, businesses saw revenue growth and productivity. Companies topping those metrics generated five times the revenue growth of companies at the bottom.

Size didn’t matter. High-scoring companies ranged from smaller startups to large multinationals, across an array of industries from finance to healthcare.

Researchers found that many had set up a unique culture to encourage employees to brainstorm. But what does such a corporate culture look like? Let’s take a look at 13 tips for establishing a highly innovative organization.

1. Carve Out Time for Innovation

Successful organizations carve out separate research and innovation time in their work schedules. For example, in 2004, Google asked its employees to spend 20% of their work time on side projects they thought would most benefit the company. This practice led to the inception of Google Earth and Gmail, and is still a part of Google’s culture today. Many other companies have since followed suit.

2. Encourage and Increase Dialogue

While innovation usually happens in isolation, the possibility increases multifold with team collaboration. When it comes to fostering innovation, some essential patterns of communication are a boon. Leaders can build hubs where workers can hang out and share ideas freely. The more you foster team communication and collaboration, the better the chances of striking gold.

3. Friendly Competition

Contests and hackathons among employees can help fuel innovation. However, careful to keep it fun and light to avoid creating an aggressive work environment. Employees might be reluctant to speak up, assuming that their idea might get stolen. Instead, promote the value of teamwork. For example, during a project launch, ask employees to come up with ideas on helpful components or features.

4. Lessen the Workload

Innovation cannot happen if you don’t make room for it. Employees already overburdened with work can’t take time to explore new ideas. The most creative phase is when people are busy but not overburdened. Ensure that your business is staffed sufficiently. It is a must for employees to have enough energy and mental space to be innovative.

5. Be Available

Do you often hole up in a corner with other managers? Instead, use that time to interact with your team. For the team to genuinely co-operate, they require your collaboration, counsel, and engagement. Ensure that you’re approachable and friendly. Take a step further and give words of encouragement. Practice an open-door policy and always be available to your team.

6. Maximize Diversity

The more diversity in points-of-view, the more innovative your team will be. Use job rotation to introduce employees to new concepts and novel ways of thinking. Ensure that the team interacts and coordinates with people from different backgrounds and generations. Maximize diversity and you maximize innovation.

7. Implement Innovation Reward System

When you reward creativity, your team notices. It encourages them to do something innovative and fosters greater team creativity. It is essential to recognize individuals in your team that exhibit innovation readily. You can also implement a reward system to show you appreciate the innovative ideas. It helps make the workplace a more creative space.

8. Ease Their Fears

The reason why employees don’t suggest new ideas is that they often worry about the reaction they’ll get. Nobody likes to be ridiculed or shot down for suggesting a “dumb idea.” Create an environment that makes people confident about actively brainstorming. Even if an employee says something obvious, appreciate them for making an effort. Employees should have a channel to put their suggestions in writing. It is for those who are hesitant to discuss within a group. The entire team should know that input in any form is welcome.

9. Get Them in Front of Your Customers

Innovation often occurs when you let your team interface with clients to learn more about the end-user’s journey. How does your product fit into their lives? How can the user experience can be improved further? What other issues users have? What features and functionalities make their lives easier and more flexible? Letting your team interact with your customers and ask questions can open the door to a wealth of new ideas.

10. Ask the Team What They Want to Learn

One of the most effective ways to engage your team is to ask them what they would like to learn. You’ll likely find that you have team members eager to learn new methods or cutting-edge technologies. The only thing holding them back is their workload. By giving them time and funding the required courses and training, they get to satisfy their curiosity and learn new skills. In return, you get more capable, cross-functional employees.

11. Have a Tolerance for Failure

Innovation takes experimentation. Not every idea is successful and failure is an indispensable part of the learning process. You can only taste the fruit of innovation if you have the stomach for failure. If employees live in fear of failure, they won’t take a chance on new ideas. They’ll just continue to do what’s “safe.”

Return and risk are two sides of the same coin. To get a higher returns on investment, you have to cultivate a higher tolerance for risk. Many celebrated innovators, such as Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, only succeeded after many failures.

12. Don’t Point Fingers

Part of tolerating failure is not pointing fingers when an experiment doesn’t work. Building an environment free from blame is the only way to foster creativity and innovation. If your team knows they’ll get blamed when a new idea doesn’t work out, they’re likely to stick with what works and keep their inspirations to themselves. While there should still be repercussions for safety violations and conscious ineptitudes, don’t punish out-of-the-box thinking when it doesn’t yield the results you wanted.

13. Lead by Example

It is challenging for many leaders, but leading by example amplifies the message and more rapidly fosters the culture you’re trying to create. Leaders have to start by accepting their own mistakes. It creates a significant trickle-down effect that kickstarts substantial process improvement and innovation.

Innovation Isn’t Easy

It takes a lot of hard work to create a culture that breeds innovation. However, those organizations willing to tolerate risk, accept failure, and encourage and support their employees will see a significant rise in the creative solutions and products their teams produce.

Rohini Rai

Rohini is the Director of Employee Relations at Taazaa. An HR professional with 11+ years of experience, Rohini ensures that Taazaa's policies and procedures are properly applied and aligned with our vision and values. She is passionate about managing talent in the best possible way, and has a track record of outlining strategy, making it into executable project, and managing stakeholders.